I recently completed an editing job on the Spanish-to-English translation of some legal arguments in a case from the Dominican Republic. In the world of translation, editing consists of comparing the source text to the translation or target text, and correcting any instances of misinterpretations, wrong terminology, or missing text.
While many translators prefer doing the original translation to editing someone else's work, the editing step is an essential part of providing a quality translation, which really cannot be foregone. For translators, it can be an interesting process in quite a number of ways. Because there are so many correct ways to phrase any given thought, it can be fascinating to peer into the window of someone else's interpretations and language choices. I often find an elegant turn of phrase or a subtlety in meaning that is educational for me when I review the work of others. Often, I learn terminology as well - either because I am checking unfamiliar terms or because the original translator has chosen an equally valid expression of a source term, but one that I am not familiar with or that would not have been the first term to leap to mind for me.
Then there are those cases where you actually discover that the original translator has made a mistake. The types of mistakes that are made are also often curious and interesting. Perhaps most common are "false friend" errors. These mistakes happen when the translator has jumped to a conclusion about the meaning of a word because the word has similar morphology to a word in their language, and yet the correct meaning in the other language is completely different. Spanish is full of these false friends, and for some reason a lot of them are especially embarrassing because they relate to bodily functions and/or taboo topics. Almost every English-speaking learner of Spanish finds out pretty quickly that "embarrassed" is not interchangeable with "embarazada" (which means pregnant in Spanish). "Constipado/a" is another tricky one - it means stuffed up in Spanish. There are plenty more, and they are colourful and funny in daily interactions, but these mistakes can be costly and worse than embarrassing in a business context. However, most of these terms, although tricky to the non-professional, are well-known to professional translators or can be easily found out with a few quick, standard terminology searches.
The Spanish-to-English job I just worked on, however, presented some pretty extreme challenges, and if I were not also a legal translator of French to English, I might never have been able to figure them out. The original translator of the text does not work in French, and so the non-standard Spanish terminology in this text was just confusing to her, and she couldn't do more than give her best guess as to its meaning, after having fruitlessly researched it for some time, I am sure. It took me quite a bit of digging to find the resource that would confirm my suspicions about these odd legal terms, although my knowledge of French made their meanings clear to me.
This story begins with the intertwined history of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Once one territory known as Hispaniola, the island divided into a Spanish-dominated section and a French-dominated section in around 1660. A closer examination of how often governance went back and forth between the two colonial powers and/or anarchy might make you dizzy, so let's just leave it at that for now.
What is significant for our purposes is that the Code of Civil Procedure was translated from French to Spanish in the 1860s by translators who used calques, or loan words, from French. A calque is a loan word that enters a foreign language virtually unchanged. Thus, whereas the standard Spanish for a judge in summary proceedings (an urgent or emergency trial) is "juez en un caso urgente", in the Dominican Republic, the term is "juez de referimiento", from the French "juge des référés". There are many more of these expressions.
The term juez de referimiento does come up in Google in many unilingual Spanish documents, but if you input it into Linguee.es, a popular and sometimes useful site with parallel texts in Spanish and English, it asks, "Did you mean juez de requerimiento?" And referimiento is a word in the dictionary of the Real Academia Española, but its meaning in the legal context is not there. Searching the terminology database of ProZ for the term also draws a blank. That's three strikes already on three of my favourite terminology resources. So, if you translate legal documents from the Dominican Republic, I am pleased to be able to recommend the Spanish-English Dictionary of Law and Business, 2nd Ed., by Thomas L. West, III, as a resource for this specialized and interesting terminology. Believe me, it is hard to find it anywhere else!
And so ends the tale of another fascinating adventure in terminology, etymology, and translation. I hope you enjoyed it. Happy translating!