How Is Legal Language Defined

Legal language and translation, English to Spanish


If we were to consider what role language plays in law, it wouldn't take us long to realize they are so interrelated that it would be hard to argue the latter could exist without the former. Furthermore, language is such an essential instrument of law that, without it, law wouldn't be able to diffuse nor keep a record of itself.

In fact, the government could not carry out its functions without language. These functions manifest themselves in the communications the three branches of government (legislative, executive, and judicial) maintain with the citizen. Likewise, citizens make use of this vital instrument in their communications to any type of state institution. Lastly, there is another realm in which language is key: the relationships among private entities.

legal language and instrument of law

Legal language is often compared to other highly specialized and technical languages, like medical or engineering. There is a main difference, however, since legal language tends to remain conservative. It still relies on unchanging expressions and old-fashioned formulas. Although, in more recent times, societies, being strongly intertwined with technology, are facing changes and thus legal language is forced to evolve along with it.

This leads us to the final point: language is a tool for jurists given that legal reasoning is based on linguistic logic. For translators specializing in law, this is particularly relevant because not only do we need to understand this form of linguistic logic, but also need to be able to transform it to different legal systems in which this particular line of reasoning may not exist.

It is, in other words, another linguistic layer that needs to be overcome. Therefore, on the one hand, there is the linguistic barrier between English and Spanish, for example, but, on the other hand, there is the language hurdle between Anglo-Saxon or English Common law and Civil law, also known as European Continental or Roman law. 

Sources: Chapter one of Anabel Borja Albi's El Texto Jurídico Inglés y su Traducción al Español.

What do you think, fellow legal professionals and linguists? How important is language to law?