How do you define legal language?

Definition of legal language in common law and civil law systems


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 communication 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 persons.

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 since legal reasoning is based on linguistic logic. For translators specializing in law, this is particularly pertinent 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. So, 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 Common law and Civil law, also know as European Continental or Roman law.