The article posted here was originally published by MATI in the Summer 2005 issue of information. MATI members can access PDFs of previously published newsletters by navigating to the Members Only section of the website.
MATI Member Publishes Spanish-English Law Dictionary
From the Editor: Cuauhtemoc Gallegos (known to friends and colleagues as Temo) is a familiar and respected figure among interpreters and translators in the Chicago area, where he has worked in and promoted the profession for years. In fact, Temo was one of the earliest supporters of our efforts to form MATI. Now we learn that his long-awaited Spanish-English legal dictionary is available. Of course we wanted to give inforMATIon readers a behind-the scenes look at the making of a dictionary by one of our own, so we asked Temo a few questions about his project and the outcome.
What gave you the idea to compile a dictionary in the first place?
I work as a bilingual lawyer and professional translator and interpreter myself and I always wanted a bilingual dictionary constructed so it would list the target language single or multiple equivalents, while also offering the tools needed to choose the most appropriate ones for the task. Since most bilingual legal dictionaries don’t follow this approach and typically limit themselves to listing equivalents, I felt a need existed for a compilation of legal terms, in English and Spanish, in a format that makes them more accessible to the user and also provides the necessary tools to be able to choose the most fitting. Following such a design, Merl Bilingual Law Dictionary offers a multifaceted navigational structure and a wealth of contextual information that make it unique and extremely practical.
What do you mean by a “multifaceted navigational structure”?
Yes, adopting cyber language, this refers to the multiple options available to the user to find a particular word, concept or phrase. For example, the term lawyer is considered the equivalent of abogado
, as are attorney at law and legal counsel in English and licenciado en derecho
in Spanish. But are they really? You would want this clarified and discussed. And what about the terms jurist
? Ideally you would want to have all these terms linked and at your fingertips. Simply listing cross-references is usually not sufficient to develop the necessary understanding of the connotation and legal import of these and most entries. A more complex organization of entries is necessary, one based on the structural nature of legal institutions and legal culture.
And “wealth of contextual information”?
You need information to understand the meaning and determine the appropriate usage of legal terms, but not just any kind of information. It has to be contextual, that is, directly relevant and describing the various possible uses of the term or concept involved. The term estate
, for example, appears with four distinct and identifiable legal meanings in this book, and so does the word carga
. You want to get a clear and precise distinction in each case so you are in a position to determine the equivalent or term you need. Merl Bilingual Law Dictionary does that using a variety of tools: lexical and legal comments, background comments, comparisons of same-language terms and target-language equivalents, synonyms, antonyms, lists of related and connected terms and specialized glossaries, all in addition to cross-references.
How different is Merl Bilingual Legal Dictionary really from other works?
On one level this book feels and looks like other bilingual dictionaries. It has been designed and printed to be portable and user-friendly. But the differences are many. A perfunctory review of a few of its 432 pages reveals that the text is tightly packed and includes many main entries rich in detail and many subentries that cover variations and combinations of the term in question. These features begin to show you that this book is and feels new and highly functional.
If you’re looking for the target-language equivalent of attachment
, for instance, you can start on page 24, where you see that embargo
is the answer, but you also want to make sure you are using the appropriate equivalent and using it correctly. Besides, embargo
is a broader term. You can verify the term by reviewing the information included in the entry: a definition of attachment
, a comparison with sequestration
, an explanation of how embargo
is broader, a list of sub-entries, and a list of related terms. Still in doubt? You may want to go to page 279 next and look up the entry at embargo
, where other target-language equivalent alternatives are listed and discussed together with sub-entries, comments, related terms, and legal references from various countries.
How long did it take to compile and write this dictionary?
This dictionary was long in the making. Although compiling took perhaps a decade, the actual writing and final research was done over the last thee years. It took several visits to Mexico and Canada, and countless hours in libraries and courthouses in many places.
What background do you bring to the undertaking?
My professional training is as an attorney and as a translator and interpreter. In these capacities I have been immersed in legal terminology and in particular the interaction between common-law and civil-law traditions most of my professional career. So it is really not surprising that I decided to write about one of my favorite subjects.
Did you consult with others in the process?
A dictionary is traditionally a team effort. This work was no exception. Besides quoting leading scholars and experts on the subject, many others contributed directly or indirectly to this publication. I am indebted to all of them, and in particular to my contributing editors who introduced points of view and modifications that significantly changed and enriched important sections of this book.
How is your dictionary being promoted?
Merl Bilingual Law Dictionary’s official publication date is July, but books are already being sold, mostly through the Internet. At this point reviews are being sought and received, and promotion will start in earnest soon. Initial sales will be exclusively through direct mail and on-line, and the book will not be available through distributors or bookstores, at least during the first part of its promotion.
Who is buying it?
This book is especially attractive for translators, interpreters and other bilingual professionals, but I have been pleasantly surprised to learn that a few copies have been bought by English speakers with the intention of using the English language sections of the book.
Temo, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, and thank you for your work to advance our profession.