Translate Legal Latin to Tagalog?

No, we often can't translate legal Latin to Tagalog. Why?

Well, if you ask me what I think, I being a lawyer, will say that of course, the academic explanation rings truer. But the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852), wouldn't at all be impressed by all that Latin pizzazz. He is said to have once advised a new Member of the British Parliament: "Don't quote Latin; say what you have to say, and then sit down.

"...But that is not all. You see, it also happens to be the Latin word for To Wit, or namely - really a contraction of the phrase scire licet, meaning, "it is permitted to know." Alas, after all these years, Latin still sounds impressive...."

Scilicet
(or what's in a column's name?)

"If there's anything you should avoid like the plague in your written work," I remember my English creative writing class professor tell his class, "it is Latinate." His point, it seems to me now, is that if in the old days, the more ornate the language used, the more impressive a writer sounded, in these days of the impatient and rebellious Reader, to write the way former Vice President Teofisto Guingona speaks is plain baduy. So, forget about the elaborately obscure exsanguinate and use the clear-as-day bleed instead.

That may be sound advice for creative writers, but not for your average lawyer, who will not only go for Latinate, but for the real thing - Latin, that is - in his pleadings before the Honorable Courts. Now this seems to be a tradition dating back to the time of the Romans, and I mean, of lawyers who love to use highfalutin' language to argue their point; but really, you only have to read again your King James Bible to see lawyers of Jesus' day, the Pharisees, in their legal hair-splitting, or in their torturous text-quoting, best.

Number 1
TO WIT
copyright (c) 2006 by Romel Bagares. All rights reserved

The academic explanation is that everywhere you go where ancient Roman Law once reigned supreme, you'll always have lawyers who can spout a Latin phrase or two at the drop of the hat (issues of pronunciation, notwithstanding). And that basically means everywhere, perhaps excepting China. La Madre España - our colonizer for 300 years - being a Roman province in the old days, naturally imbibed the ius civile romanorum (that's Roman civil law for you) whose principles are still best expressed, of course, in Latin quotable quotes. In fact, you can read a thing or two about Spain in the chronicles of the apostle Paul's travels, the Book of Acts, as well as in his epistles; and in his letter to the Romans, you'll even run into some familiar-sounding legal principles (at least, to the law student) the lawyer and yes, Roman citizen, had adeptly woven with his theology of justification.

But the "Bad Man's point of view," as Justice Holmes would put it in his landmark treatise on The Path of the Law, is that it's the lawyers' modus operandi, their method of operating, apparently, to confuse, and therefore to impress, the client, so as to justify their claims for more billable hours. As today's Latin enthusiasts would say, quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur. Whatever is said in Latin sounds profound.

The English writer Robert Graves, in his delightful if not ingenious fictional re-telling of the life and death of the Roman Emperor Claudius ("Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus, this, that, and the other"), tells of a school for lawyers in Rome that subscribed to this principle, or at least, to the idea, that a bombastic turn of legal phraseology never fails to impress people. In Graves' novel Claudius the God, sequel to his best-seller I, Claudius, one reads about an interesting fellow named Telegonius, who had a "Forensic and Legal Institute" named after him, parading himself before all Rome as "that most learned and eloquent orator and jurist" of his day.

However, much to his chagrin, the Emperor Claudius (otherwise known as "the Stutterer") did not take readily to the lawyer's methods of argumentation but instead "encouraged the appearance of a new sort of advocate, men without either eloquence or great legal expertness, but with common sense, clear voices, and a talent for reducing cases to their simplest elements."

Telegonius was indeed quite a character : "fat, bustling and crop-haired", who even had manuals of arguments (of the best Latin phrases to use in court, I could imagine) published for the use of his students in the fine art of demagoguery; in fact, his Institute went about its business with the motto, the tongue is mightier than the blade. He was so good at his business that even his own slave learned to put on the "insufferable airs" of a lawyer and orator. It would prove to be the master rhetorician's own undoing. You see, it was in the trial of the case lodged against Telegonius for allegedly inciting his own slave to murder the highly-prized cook of an influential Roman citizen that he was finally unmasked as a runaway slave who had successfully reengineered himself into a master lawyer and orator. There goes the Romans bested at their own game by their own slaves.

Well, if you ask me what I think, I being a lawyer, will say that of course, the academic explanation rings truer. But the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852), wouldn't at all be impressed by all that Latin pizzazz. He is said to have once advised a new Member of the British Parliament: "Don't quote Latin; say what you have to say, and then sit down."

Now just imagine Speaker Jose De Venecia saying in a privilege speech before the august halls of the House of Representatives something like this: carpe diem, carpe porcum (roughly translated, never give up the pork barrel). Thus, a man of a few words he becomes, but just as persuasive.

Yet you may ask: what has the title of this piece got to do with all that? Last night, I once again proved the truism of the ancient philosopher Ecclesiastes' lament that there is nothing new under the sun; while looking up Cambridge scholar Madan Sarup's introductory work on the famous French psychiatrist Jacques Lacan's thought, I discovered right there in the author's chronology of the history of psychoanalysis an entry which said that Scilicet was the name of a highly influential journal of the Freudian school founded in 1968, at about the time of the "May events" in Paris that were to be replicated in many a student-led unrest around the world. (My first reaction really was to say: hmmm, there has got to be a connection somewhere between lawyers and Lacanian psychoanalysts - the obsessive compulsion to fulfill insatiable Desire, perhaps?)

But that is not all. You see, it also happens to be the Latin word for To Wit, or namely - really a contraction of the phrase scire licet, meaning, "it is permitted to know." Alas, after all these years, Latin still sounds impressive. Yes, I permit you to know that.

7/15/06

Translate legal Latin to Tagalog anyone?

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