“Probation” in every language, part 1

Last year, MiTiN vice president Franco Gamero regaled those of us at a legal interpreting study session with a funny story about a court defendant who kept talking about his being sentenced to “provecho”. That is the Spanish word for “benefit” or “advantage”, making the situation amusing, because he meant to use the English word “probation”, which he was mixing into his Spanish.

The big surprise, however, came when it was later discovered that the poorly educated defendant was using the correct terminology, while, for years, educated interpreters have been using the wrong term for probation.

Franco first found this out on a trip to Argentina earlier this year and then researched it on his own.  Click to see what he has written on the matter.

In Mar del Plata I had dinner with an attorney friend of mine, and his wife, a judge. During the conversation I mentioned that I was a court interpreter and brought up the subject of terminology and the correct translation. Specifically the word PROBATION, which, according to accepted/approved court terminology is translated into Spanish as liberdad condicional, literally “conditional freedom”.

That’s when I received a lecture. Liberdad condicional applies only to the conditional release of a prisoner already serving a sentence, that is, parole. So, I asked, what the proper translation of “probation” should be.

The answer was unequivocal: “PROBATION!” In English? Yes, in English. The judge proceeded to say that it is the assignation of community service in lieu of imprisonment. It’s exactly the same concept used in the US. There were other terms, key terms, that should not be translated either.

That triggered some research, which led me to the conclusion that “probation” should not be translated into any language and should be used in English.

I will expand more on this in my next post.


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