Journal of Civil Law Studies


legal translation, civil code, Spanish civil law, Spanish craze


The proper method for translating Spanish and Portuguese civil law concepts into English was a topic of debate among civil law scholars and comparatists at the turn of the last century. This article examines the translation approaches of three Americans (Clifford Walton, F.L. Joannini, and Joseph Wheless) who independently translated the Spanish, Colombian, Argentine, and Brazilian Civil Codes during the period 1899-1920. Specifically, Walton’s (1899) Spanish Civil Code translation’s use of common law English is con-trasted with Joannini’s Colombian (1905) and Argentine (1917) Civil Codes translations’ preference for a “civilian” legal lexicon, including substantial borrowing from the special civil law English vocabulary of the Louisiana Civil Code.

Joannini’s as well as Wheless’s use of civilian terminology re-ceived mixed reviews in law journals. Disagreement among com-paratists about the translators’ methods is explored below and placed within the context of contemporary English-speaking schol-arly paradigms of civil law-common law difference, including atti-tudes to civilian terminology. The article concludes with observa-tions about the role of intellectual history and political crosscur-rents—especially the creation of new mixed legal systems during the 19th and early 20th centuries—in shaping English and American attitudes to the civil law tradition in general and to legal translation in particular.

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