Harmless Drudge: 13th Century Legal Lingo
Posted: 30 November 2010 05:27 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Lawyers haven’t changed.

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Posted: 30 November 2010 09:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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You’re right, Dave - it’s only a hop, skip and jump from the text you quote to Groucho Marx’s “party of the first part”........

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Posted: 01 December 2010 08:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Man, it’s been almost half a century since I took Latin (from feisty little Brother Auger, who used to chase big hulking students around the classroom with a ruler), and I could understand almost the entire passage without looking at the translation.  Thank goodness for medieval non-classicism!  But “set non cognoscit eos” should presumably be “sed...”

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Posted: 01 December 2010 09:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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It could have come from a modern police blotter or out of the mouth of a police officer on the TV show Cops.

Your first take was the right one. In modern terms, this is cop-speak, not lawyer.

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Posted: 01 December 2010 02:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I found it astonishingly easy to follow the gist of the Latin text, whereas I usually struggle. (I only took high school Latin up to age 16.) What I can’t put my finger on is just what makes this text so easy to follow. Certainly it seems to have less of the complex grammatical undergrowth that I remember getting tangled in at school and there were almost no words that I didn’t know or couldn’t guess at, but is there also something about the structure? I’m too inexperienced at reading Latin to really understand what’s going on here.

Although Dave asserts that he hasn’t massaged the translation to sound like modern legalese, the choice of English words biases it a bit in that direction. Translating ‘predicti’ in the first sentence as ‘aforementioned’ rather than as ‘previously mentioned’ does rather spin it towards police-speak. (My own cultural bias can’t help putting Dave’s translation in the mouth of a Metropolitan Police Constable doggedly reading it from his notebook in a flat Estuary English accent.)

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Posted: 01 December 2010 05:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Some of the other depositions are a bit more difficult, but mainly due to dialectal vocabulary and the fact that this is a notebook of, apparently, hastily transcribed depositions, so there are quite a few grammatical errors. I picked the passage that seemed to have the fewest of these difficulties (mainly because I was more confident of my translation of this portion). But they are all lacking the complex grammatical structures that make classical or medieval academic Latin challenging.

Yes, I could have chosen other words that would make the comparison to modern legal speak less obvious, but the fact that this can be directly translated into modern legalese pretty much word for word is the telling bit. One of the goals of almost any translation is to put it in proper, idiomatic, modern vernacular. If the only thing you have to do is select the synonym that most closely matches the modern jargon, then the original is pretty darn close. Of course, this is but one small sample, and other examples may not seem as familiar.

[ Edited: 01 December 2010 05:41 PM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 02 December 2010 01:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Dave Wilton - 01 December 2010 05:38 PM

Yes, I could have chosen other words that would make the comparison to modern legal speak less obvious, but the fact that this can be directly translated into modern legalese pretty much word for word is the telling bit. One of the goals of almost any translation is to put it in proper, idiomatic, modern vernacular. If the only thing you have to do is select the synonym that most closely matches the modern jargon, then the original is pretty darn close. Of course, this is but one small sample, and other examples may not seem as familiar.

Good point. And, come to think of it, the way I ‘heard’ the words of your translation as I read them rather reinforces your point. I agree it was an appropriate translation as you made the writer speak to is in character.

Maybe the way PC Plod writes reports shouldn’t be derided as obfuscated bureaucratese but celebrated as an honourable tradition dating back many centuries? Maybe not.

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Posted: 02 December 2010 03:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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languagehat - 01 December 2010 08:25 AM

But “set non cognoscit eos” should presumably be “sed...”

No, “set” was used frequently in Medieval Latin in place of “sed”, presumably because word-final d and t in the vernacular language had either disappeared or were indistinguishable (e.g., AD -> a, AMAT-> ama, in Italian/Spanish/Portuguese).  In Du Cange’s Glossarium Ad Scriptores Mediae et Infimae Latinitatis there are numerous references employing “set”, notably the following, where “occurrit passim” means “occurs frequently”:

SET, pro Sed, in Charta ann. 425. tom. 1. Monast. Anglic. pag. 11. et in Diplom. Ludovici Pii ann. 814. inter Probat. tom. 1. novæ Hist. Occitan. col. 41. Occurrit passim

Closer to “home”, in Latham’s Revised Medieval Latin Word-List from British and Irish Sources, “set” is also listed as an alternative form for “sed” that was of “regular occurrence” between 1086 and 1319.

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Posted: 02 December 2010 05:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Yes, this thirteenth-century Venetian scribe uses set pretty consistently. (Actually Torcello, but close enough.)

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Posted: 02 December 2010 07:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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No, “set” was used frequently in Medieval Latin in place of “sed”, presumably because word-final d and t in the vernacular language had either disappeared or were indistinguishable

See, that’s why I hang around this place, I keep learning new things.  Thanks!

Edit: And I see I could have learned the basic fact, if not the illuminating explanation, from my trusty Latin for Local History, which has in the word list at the end ”sed or set (conj.)—but.” The fact that English scribes used it, even though final d and t were not confused in their native language, suggests they picked it up on the continent.

[ Edited: 02 December 2010 07:43 AM by languagehat ]
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Posted: 05 December 2010 11:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Part of the similarity may stem from modern police officers who, as a reflex, turn to multisyllabic Latin derived words to try to sound more neutral or more intelligent.  A wrongdoer is a “suspect”.  The officer “detected the aroma of a substance burning that, in his experience, is marijuana” rather than that the officer “smelled pot burning”.  The suspect always seems to “exit the vehicle” and never “gets out of the car”.  The officer “pursues the suspect” rather than “runs after the crook”.  Etc.

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Posted: 05 December 2010 02:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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A wrongdoer is a “suspect”.
---
Well he’s not a wrongdoer until he’s been convicted… prior assumption of innocence and all that

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Posted: 06 December 2010 04:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Hence “neutral.” Even if the police officer witnesses the crime, she will use the neutral, legally correct language, even, if cop shows on TV are to be believed, in casual conversation.

I would disagree with my brother, though, about them trying to sound more “intelligent.” I would say they’re trying to sound “professional.”

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