Surprise Heirs: Illegitimacy, Patrimonial Rights, and Legal Nationalism in Luso-Brazilian Inheritance, 1750-1821 - Vol. 1

By Linda Lewin | Go to book overview

A Note on Legal Language and Brazilian
Orthography and Names

Language, especially the language of law in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, plays a central role in this study. The terms used in this book frequently differ from legal terminology currently in use in Brazil. Deviation often reflects more than merely a linguistic shift, however. Today, the legal concepts have often changed from what they were two hundred years ago. Consequently, English cannot always supply precise equivalents. If they exist in Anglo-American law, equivalent terms may imply different outcomes. Consequently, I have sometimes used archaic English to render language derived from a Luso-Brazilian legal tradition, as in the practice of “calling” the legitimate heirs to succeed. Otherwise, Brazilian readers will discover constructs that are central to discussion, such as “qualidade,” an individual's quality of birth, no longer matter in their inheritance system. In matters of inheritance, Jack Goody has reminded us, “It is not easy to be precise unless we are technical.” 1 Although I have translated Portuguese legal terms into English wherever they do correspond to Anglo-American legal concepts, there is a strong case to be made for retaining Portuguese where English “synonyms” either do not exist or imply different constructs, meanings, or outcomes. Rather than trying to harmonize linguistically what are really notions fundamentally alien to Anglo-American usage today, I have deliberately left a small number of those terms dissonant by retaining Portuguese terms. To do otherwise would be to blunt, to distort and misrepresent, or to confuse analysis of change over the century this book addresses.

Readers may initially be puzzled as to why I have not spoken consistently throughout the book of “illegitimacy” and “illegitimate” offspring, and, instead, alternated the latter with terms like “non-legitimate” or “out-ofwedlock.” One reason is to avoid reliance on the dichotomy familiar from Anglo-American law that rigidly opposes “legitimate” to “illegitimate.” LusoBrazilian legal tradition demonstrated a spectrum of intermediate positions

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