What Languages Differentiate Between Right (Legal) and Right (Location)

In local government offices, there are posters in English and Spanish. The Spanish ones often mention “derechos” in the context of “rights,” meaning legal rights. I know from my loose grasp of Spanish that “derecho” also means “right” in the context of the right-hand side of something.

Similarly, the anti-piracy warning I see on many DVDs has a warning in French, with words to the effect of “Les droits d’autueres” (the rights of aritists), again referring to legal rights. I also know enough French to know that “droit” also means “right” in the context of the right-hand side.

Which languages don’t use both meanings of the word?

Well, I suppose guugu yimithirr since it doesn’t use relative directions at all.

There are a lot of languages, though. I’m not sure anyone could really tell you all the languages that don’t use the same word for the two meanings.

German has rechts (right, as opposed to links, left) and richtig (correct).

Totally different in Hebrew: “yemin” is the direction, “zechut” is the privilege.

Japanese has distinct words for “right” (spatial), “right” (legal/moral), and “right” (correct):

right side == Migigawa (“migi” is the prefix for “right”; “gawa” means “side”; compare the other “-gawa” words in that translation page)
right (legal/moral) == “kenri” (or “ken” suffix or prefix, in context)
right (correct) == “tadashī”

Still, it is odd that in so many languages, the three loosely connected concepts have essentially the same words.

Oops, just realized I wasn’t quite answering the question; for some reason I got off track and was thinking of “right” as in “correct” – and indeed, in German Recht refers to a legal right. :smack:


“Höger” (direction)
“Rätt” (legal)

It’s interesting that this takes place in both Romance and Germanic languages, even though the word stems aren’t necessarily the same. I wonder what the influence was from.

Also in Slavic languages. In Czech:

vpravo - to the right
pravý - right-hand; also right, correct, legitimate, genuine, real, just, good, true
pravda - truth
opravdu - really, truly, genuinely, actually
právní - law, legal
právo - justice
právník - lawyer

Welsh de “right” (direction; also means “south”)
hawl legal right

Same (or close to) in the other Scandinavian languages. Höger, høyre, høire, høgre, comes from old Norse and is related to a word meaning comfortable.

A large majority of people in every culture have always been right-handed, so it is very common for the right (handedness) to reflect the word for “correct”, including social behavior that is correct, indicating what people have a “right” to do in conformity with custom. Spatial Right would have always arisen in the vocabulary somewhat later than Correctness, which would have been one of the first grunts…

The same happens in… uh… whatever language family Basque belongs to :wink: Both forms of ‘right’ have the same root (“esku”, if I’m not mistaken). Interesting indeed

That must be confusing for Welsh people who are not facing east.

It’s especially confusing for southpaws.

Also in Finnish. Oikea has both meanings.

In Irish, the word for “south” corresponds to “right”, while “west” corresponds to “behind”. Which, if arbitrary, is at least consistent.

“Deis” means right, and is related to the word for “nice”.
The word for a moral or legal right, or correctness, is “ceart”.

Not quite. It’s one of the things GPSs tend to get wrong and which take a while to get used to, since very often not only do they mix two different words but use them in completely the wrong way.

Derecho means “right” (noun), as you say. Human rights, los derechos humanos.

Derecho/a means “straight” (adjective: keep on straight, siga todo derecho; stand up straight, ponte derecha).

Derecha is the right side. Go to the right: ve hacia la derecha.

It’s damn confusing when you’re driving, there is a T-intersection with the road going forward and an exit right, and the GPS says siga por la derecha (continue on the right): it’s not how it would be said in either case (at least in Spain) and until you train yourself on what exactly does your GPS mean, you need to look at the map. Is it saying “go on straight” or “take the exit on the right”? Look at the map… which is what having the voice on is supposed to avoid! (FTR, google maps currently means “go on straight”)

Here’s another word with multiple usages in English, but not necessarily so in other languages:


In English, it means
(a) without cost, as in a free meal.
(b) devoid of something else, as in “sugar free” soft drinks; note, in this unusual form, the adjective follows the noun.
© unconstrained, as in “free speech”

Note that only the third usage is closely related to the word “freedom”.

Spanish has (at least) two distinctly different words, or maybe three:
– cost-free is “gratis”
– devoid of something else would be “sin” I think, as in “sin azucar” (without sugar) (Is this right?)
– unconstrained is “libre”

ETA: Can someone comment on how these words and meanings play in French or other languages?