City Desk

Note to WaPo Editorial Board: Stick with English

The Washington Post yesterday printed an editorial on linguistic controversies in Northern Virginia. The following are a few lines from the top of the editorial:

English, Sí?
A common language takes more than a resolution.
Latinos forman una mayor parte de la populacion en Manassas Park.

IF YOU COULD not read that sentence, you probably aren't one of the many Latinos who helped make that Virginia suburb a place where minorities now outnumber non-Hispanic whites.

Actually: If you could not read that sentence, it says nothing about whether you're gringo, Latino, or africano-americano. That's because the error-filled sentence doesn't mean anything.

Assuming that the Post was trying to approximate Spanish, here's a breakdown of the sentence's breakdowns:

Latinos: Sure, that's a word we all know, and it exists in both English and Spanish. But in the latter, you can't just go throwing nouns around without articles. Like French ones, Spanish nouns require articles, especially when they're the topic of the sentence. So here, Los latinos would be the way to go.

forman: This is the only part of the sentence that's correct, and the translation is pretty cognative: "form," or "make up."

una mayor parte: Another fuck-up, for reasons explained below.

de la populacion: One of the steadfast rules of Spanish is that the accent mark falls on the "o" of nouns ending in "cion." But an accent mark in this case wouldn't even save this gaffe. "Populacion" is not a Spanish word. If the intent is to give the Spanish equivalent of "population," the right word is población.

The only possible explanation available to the Post on this front is that it's hip to street español. According to the 2003 book Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language, some people are indeed saying populación instead of the proper word—in the same sense, for example, that they're using lanlaidi in referring to their female landlords. So until the Post embraces slang on its editorial page—can you envision this lede: "President Bush is a bulchiteador”?—it's safe to assume that the editorial board just put plain, bad gringo Spanish on the page without blinking.

en Manassas Park: Wrong preposition. Should be "de."

The translation for the Post's "sentence" reads something like this:

"Latinos make up a greater part of the Manassas Park population."

But what does that mean? Greater (mayor) than what? Are they trying to say that the population is growing? Or that Manassas Park is a majority-minority jurisdiction?

If so, there are ways to say those things in Spanish, but not before the editorialists take a few clases de español.

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