Saturday, April 24, 2010

Idiomasyncracies: Gente and People

Some idiomasyncracies are funny while others, like this one, are meant to be informative.  These are questions Spanish language learners/practicers ask me, and they are concepts that can be confusing.

In the Spanish dictionary gente means: people; persons in general; folk; nation; those who comprise a community; family. A good example of its usage would be, "Es buena gente."  In English, "he's good people" or "he's good folk", etc. 

In this phrase, "La gente de Chiapas es muy pobre," I am simply saying "the people of Chiapas are very poor."  You'll notice that "la gente" is a singular word and even though it is used in a plural concept its verb is third person singular.  "Me cae bien la gente del Yucatán."  "I like Yucatecan people."  The noun and verb remain in singular form.

La gente can be pluralized.  Las gentes is a correct way of saying "the peoples" in many groups of different categories of people.  So you CAN say "Las gentes de Chiapas son muy pobres,"  because the truth of the matter is there are scores of indigenous groups who speak unique languages and live with unique customs in Chiapas, and they represent a large percentage of the abject poverty of the state .  Should you choose the second phrase with las gentes, you will be understood to be talking about more than one group.  If you say, "Me gustan las gentes de Mérida," "I like the peoples of Mérida," the response will be big eyes, because that is a very large, all inclusive GUSTO.

The confusion enters when translating to our word 'people'.  It is a plural word. It always indicates a body of persons sharing a common thread and automatically takes a third person plural verb form.  "People are broke."

'The people" denotes the mass or ordinary persons, i.e. the populace.  It too requires the third person plural verb accompaniment. 'Peoples' is an acceptable plural form of people, but it's only used in the plural (peoples) to refer to two or more groups considered to be political or cultural entities:  "The Mayan peoples' history,"  for example.

The lesson then would be that a singular noun in Spanish must be accompanied by a singular verb and singular adjectives.  Even if the noun indicates a group, that group becomes a singular item.    On the other hand, the English word 'people' is already in plural form and thus requires plural accompaniments.  This is just another example of how we look at things a little differently, and another reason it is so confusing to learn another language. 

¡Ojalá le gustó a la gente este artículo!
I tried to download a video but the procedure has changed, so I am not sure if this is going to work for you or not.  You should be able to just click below to hear the song.   If you can handle Latino rap or whatever this is, the lyrics are great.  Unfortunately they are sung so fast you don't understand a thing. The point is, it is a song about all kinds of GENTE.  They played this video for six months, once an hour, on a tv station we watch.  After a few months I'd gotten the lyrics and actually liked this song  Funny.  

Wild Song about lots of GENTE

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lin, my email is
I lost your email, also. I only had the kona address.