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May 18th, 2011 MARTY SMITH | Dr. Know
 

Dr. Know: Se Habla MAX?

drknowILLUSTRATION: Hawk Krall
     
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The recordings on MAX are only in Spanish and English. What about Russian and Vietnamese, if they’re really trying to “honor” non-English speakers? Won’t this discourage other groups from riding the train? Either give the info in every language, or just do English.  —Kyle in SE Portland

See? I knew that long-form birth certificate wasn’t going to keep you people quiet for very long. 

Call me crazy, Kyle, but somehow I don’t think your real worry is that foreign-born Portlanders are being dishonored. (I also suspect you’re mad that only handicapped people get to drive the little electric shopping cart at Fred Meyer, but that’s kind of a tangent.)

Nativist straw men notwithstanding, the fact we can’t accommodate everyone doesn’t mean we shouldn’t accommodate anyone: TriMet may not be able to bring enough linguistic gum for the whole class, but it might as well hook up as many folks as it can. 

As to why only Spanish makes the cut: There are between three and five times as many Spanish speakers, depending on how you crunch the numbers, in the greater Portland area as there are speakers of any other non-English language.

TriMet puts the number of non-bilingual Spanish speakers in its service area at around 30,000, or 2.5 percent—not a huge number, but still worth a few extra recordings. After that, diminishing returns kick in pretty quickly: Speakers of all other languages combined only total 1.3 percent.  

And anyway, this policy makes your life easier as well. “These announcements minimize confusion for our Spanish-speaking riders,” says TriMet’s Mary Fetsch. “[That] makes the system more efficient for everyone who rides.” Fewer time-consuming communication breakdowns—who can argue with that? Unless, of course, you miss those opportunities to roll your eyes and feel superior.

 
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