Helen Sargent’s July 27 letter to the editor regarding improper English use is misguided. It is based in the trite sentiment that the past is superior to the present and presupposes prescriptive grammatical dogma.

I do not blame Ms. Sargent herself. There have always been nitpicky grammarians.

Around the third century Appendix Probi was written, listing common Latin mistakes with corrections. One entry states that “numquam,” not “numqua,” should be used to say “never,” but in modern Spanish, “numqua” survives as “nunca.”

Never say numquam when it comes to language change. English isn’t immune – try reading “Beowulf” untranslated.

Languages are organic, changing things. To define any particular language is an exercise in futility. Why Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are considered distinctive but Swabian is only a dialect of German demonstrates language’s divisive and unifying strength. Standardization of language was a tool for defining the nation states of Italy, France and Germany between the 18th and 19th centuries.

This unifying power can be misused. Certainly, it can be used as a form of elitism. If you wanted to pantomime an ignorant and provincial person, what sort of speech would you use? I doubt it would be the trans-Atlantic cadence of FDR. It’s more apt to sound like Gomer Pyle.

It is important to avoid linguistic bias. It is easy to find humor in such examples, but discrimination based on accent and voice patterns is a real issue in the professional and academic spheres. Such prescriptivism invalidates others’ ways of talking. None of us is the arbiter of proper speech.

Ms. Sargent and those of like mind are well intended. Certainly education in literature, rhetoric and oration is beneficial to the edification of society. It is important, however, to understand that demotic speech is not inferior to prescribed grammars of formal language. They serve us differently.

Josh Danis

Portland