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Dear Editor:

Re: Justin's letter, I write in response to Justin's letter to the Editor and his rather postmodern attack on Ali Alexander for referring tangentially to "proper" Spanish. Mr. Alexander's comment apparently bothered a number of readers who do not seem to understand that English, particularly American English, is a peasant language for which rules were never formally encoded and for which proper usage is the result of informal consensus (and even in English, class distinctions are made regularly based on how one speaks, as when the Dixie Chicks disparage country singers who do not use their accents ironically). This is not the case for most languages. In English there is no universal standard and each distinct form of speech is a dialect. Dialects exist in other languages but there are generally standard forms of speaking. Even in Spanish, there are proper ways to speak and improper ones. Often the rules of grammar depend on whom one is speaking to. In my first language, Czech, there are three such forms, written or formal Czech, which closely resembles the 16th Century prose of Jan Hus and is used to write or speak before an audience, polite Czech, used with elders, in professional settings and so forth, and spoken Czech which is how people talk to friends and family. Within 10 minutes of conversation, it is possible to peg a person's degree of education down to the year based on his ability to chose the correct form. While Czech is admittedly extreme in this regard, most widely used languages are more like this than like English. If Justin doubts this I encourage him to live a few years in a foreign country that does not use much English. As for Justin's other point about multilingual ballots, proof of citizenship is not generally required of people trying to vote. Even if it were, in many local governments, US citizenship is not a requirement to local citizenship. The unlamented (at least by most of our readership) Congressman Bob Dornan would still be a member of the House were the restriction enforced (he lsot by a handful of votes shown to be less than the number of non-citizens who voted against him). When so many foreign countries insist on English as a second or third language for practical reasons, primarily the dominance of American culture, I fail to see why Justin has a problem with insisting on it here. Someone who does not speak English will generally be a second class citizen of the world, much less of the overwhelmingly mono-lingual US.

Honza J. F. Prchal

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