Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Cowardice of Our Language "Experts"

In my blog post yesterday (click here), I expressed in an addendum my confusion and uncertainty over the involvement of the Ministry of Education (MOE) in the writing of ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN (Books 1 & 2). But for the purpose of this post, there is no confusion at all because I'm confining myself to Book 1 which clearly states on the Acknowledgements page that the answers and comments in that volume come from the "panel of English Language specialists" of the Ministry of Education. Although we are unable to ascertain who the individual "specialists" are, we know for sure that they are from the Ministry of Education simply because that's what the book itself tells us.

While the language experts are without a doubt generally incredibly cocksure in their answers, they usually become suddenly timid when members of the public make a reply contradicting what they say especially when the reply is done in a confident tone or if there is included a claim that books have been consulted. In such an instance, either the experts back down and pretend to enlarge upon what they have said earlier but anyone can see that they are really backpedalling which can be really amusing or they capitulate to the reader who is given the last say on the subject and the experts retire in disgrace. I really must say that both volumes of ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN have been truly entertaining but not in the way they were intended.

There are many hilarious examples but let me give you one.

A reader asks an elementary question, the sort that even MOE's language specialists should have no problem answering.

Someone else who has read this answer then takes it upon himself to write to the panel his view of the matter. What he says appears below in the inset titled "Your say"

Now, what I find incredible is the language experts from MOE obviously decide that they are not in a position to post a rebuttal to what this reader says. Notice how they give this comment by the reader pride of place on this page. It looks like it's pinned to the page with the words "YOUR SAY" and it is indeed the final say on the matter without even the tiniest disagreement from MOE.

The fact that the experts allow the reader's opinion to be placed in the book as the final definitive opinion on the subject means that they must agree with it. Surely if they think the reader is wrong, they must say something to correct that reader? After all, this is such a popular book in Singapore and it was on the best seller list for many months and it has a wide readership among students and the general public and is probably the most influential book on grammar in Singapore.

Why is the reader's view given so much prominence in the book and there's not even the smallest squeak of disagreement from the experts? The book was published in 2007 and has undergone at least 9 reprints. The reader's comment remains the final say on this matter.

Why do you think MOE's language experts behave in this cowardly fashion? As you know, I love to get to the psychology behind the error and here's what I think actually happened.

When the reader mentioned that he had consulted two books in order for him to arrive at his opinion, MOE's language experts probably felt intimidated and hence the absolute silence. This leads me to two possibilities:

1. MOE's language experts are children or teenagers and they do not know how to engage an adult in an argument. This has the support of evidence I've gathered from elsewhere in the book when the experts seem more comfortable flexing their muscles when they are dealing with schoolchildren. They are more likely to do their backpedalling when adults disagree with them. I have considered this possibility for a long time and although I'm not prepared to give it up altogether, I'm more inclined to go with the second possibility.

2. MOE's language experts are just plain incompetent and have serious proficiency problems. Why then did MOE appoint them language experts?

I suppose this is one great mystery that will never be solved unless MOE is prepared to shed some light on it.

Note: If you are interested, there is a sequel to this post. If you are on the main blog, just look at the post immediately after this.

For a full list of grammar errors made by MOE, the Speak Good English Movement and other language teachers, please click here.

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