Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Yap-Soh-Pee-Khoo gang on the English language

I've been asked what personal grievance I have against the Speak Good English Movement, the language experts from the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the other writers of the appalling grammar book ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN. I have nothing personal against them for I do not know the language experts from the MOE and the other writers of the deeply flawed grammar book from Adam and if you have followed my blog from the very start, I have nothing but praise for the MOE which is instrumental in placing Singapore on the top of the world's chart on education. As for the Speak Good English Movement, I've always thought of it as a bit of a clown from its very start but I have no strong feelings against it.

I only went on a rampage (which is how my children humorously describe the occasional criticism I make of Singapore's ignorant English language experts) after I discovered the extent of these experts' ignorance of basic English grammar. Those who would like to see a list of all my recent criticisms of these experts may click here (see under para 1 A of the list). It all started in May last year when I saw an article in the newspaper about the Speak Good English Movement that prompted me to write this article in my blog. Months after that, an ad by the Movement led me to look at the work of the Speak Good English Movement more carefully. Their website was undergoing maintenance as it still is today. I just checked and here's the screen capture.

But I found archived in the website of the National Library a treasure trove of all the ludicrous errors made in a newspaper series contributed by the Movement and the MOE called "ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN". Two books were published from this and they were touted to be excellent resources on English grammar for Singaporeans. The then President of the Speak Good English Movement wrote the Preface to the book. ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN and ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN 2 are the work of both the Speak Good English Movement and the MOE although the latter seems to have distanced itself upon the publication of ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN 2. It may very well be that while the first book saw "English language specialists" from the MOE giving the answers to questions posed by newspaper readers, the English language panel for the second book consists of named but unknown individuals - Khoo Li Ying, Stephanie Pee, Sylvy Soh and Aloysius Yap - who were probably not be in the MOE's employ. I'll refer to the writers of ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN 2 collectively as the Yap-Soh-Pee-Khoo gang.

I bought both books last month and you won't believe how outrageously flawed every page is until you have gone through the books yourself. I have come across rotten grammar books in my time including a horrendous book on English which I found in a book shop in Kyongju written by a Korean writer for Koreans who, by and large, don't speak a word of English but even that book pales by comparison with these two books when I'm looking for the worst possible book on English.  I've been asked many times which of the two books is worse. Book No. 1 or Book No. 2?

But those who have read my posts (please see the list given in the first link above or if you're lazy, you may just click here) will know that it's very hard for me to decide which book is more rotten of the two. They are like two very badly rotten eggs jostling to see which wins the Most Stinking Egg Contest; they both beat all other rotten eggs flat but it's hard for a judge to decide which of the two exudes a more noisome stench.

What truly astounds me is the fact that any human being with some basic knowledge of English grammar can be as wrong as the English language panel in both books. I am not just talking about the difficult areas of English grammar; the experts in both books are clueless about even elementary grammar rules that children in primary schools in Singapore are well aware of. I have given many examples in my earlier posts (see my list in the link above).

I've been asked whether I exaggerate when I say that almost every page of both books contains shocking errors. I have not exaggerated one bit. Almost every page contains some error that makes it perfectly justifiable for me to publicly denounce the English language panel as a bunch of ignoramuses who have shamelessly and wrongly claimed for themselves the right to teach Singaporeans English grammar and usage when they really ought to go back to primary school to learn the rudiments of English grammar. I have shown enough instances in my earlier blog posts to substantiate my claim.

I just looked at ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN 2 this evening and I decided to confine myself to merely the first page. You would have thought that surely there can't be errors even on the first page? Surely any decent writer would make sure that the first page is at least correct? There are only two questions on the first page and I'll examine the answers to these two questions and see if there is at least an incorrect answer. The answers in this book are written by the named quartet - the Yap-Soh-Pee-Khoo gang.

Here's the first question followed by the answer.

This answer is a dead giveaway that the Yap-Soh-Pee-Khoo gang aren't at home with the English language. Elsewhere in the book, they have shown a total lack of understanding of grammatical concord and they fumble when they see plural and singular nouns in a sentence. They have a tendency of resorting to some fixed mathematical rule (of their own concoction) which really isn't what English grammar is about. See this and this.  There are many other examples in the list I've given of my past posts. But grammatical concord is not the only thing they know nothing about. Almost every aspect of grammar is alien to them. I have millions of examples, many of which I have not written in my blog yet.

Let's look at the second question that the hapless newspaper reader asks. Asking the Yap-Soh-Pee-Khoo gang a point of grammar and usage is like getting a witchdoctor to remove a tumour from your brain.

Wow!  "We are out to lunch" is incorrect according to the Yap-Soh-Pee-Khoo gang. This is such a stupid answer I don't think I need to tell my readers why they are so wrong.

I'll just give a few examples from a couple of dictionaries. My Cambridge Dictionary gives this example:
I'm sorry, Ms Wilson isn't here at the moment, she's out to lunch.
In another dictionary, the definition of the verb lunch is given as
(verb intransitive) to eat lunch; (verb transitive) to provide (somebody) with lunch or take (them) out to lunch.
"Out to lunch" is such a common expression that it's taken on a new meaning informally especially in conversation. You can say of someone who isn't paying attention or isn't doing her work or is behaving strangely in the office that she's out to lunch. It's as if she's not in the office but eating lunch elsewhere. When it comes to giving correct answers on grammar, the writers of ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN are always out to lunch. There are only two questions on the first page and both their answers are wrong. Now, you know I wasn't exaggerating.

[EDITED ON 3 APR 2014 AT 6:50PM]:

As you know, I do try to be fair to the writers of these two execrably flawed books ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN and ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN 2 and I've just noticed that in Book 1, a reader asks the same question whether "go out for lunch" and "go out to lunch" are acceptable. The language specialists from the Ministry of Education (MOE) who are the ones who supplied the answers to questions in Book 1 say "Both are fine" on page 58 of the book. Although the MOE's language specialists are just as bad and clueless about English grammar as the Yap-Soh-Pee-Khoo gang, I want to be fair to them on the very rare occasion when they are correct.

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