Saturday, July 5, 2014

Why I Excoriate the Speak Good English Movement

I have never corrected anyone's language in my entire life. I see it as rude and discourteous to tell someone his speech or writing is shoddy and ungrammatical. The only people I have bothered to correct are my kids but that's my fatherly duty. But when I come across someone who arrogates to himself the right and authority to tell others that they are grammatically wrong, my hackles rise. If this self-appointed grammarian-wannabe is wrong, I will expose his error. I am sure you will agree that morally, I cannot be faulted for this.

I have written more than 20 blog articles about the shocking blunders made by Singapore's Speak Good English Movement. Most of the errors appear in two grammar books that the Movement published or had a hand in the publication. I have listed all the links in my blog on one page so that you can have easy access to them - just click here.

In an earlier blog post, I pointed out serious errors in the Movement's English lessons which appeared on their website. The same errors can be found in the Movement's grammar books.  If you want to read that earlier blog article, please click here.  But what I want to draw your attention to is this little excerpt from that earlier blog article:

Do you see how careful I was not to accuse the Movement falsely? I said I didn't think I was unkind if I held the Movement fully accountable for this mistake.

And I was certainly not unkind. This morning, like most Saturday mornings, I was listlessly surfing the net when I chanced upon a formal speech made by the Chairman of the Speak Good English Movement. I'm not in the habit of reading whole speeches on a Saturday morning and I didn't read the entire speech.  But my eyes happened to rest on this sentence and I spotted the same error that I had corrected months ago in the above excerpt. The Chairman was speaking about Singaporeans who could code-switch from Standard English to Singlish when in the company of Singlish speakers and then he wanted to relate a personal story. From my own observation, those who are not very comfortable with speaking grammatical English will usually expose their linguistic deficiencies when they attempt to recount a personal tale. The Movement's Chairman exhibited the same weakness when he told his personal story:
"I admit that I used to codeswitch when I spoke to those whom I thought cannot speak good English."            
For the full text of the speech, please click here.  NOTE: The link no longer works. The full speech now appears in this link: click here.

There are really two grammatical errors in that one sentence but I will just talk about the who/whom confusion.  The Chairman made precisely the same who/whom mistake as the writer of that incredibly flawed grammar book. What I wrote months ago in that excerpt to address the error of the writer of that grammar book is relevant and applicable to the Chairman's error. So when I said I would hold the Speak Good English Movement accountable for that error, I was not wrong at all. This is evidence that the Chairman of the Movement is himself in error on precisely the same grammatical point.

I'm writing this post for two reasons. A friend recently told me that I should be careful not to pick on off-the-cuff statements made by the Movement's committee members and if I wanted to criticise their language, I should look at their formal speeches.  This is a formal speech and it's also printed on their website. My other reason for writing this is to vindicate myself for having held the Movement accountable for the who/whom error in their grammar book. I was right to lay the blame at their door. And of course I hope this would put one more nail in the Movement's coffin.

I know a few of the people in the Movement and I'm not exaggerating when I say that they are really lovely people who are sincere in what they are doing. I have never questioned their goodness, selflessness, honour and integrity which are absolutely unimpeachable.  But I am firmly of the view, and I've said this many times before, that the Movement is not equipped to perform the Herculean task of being a watchdog over the nation's language. We don't need a watchdog in the first place.  Singaporeans speak and write very good English and from the evidence I have shown so far in more than 20 blog posts, many of us are probably far more knowledgeable about English grammar than even the key members of the Committee.

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