Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why I exposed Ludwig Tan's errors

Some of you may wonder why I exposed Ludwig Tan's errors on grammar. Let's get one thing straight. I have nothing against him and I've not even met him. All that I have done is to examine in the following four of my blog articles what he has written on grammar and usage:

Consultant to the Speak Good English Movement writes.
Speak Good English Movement's Consultant Strikes Again
What's wrong with Singapore's educators?
What's wrong with Singapore's educators? Part 2

That is all. I do not specifically pick on him. But as the Vice-Dean of the Singapore Institute of Management University (sometimes lovingly called UniSIM) and a Consultant to the Speak Good English Movement, Ludwig Tan writes with unflinching authority and openly criticises what he assumes to be the grammatical errors of others, notably, Singapore's journalists. But when he is himself mistaken and these journalists absolutely correct, surely you will agree with me that someone should point out his errors? That's precisely what I seek to do in my blog articles. My point is if you are unsure of English grammar and usage, you should not go round telling others they are wrong when they are not.

What I have written of Ludwig Tan in my above posts is just what I would have written of him even if he were my brother. But of course if I were Ludwig Tan's brother, I would steer clear of any remark about his curious German-Hokkien name because as his brother, I myself would probably go by some such name and the name of Wolfgang Amadeus Tan might very well be my lot.

I hope it's clear to everyone that I have nothing personal against Ludwig Tan who's probably a nice guy. But when I look at the articles on grammar that he writes and the egregious errors he makes, it would be wrong of me not to say something in my own blog about them.

Further, when I correct Ludwig Tan's errors in grammar and usage, I'm not merely addressing his errors alone. Rather, I'm addressing a larger problem than merely the mistakes of one language teacher. I'm addressing a wider pool of Singapore's language teachers and if MOE's language experts and the Speak Good English Movement can be taken to be representative of English teachers in Singapore generally, we truly have a gigantic problem to deal with. At the bottom of this post is a link to a long list of my previous blog posts on the errors made by MOE's language experts, the Speak Good English Movement and Singapore's language educators. Ludwig Tan is not the only language educator in Singapore who shows ignorance in the subject he writes on. Neither is he the only educator in Singapore to make up his own grammar rules which are of course flawed and unacceptable. And he isn't the only Singaporean educator who is reluctant to admit his errors even when he has been shown to be wrong.

I will now pick an article I've just discovered from Ludwig Tan's blog on English grammar that shows quite clearly this strange tendency of Singapore's language educators to invent their own grammar rules which are of course incorrect. And we aren't even dealing with the rocket science of English grammar. It's only the past perfect tense which is an area that any child in Singapore picks up in the first few years of his elementary education.

This is what Ludwig says:

Before we analyse Ludwig Tan's reasoning (which I assure you is like going on a fantasy ride on Disneyland's Space Mountain - so please read on; I promise to make it as easy as possible to follow), let's be clear of what he says here in no uncertain terms: "I have no doubt that (b) is definitely wrong."

He is saying that this sentence is DEFINITELY WRONG:
Before I left the room, I had switched off the lights.
We should only focus on one thing - why he declares that sentence wrong. Before that let's look at how the past perfect can be properly used, according to Ludwig Tan. He gives his example and explains why:

What Ludwig Tan is saying is Singaporeans (and it's always Singaporeans that these educators love to blast) are mistaken in assuming that switched off the lights qualify as an earlier past event or T3 (as grammarians love to term it). But why should it not be T3? Here's Ludwig Tan's explanation:

What Ludwig Tan is saying is shocking. He is inventing a new grammar rule that is completely at odds with the entire history of the English language from the time of Beowulf and before to the present. If you have not yet fallen off your chair after reading what he writes above, you probably haven't been paying much attention but I'll simplify it for you with examples.

For ease of comprehension, I will use the formula used by most grammarians ie T1 to represent the present, T2 the past and T3 an earlier past,

Ludwig Tan is saying that the subordinate clause left the room  cannot be looked upon as T2 for the purpose of deciding whether the main clause expresses T3 in order for the past perfect to be used. And why not? His answer is terse: It's a subordinate clause. What Ludwig Tan has done is he's invented a whole new grammar rule that is not found in the English language. This is precisely what I have shown in my previous blog posts to be just what Singapore's educators (including MOE's language specialists, the Speak Good English Movement and other Singapore teachers) seem so fond of doing and they irritate me no end - they invent erroneous grammar rules just to justify their own quirky non-standard variant of the English language. If you are interested, I've included below a link to a list of all my earlier posts on this subject.

Ludwig Tan gives an example of how he feels the past perfect can be properly used: 
He popped by, but I had already left the room.
Here, T2 and T3 are in two main clauses and his newly concocted grammar rule is observed.

There are a billion examples I can show where T2 appears in a subordinate clause and the past perfect is legitimately used in the main clause to indicate T3.  You will find examples galore in ANY grammar book. Why Ludwig Tan did not bother to look up a grammar book before making up his own rule is something I can't comment on.

Here are a few examples stated to be standard English usage which I lift from the Oxford Guide to English Grammar:
By midnight they had come to an agreement.
Her boyfriend Max had gone on holiday with his brother the day before.
When the boss arrived, the meeting had begun.
And I even bothered to take down from my shelf (and almost sprained my shoulder because of Ludwig Tan!!!) the huge book that most grammarians accept as the final authority on English grammar, A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language and I found a sentence which is stated to be correct usage and is on all fours with the sentence that Ludwig Tan says he has no doubt is "definitely wrong":
I had seen him before he saw me.
As I was about to conclude this post, I happened to see in the COMMENTS section of Ludwig Tan's blog an interesting comment made by one of his readers who appears to understand grammar far better than Ludwig Tan himself. This is what the astute reader writes:

The reader asks a very important question that Ludwig Tan simply ignores. "Is there a grammar textbook you can refer to?" He's saying that if you come up with such a ridiculous suggestion that you can't use the past perfect because T2 is contained in a subordinate clause or an adverbial clause, the least you should do is to show us a grammar book to support your argument.

But of course Ludwig Tan is unable to cite any grammar book in support since he made up the rule himself. And it's outrageously wrong.  Here is Ludwig's reply:

Ludwig's reply is a careful balance between backtracking a little and not wanting to lose face by admitting he's wrong. I suppose it must be very embarrassing for an educator to have to admit that he made up a non-existent grammar rule that is in fact wildly erroneous. If you want to learn how to strike such a balance when you've made a terrible mistake but you still don't want to openly admit that you've cooked up a ridiculous and erroneous grammar rule, learn from Ludwig.

First he states that a subordinate clause cannot stand on its own. That's of course something everyone knows. What we want to know is why that should debar us from using the past perfect. This time, he doesn't repeat his earlier remark that a past perfect would be wrong. Notice, earlier he said (and I highlighted in blue above) "I have no doubt that (b) is definitely wrong".  When you have NO DOUBT that (b) is DEFINITELY WRONG, you cannot now say that depending on the context, (b) can be right which is what he is saying now in reply to the reader's comment. The fact is all grammar books give ample examples that (b) is right. It's also a fact that Ludwig's reasoning that you can't have a past perfect when T2 is expressed in a subordinate clause is laughably wrong.

Making up their own grammar rules is nothing new for Singapore's language educators.  Here is a list of my earlier blog posts that deal with Singapore's language teachers, MOE's language experts and experts from the Speak Good English Movement making up their own rules: 

1.  Still remain is tautologous.

2.  Proximity rule trumps strict grammar.  

3.  A possessive cannot follow an article.

4.  "Do you know who the inventor of the camera is?" is incorrect.  

5.  "Alan and George WORKS as a team" is acceptable.

6.   Catenatives take on a new meaning.

7.   " hot as they" is incorrect because "they" is a subject and the sentence must have an object.

8.   The tense remains the same in reported speech as in direct speech.

9.   "One of the boys who like to play soccer is John" is wrong.

10.  "Pressurize" refers only to atmospheric pressure. But when a reader disputes what the "expert" says, the expert repeats what the reader says but in a manner that seems like he wasn't wrong in the first place.  It reminds me of the Blackadder comedy. When Blackadder says something stupid and Baldrick suggests something else that's brilliant, he will tell Baldrick to shut up but he will use Baldrick's suggestion as if it were his own brainchild. 

11.  "Premises" is plural but becomes singular when a reader insists it's singular.  The expert begins his reply to the reader with "Aren't you a sharp one!"  He gives the impression that he deliberately wrote something incorrect and it was picked up by the sharp reader. He doesn't realize that the reader is wrong.

Why do Singapore's educators love to make up their own rules? My guess is some of them probably don't know how to look up a grammar book or they are too lazy to do so. Not everyone knows how to use a grammar book. Some people don't even know where to begin. But this is no excuse for Singapore's educators who really should know better.  

For the second part of this article, please see Why I Exposed Ludwig Tan's Errors Part 2.

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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