Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What's in a name?

I'm afraid I'll have to pick on Ludwig Tan again but I assure you, this is not deliberate. It so happens his blog contains many boo-boos which are quite hilarious and since I like to have in my blog articles that are funny, it's great to be able to pick little nuggets from his blog which are already amusing by themselves. His blog is a useful resource for comedians who have run out of humorous anecdotes.

This is what Ludwig Tan posts in his blog:
When I first read the above, I was puzzled. Surely everyone knows that with proper nouns (Cafe Lobby is an example of a proper noun), you can always have a variation of the order and examples abound all over the English-speaking world? I decided to put it to the test.

I buy my nasi lemak every morning at a Malay stall which is manned by a woman and her son who's about 14 or 15. I called the boy over one morning and I asked him what he thought of this. Of course in Malay, it's quite common to have the word order in reverse. But I asked him if he thought it was possible to have a place name in that order in English. I gave him the example of Cafe Lobby. Now, this boy does not have much education. He dropped out of primary school and he works full-time in his mother's stall. But he's a bright boy and after racking his brains for two minutes, he replied in the affirmative. And he took me completely by surprise when he broke into a song, "Welcome to the Hotel California," he sang as he danced a little. At first I didn't connect the song to my question and I asked myself why this young boy was singing an old song of my generation. And then it hit me and I almost stood up to ask him if he would like to be the Vice-Dean of the School of Arts and Social Sciences in SIM University. "Hotel California" is an example of the word order that Ludwig Tan has declared to be a grammatical transgression! Wow! This primary school dropout certainly can teach Ludwig Tan a thing or two.

My point is everyone except Ludwig Tan knows this. One of his readers makes this comment at the bottom of his blog post and as I have shown elsewhere in this blog, his readers who are presumably his students usually know much more than he:

Of course we have numerous examples in England, America, Australia and elsewhere on this planet where English is spoken but why does Ludwig pick on a small Singaporean enterprise? And to call it a grammatical transgression is simply ridiculous.

There exists in Singapore a group of English teachers who are very quick to condemn everything Singaporean as wrong but they regard as unquestioningly correct anything that hails from Mother England. This may explain why when Ludwig wrote his piece against this honest Singapore cafe, he did not once consider names such as Tate Modern, Park Royal in London or even the title of that hymn book which I'm quite familiar with as a former altar boy and which originates from England,  Hymns Ancient & Modern. If Kallang River had been named River Kallang, these Anglophiles who have a shaky foundation of the English language would have been up in arms but for them, River Thames is quite a different kettle of fish altogether and is deserving of their adoration.

Really, I would have thought anyone who calls himself Ludwig Tan would be the last person to quibble about a name!

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

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