Monday, November 3, 2014

Why I exposed Ludwig Tan's errors Part 2

Before reading this, you may want to look at Why I Exposed Ludwig Tan's Errors Part 1

When I first started criticising Ludwig Tan's outrageous errors in English, I was careful to blot out his name and to protect his identity. But I soon realised that he did not accord the same courtesy to the people he excoriated for errors that are sometimes due to carelessness. What is even more unacceptable is he sometimes incorrectly insists that a sentence is wrong or a word is wrongly used and you can see instances of this in my previous blog posts, the links of which can be found in Why I Exposed Ludwig Tan's Errors Part 1.

But as I have shown in the earlier posts in this blog, Ludwig Tan's language errors are far more serious and less pardonable. All his mistakes that I have highlighted in this blog are not mistakes that he makes after writing at great length. If you look at his blog, Ludwig Tan does not write at great length at all. It's quite common for one to slip up when writing paragraph after paragraph of text. Ludwig's mistakes are not careless mistakes. They are mistakes he makes when he sets out to correct someone else's language. He usually picks on journalists who may have to get an article out at short notice. And Ludwig can be very scathing in his criticism of the writer. The mistakes Ludwig Tan makes are mistakes that aren't due to carelessness or haste. He has all the time in the world to write his blog and he's picking on someone else's supposed error. He must have given some thought to the matter. His mistakes stem from his ignorance of the rules of grammar. He may insist that someone is wrong because he has flouted some non-existent grammatical rule. He sometimes makes up his own grammar rules that fly in the face of standard English and it can be pretty hilarious. And he applies these self-concocted grammatical rules on an extract of a writer's article and says it's wrong. Do go through my previous blog posts (all the links can be found in Why I Exposed Ludwig Tan's Errors Part 1) if you want some amusement.

There is also the arrogance that irritates me. Here's a sample of how he blasts a Straits Times journalist who is admittedly a little garbled in one or two sentences and who makes the careless mistake of treating "phenomena" as singular. After producing an excerpt of the article, complete with the author's name, Ludwig writes this.

Can you believe this? This is the kind of criticism that Ludwig dishes out to the hapless journalist. And this comes from an English teacher who, as I have shown in my previous blog posts, makes egregious blunders in even the most basic points of grammar. Yet he is very quick to pounce on a journalist for the smallest oversight. Elsewhere in his blog, you can see him peppering his comments with words like illiterate and semi-literate. The very heading of his blog drips with obnoxious scorn on anyone less learned than what he imagines himself to be:
A blog dedicated to English grammar, usage and phonetics/phonology, and errors by proficient users (because they teach us more than typos and badly written signs by the semi-literate)
I would have expected more humility in this former polytechnic student. It would be fine if he knew his grammar but as you can see from my previous posts, his blog is a treasure trove of hilarious errors made by the blogger himself. In my book, nobody can be more annoying than a supercilious ignoramus.

Ludwig Tan is a captious critic who always watches like a hawk for grammatical errors. But a good critic must have enough knowledge of the subject matter of his criticism. It won't do for a critic to slam a writer for something that is not even an error but which the critic wrongly imagines is erroneous. As I have shown in my previous blog posts, this is precisely what Ludwig Tan has done repeatedly.

If I want to write an article on blunders made by a Singapore teacher of English, I just have to visit his blog to fish out all kinds of monstrosities. This Sub-Dean of the School of Arts and Social Sciences at SIM University and Consultant to the Speak Good English Movement is simply unbelievable. Here's another laughable mistake I've just found in his blog. This time, one of his readers spots his mistake and exposes him in her comments at the bottom of the post.

A perfectly harmless newspaper article about Singaporeans who have emigrated to other countries and are lost to Singapore. No ambiguity at all. The meaning of the newspaper headlines "Lost to Singapore?" is not something that will be lost on a reasonably educated English speaker in Singapore but it's obviously lost on Ludwig Tan. This is what he writes:

Just see how this ignorant teacher slams the  ST editors. "Perhaps they didn't know the difference between lost (adjective) and loss (noun)," he haughtily writes.

But his readers who are presumably students aren't as clueless as he.  One of them, Jun, demonstrates that she has a good general grasp of the English language.  

NOTE: Ludwig Tan refers to himself in his blog as "the Grammar Terrorist", presumably from the way he butchers English grammar.

What Ludwig says here is something I want my readers to bear in mind so they can contrast it with what he says later when he's cornered and has no choice but to wriggle his way out:
I'm convinced 'lost to Singapore' can only have one meaning, ie the people have been lost, and the recipient is Singapore (hence the preposition 'to')." 
This is typical of many Singapore teachers of English. I've written about this before. They do not understand that English words often have more than one meaning. This is just the kind of teacher we can do without in Singapore. Because they insist an English phrase can only have one meaning, they essentially stifle creativity in their students. As I have said many times before in this blog, the beauty of the English language lies in the many varied ways that a thought can be expressed. What many Singapore teachers do is to nip in the bud any creativity that a student might have with words. This is truly sad and unfortunate and really, the MOE should do something about this. Just appoint me the Acting Education Minister for just one day (without remuneration; I'm not in this for the money!!!) with the power to sack teachers and I'll rage through the whole of our fair island like a cleansing fire.

Jun has given Ludwig a perfectly good sentence, "The book is lost to us". But Ludwig clearly hasn't got that general feel of what's right or wrong in English which every proficient English speaker should have. He insists the sentence "doesn't sound quite right"! And he goes on to say something which is totally untrue. He says, "Oxford dictionary doesn't list this as a possibility either." This is a dreadful falsehood.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives this as the first definition of lost to:
that has passed from the possession of, that has been taken from
The Longman Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs gives the definition of lost to as "to be no longer possessed by" and for an illustration, "The fortune was lost to the family before the war".

Even though Ludwig has a poor grasp of the meanings of English words and he's unable to tell from examples given to him that he's wrong, surely he should have looked up a good dictionary before making incorrect pronouncements on the English language?

Undeterred, Jun replies, citing an online dictionary. Now that he's cornered, what can Ludwig Tan do?

He does what most English teachers do when they are caught in a bind. Blame it all on the context. Observe how Ludwig Tan now shifts his position from being convinced that "lost to" could only have one meaning to "there isn't any preliminary material". 

Do you see the dishonesty of his answer? He's saying there isn't any preliminary material for him to work on. But that's the whole idea behind newspaper headlines - brevity is essential. What may not be clear to those who are not at home with the English language is perfectly comprehensible to those of us who are reasonably proficient in the English language. When confronted with the words "Lost to Singapore", Ludwig said, "I'm convinced 'lost to Singapore' can only have one meaning, ie the people have been lost, and the recipient is Singapore (hence the preposition 'to')." What he says about there not being any preliminary material is rubbish. It was clear even to him that the words referred to the people. He said so himself. What he got wrong was the MEANING of the words. He thought "lost to " had ONLY ONE meaning. He said so himself!

He does what many language teachers in Singapore love to do when they are shown to be wrong. He says "maybe it's just me", no doubt hoping that his students will think he's just being a strict grammarian and not that he didn't know the other meaning of "lost to".

Jun very humorously comes back with a retort, "Yeah, I think it's just you." She goes on to say that she understood perfectly what was meant when she first saw it and she goes on to explain to her clueless teacher that headlines have to be short and snazzy. I'd like to think Jun is Ludwig Tan's spirited student. Her replies are quite uncharacteristic of what I've seen written by the other readers or students who do not tell him he's wrong even when it's perfectly clear that he is.

Ludwig then employs another trick up the typical Singapore teacher's sleeve.  He tells the story of how "a friend" who didn't spot the problem subsequently agreed with him when Ludwig explained it to him. He adds, "Maybe I need to see a shrink." If only Jun had enough courage to make just one cheeky reply but the exchange ends there.

Ludwig's shocking inability to understand something as commonplace as "lost to" is so incredibly comical that it's just what we might see in a television comedy and I'm reminded of a Blackadder episode. Richard III is at dinner with all the noblemen on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth Field when he hollers across the long table to his son, Blackadder, "Fight you with us on the morrow?" Blackadder, afflicted with the same lack of comprehension we see in Ludwig Tan, looks visibly shaken as he replies haltingly, "Goodness no! I'll be fighting with the enemy".

All this may be good for a laugh but if our English language teachers have a problem with such a simple English phrase, we are really in trouble.

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