Friday, January 30, 2015

I urge the Speak Good English Movement to do the only decent and honourable thing

What do respectable people do when they discover that books printed by their organisation are so erroneous that you can hardly turn to a single page that does not contain some egregious blunder? Surely the least they could do is to withdraw the books from the market?

I was in Kinokuniya Book Shop this afternoon and I saw that disgraceful English As It Is Broken (Volumes 1 and 2) on the "Linguistics" shelf. Can you imagine such a piece of trash sitting on the shelf with other books on Linguistics?

I have in more than 30 or 40 posts in my blog shown quite conclusively that you cannot turn a page in either volume of this piece of execrable work without encountering some shocking error in grammar. And it purports to be a book on good English grammar and usage.  A list of all the posts that I have published on the errors in this book can be found in my MASTER LIST of the blunders of those I have termed "grammar terrorists" - people who tell others they are wrong in grammar when in fact they are the ones who know practically nothing about the rudiments of English grammar. Like all terrorists, they attack innocent people when they are the ones who are wrong in every sense of the word.

Just who are these shameless people who have the effrontery to advise others on grammar when they know absolutely nothing about it? Who is responsible for this book? In both volumes, the Speak Good English Movement is clearly the main culprit behind the book (both volumes). That is one reason why I am up in arms against that silly Movement. You will see in my MASTER LIST that I have also been into the Movement's new website and they show the same lack of knowledge of basic English grammar that is the hallmark of this book.

In Volume 1 of the book English As It Is Broken, the "panel of English language specialists" is said to be from the Ministry of Education. The back cover of that volume says quite unambiguously,
This publication is made possible by the Speak Good English Movement and the Ministry of Education, which provides us with the expertise of its English Language specialists.
For reasons that we are not told, the Ministry of Education pulled out completely from the second volume of that disgraceful book. There is no mention of the Ministry anywhere in the book. This time, we see this on the back cover of the second volume:
This publication is made possible by STOMP The Straits Times, the Speak Good English Movement, and the National Library Board.
All this and the fact that some of the contents of the book appear on the Speak Good English Movement's website tell me that the book is of course the work of the Movement.

It behoves members of the Speak Good English Movement to do the decent thing by pulling the book out of the shelves of book shops all over Singapore and to warn members of the public not to be guided by this most erroneous book. We must bear in mind that the book has been and continues to be a bestseller in Singapore schools and the Movement owes a moral duty to stop misleading students. I have shown instances in some of my posts in this blog of perfectly grammatical sentences written by students which were butchered by the "language specialists" who insisted that the students edit their sentences to conform to the specialists' mistaken rules that fly in the face of the rules of Standard English. This is totally unacceptable. We are talking about students who started out with correct grammar only to have their language ruined by the "specialists". It's highly dishonourable of the Movement not to make a clean breast of this their most embarrassing blunder.

This is my personal blog but instead of writing personal matters, I have devoted a large chunk of this blog to the wrongs of the Speak Good English Movement. But as long as they have not done the decent thing, I cannot rest. Of course apart from apologising to Singapore for their unpardonable errors, they should also resign from the Movement. I have shown that they are not fit or equipped to be the nation's language watchdog. I would suggest that this silly Movement be disbanded.

We don't need a Speak Good English Movement and certainly not one that has shown itself to be totally devoid of even the most basic knowledge of grammar.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

St Paul the Reformer

Today is the day when churches all over the world remember the conversion of St Paul and what better church to go to on this day than St Paul's Cathedral? But I'm always very uneasy on this day with the readings in church. The first reading is usually from the familiar passage in Acts 9 about St Paul's conversion to Christianity which would have been fine if the church stops there. But the second reading, as always, is from Galatians. Anyone who is familiar with the Bible must know that you're placing two contradictory passages before parishioners when you have the Acts 9 reading immediately before Galatians 1. But the church is no fool. The reading stops at Galatians 1:16a and for a very good reason too. I will come to that soon.

You see, most historians (except those who are led by their personal religious beliefs to go against the historical evidence) are of the view that St Paul started a new religion that was very much in contradiction with the teachings of the real apostles, particularly, St Peter and St James. The epistles of St Paul are full of grievances against the real apostles who did not accept him as one of them. In 2 Corinthians 11:5, St Paul claims that he is not inferior to those "super-apostles". But it's in the Epistle to the Galatians that St Paul uses the strongest words against the real apostles. He refers to them as "accursed" and "cursed". He warns his readers not to listen to or be influenced by these Judaizing apostles. Elsewhere in other epistles, St Paul is extremely firm against these Judaizers. He preaches a non-Jewish version of Christianity and he will allow nothing to stand in his way.

Nowhere in St Paul's epistles is there any indication that the rift with the real apostles is healed at any point in time. It's only in the book of Acts that we read of the real apostles agreeing with St Paul and are willing to accept Gentile Christians who do not convert to Judaism as long as they abstain from blood and idolatry. We also read in Acts that St Peter, because of a mere dream, is willing to turn non-kosher overnight. That's of course hilarious and no serious historian can accept that. 

Just how reliable is the book of Acts? The writer tries a little too hard to make the relationship between St Paul and the real apostles seem more hunky-dory than it really is. The reading in Acts tells us of St Paul after his conversion and while he's still in Damascus spending several days with the apostles. What we see is a picture of close fellowship between the real apostles and St Paul.

But if one were to continue reading after Galatians 1:16a (which is where the reading in church ends), St Paul's tells a very different story. See Galatians 1:16b to 20: " immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles – only James, the Lord’s brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing to you is no lie."

St Paul is eager to assure his readers that he is not telling a lie. I believe him. I believe it's the book of Acts that has altered the facts to make St Paul appear to be in the good books of the real apostles. Now, you can see why the church stops the reading of Galatians at 1:16a. To continue reading just a few verses more and any parishioner who is not yet asleep in church will surely spot the contradiction with Acts 9.

St Paul may have betrayed Jesus and subverted his true teachings and the teachings of his real apostles but we can look upon St Paul more as a reformer than a traitor to the faith. Don't forget Jesus' real attitude to Gentiles as can be seen in St Matthew's gospel where he calls Gentiles "dogs". St Paul has merely reformed Jesus' teachings and turned another parochial Jewish sect into a whole new religion fit for not just wealthy Greek merchants but the Roman Emperor himself. If Christianity had remained true to its original teachings as a Jewish sect, it would have died the way the real apostles' religion died off in the first century itself. History tells us that the Ebionites were the most faithful to Jesus' original teachings and their religion fizzled out after the first hundred years or so only to be superseded by the Pauline version of Christianity, which is the Christianity of today and it doesn't matter if you're Protestant, Orthodox or Roman Catholic.

As the church ponders on the conversion of St Paul today, let's not forget his role in the formation of Christianity as we know it today. Without St Paul, there'd be no Christian religion and what a sad world this would be.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Thinking of Charlie

Yesterday in church, the sermon, as expected, touched on the Charlie Hebdo massacre. But the vicar while condemning the massacre as totally repugnant to all that is holy exhorted the faithful to turn the other cheek and to bridle the tongue as the epistle of St James tells us to do. The Christian duty not to cause offence must override our desire for free speech.

I thought I should refer to the sermon in my blog and so I took a
stealthy pic. I hope the parishioner seated next to me will forgive
me for the impertinence but he's obviously the prayerful kind
who would be happy to dish out forgiveness quite liberally.

As a Christian, I am unable to fault the sermon in any way. Christianity always places the Christian at the losing end in any situation. He's to turn the other cheek, if any asks for his coat, he should give his shirt as well, if asked to walk a mile, a good Christian should do two. If there is a religion of peace on this planet, Christianity certainly is the best candidate for such an honour.

But the Charlie Hebdo editors are not Christians. I should have said "were" since most of them were brutally gunned down. Even if they were Christians, so what? It may be right that the Christian should go out of his way not to cause offence to others but what has that got to do with the massacre? It may be right for those of us who were properly brought up in polite society to greet one another when we meet but any one of us can flout the rules of courtesy any time we wish. The correct response to a rude person is a frown and nothing more.

That's precisely my point about the Charlie Hebdo episode. The editors were just guilty of rudeness. But it's their job as the editors of a satirical newspaper to be rude. They were just doing their job. Charlie Hebdo has satirised just about every religion on this planet and nobody has even bothered with them or given them any notice until the two Muslim brothers slaughtered them.

What I find truly outrageous is there is nothing offensive about the cartoons of Muhammad that the newspaper published. Pope Francis recently remarked that if someone swore at another person's mother, he would probably receive a punch in the face. But that's a silly remark because a person's mother is not a historical figure. Muhammad is and like all historical figures, he is naturally subject to the same treatment as Abraham, Moses, Jesus, St Paul, Buddha and many other religious figures from Zeus to Joseph Smith.

Making religious jokes is common anywhere in the world. When I was an altar boy, I made a lot of jokes about almost every sacred object in church. The chief brunt of my jokes was the holy oil which came in vials from the Bishop and which my vicar used to treat with an inordinate amount of respect. Years later, when I taught Sunday School in church, the other Sunday School teachers and I (and sometimes the students as well) would come up with the best religious jokes, some of which were uproariously funny.

When I was very young, I even engaged in inter-denominational banter with a classmate who was an altar boy in a different church. Those from my church would make jokes about his church and we'd tease him about being "touched" by his priest (the notoriety of his church was well known even in the days when I was a young lad). One day, he told me a joke which was quite good. A nun went for confession and she whispered to the priest that she was once a prostitute. The priest turned ashen and hit his fist against the wall of the confessional. "What did you say?" he roared. The nun was trembling in fear and she repeated her words, "I'm sorry but I was once a prostitute".  The priest took out his handkerchief and wiped the perspiration from his brow. "Phew! That's quite all right, child," he said. "I thought you said you were once a Protestant".

I couldn't help laughing at the joke but I immediately cooked up another joke and this time it was a boy who went to his Protestant vicar for auricular confession and he said he was once a catamite. You probably know the rest of the story. Don't ask me how I knew the word "catamite" as a young boy but I assure you the priests of my church were all happily married men.

But it's not just Christians who have a sense of humour. The followers of many of the world's major religions do not treat the divine with murderous seriousness. There is even a dish in the Far East blasphemously called "Buddha Jumps over the Wall". That's the dish that is reputed to be so tasty that Buddha himself had to jump over a garden wall to taste it. If you're thinking of ordering it the next time you go to a Chinese restaurant, perish the thought. It's a most disgusting broth that smells like a Chinese medicinal shop. Buddha may have jumped over the wall to eat it but I would jump over a wall and several rivers to be away from it.

After what has happened in Paris, you would think that Muslims are the only ones who have no sense of humour. I don't know what the percentage is of Muslims who have a sense of humour but let me tell a story from my own experience. There was a time in my life when I was terribly insensitive and would say the wrong things without realising it. I was chatting with a Muslim friend who was extremely pious. He's an educated and respectable man who later became a member of Parliament but his daughters were all educated in a Muslim religious school. I noticed that his wedding band was worn on the finger of his right hand which is of course unusual. In reply to my query, he explained that the prophet was known to have worn his wedding ring on a finger of his right hand. At that moment, a very witty thought came to my head and I said something really brilliant but it would not just be lost on someone who had no sense of humour; it would probably offend him. There was another friend of ours who heard our conversation and he jokingly said that my Muslim friend might just pull out a dagger and stab me with it. Now, that is the kind of unfair opinion many people had of Muslims even then. But my Muslim friend laughed good-naturedly at my little joke and he said that I was factually correct since Muhammad really had twelve wives and would presumably have twelve rings.

A lot of people treat Muslims as if they were all terrorists waiting with scimitars to hack you to pieces which is really quite unfortunate. Many people are unable to separate Muslims from Muslim terrorists and these are the people who are doing Muslims a huge disservice. I have been rebuked in the past for slamming Muslim terrorists by non-Muslims who mistakenly thought that insulting terrorists was synonymous with insulting Muslims.

But some Muslims who try to play up the "offensiveness" of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons by comparing them with jokes about the Holocaust are in fact doing their religion a disservice. There is obviously a huge difference between a joke about 6 million Jews who were slaughtered and a cartoon of Muhammad. Holocaust jokes cannot be likened to a mere cartoon of Muhammad. A better analogy of a Holocaust joke would be a joke about the cruel ethnic cleansing by the Serbs in which many Muslims were killed. That would be an example of a truly inappropriate joke and no newspaper however satirical would publish such a joke. Not even Charlie Hebdo. But when educated Muslims bring up Holocaust jokes and pit them against Muhammad cartoons, one cannot help but wonder if their inability to see the huge disparity between the two might have arisen from the same innate anti-Semitism that drove the Charlie Hebdo murderers to attack a Jewish supermarket.

The world should never treat all Muslims as terrorists. There are many Muslims who are wonderful people. We must always distinguish a Muslim terrorist from a Muslim. We must not treat Muslims as if an insensitive word would mean a dagger to our throats. We must treat Muslims like we do people of other religions or no religion. The Charlie Hebdo editors did precisely that. They wanted to treat Muslims no differently from people of other faiths. They have satirised the church, the Pope and Jesus himself. If they could draw cartoons of Jesus who is God himself in Christianity, why shouldn't they satirise Muhammad who was only human and not deified in Islam? Unfortunately, the carnage would only blur further the line between Muslims and Muslim terrorists in the minds of many people. There may be no logic in that but that's how people will think.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Chan Chun Sing's error

Chan Chun Sing has just written to the Huffington Post in response to two articles by Chee Soon Juan that they published recently. Now, I must confess that I have not read the letter carefully and I'm really not interested in whether it's an accurate description of Chee Soon Juan and I'm not here to affirm what he said in the letter or to deny it. I'm not interested in politics but I'm interested in something quite different. How effectively has Chan Chun Sing conveyed his message in his letter to Huffington Post?

Anyone who has lived long enough in Singapore must know that there is, from the Government, a strong palpable opposition to the use of Singapore English or Singlish. The Speak Good English Movement was formed to stamp out Singlish and to get Singaporeans to speak Standard English. But as I have shown in more than 50 articles in this blog, the Speak Good English Movement is not even able to handle basic English grammar and I have shown them to be totally ill-equipped to be Singapore's language watchdog. If you are interested in the numerous errors made by the Speak Good English Movement and their shocking linguistic deficiencies, please see this list in my blog with links to all my posts on the subject.

As I have said, my interest lies not in politics and I merely gave a cursory glance at Chan Chun Sing's letter. If you want to read the letter in full, you may do so on Channel News Asia's website. But what I wanted to see was how Chan ended his letter. The ending is usually where a good writer delivers his punchline.  I actually read the last two sentences several times. The meaning is not as clear as Chan would like to think. Here is the excerpt from Chan's letter which I've taken from Channel News Asia:

This is the kind of mistake that we parents usually warn our kids not to make when writing an essay. I must say I was surprised to see it in a formal letter from a Cabinet Minister to a foreign press. When I first read it last night about an hour after midnight, I could not understand what he meant. I attributed my lack of comprehension to the hour of the night and my sleepiness. I read it a few times. Chan wants to encapsulate Dr Chee's problem in his closing paragraph. But his meaning is murky. In my drowsy state, I asked myself who had been heard by whom but I was left in the dark.

In English grammar, this style of writing is called an ellipsis. The word comes from Latin which means "to leave out". But one must always be careful when one leaves out words which can be inferred from the preceding sentence. You must preserve the structure, for if you don't, you will get absurdities such as the one we see in Chan's letter.

People who are not comfortable with the English language should be careful when their sentences get a bit convoluted and unwieldy. They should read them through to make sure that everything is in its proper order. Chan's sentence, "Dr Chee's problem is not that he has not been heard by Singaporeans", may be simple enough for most of us but for those who are struggling with the language, it can present some thorny problems.

First, it contains a double negative. Next, it's in the passive voice.  That sentence is then followed by the elliptical "His problem is that they have".  It's good to note a simple rule. The elliptical sentence or clause must follow the structure of the preceding sentence or clause. "They" clearly refers to Singaporeans. If you say "His problem is that they have", it must mean that "His problem is that they have BEEN HEARD BY...".  I did toy in that witching hour of the night with the possibility that Chan might have meant "His problem is that they have been heard by Dr Chee himself, ie that they don't want to elect him". But that doesn't sound right at all.

If we must retain the "they" in the second sentence, what Chan presumably means is this:
Dr Chee's problem is not that he has not been heard by Singaporeans. His problem is they have heard him.
You will notice you can't keep the ellipsis if you want to switch from the passive voice to the active voice. But for an effective punchline, the elliptical form is much better and so you have to preserve the passive voice:
Dr Chee's problem is not that he has not been heard by Singaporeans. His problem is he has.