I happened to read Yahoo News recently and I came across an article about Amos Yee which I wouldn't have read if my eyes hadn't focussed on a small paragraph about grammar. Yahoo News says quite unashamedly that the article "originally appeared on Vulcan Post". So I went to Vulcan Post to read the original article on Amos Yee and grammar. This is the paragraph that caught my interest:
I thought it would be interesting to see how a school dropout went about correcting other people's grammar. I expected the journalist who wrote the article to be reasonably knowledgeable about grammar as all good journalists should be.
I also took the trouble to read Amos Yee's atrocious blog which is rife with grammatical errors and other monstrosities but as I have said in my blog, I do not go about correcting other people's grammar, least of all, that of a school dropout. But I'm interested to see what he has to say about other people's errors. I ignored the parts that dealt with what Vincent Law his bailor did or said because they didn't interest me in the least.
Amos took exception to only one small point in Francis' Facebook post - his use of the phrase "look through". This is an excerpt from Francis' post:
This is what Amos wrote in response:
Let's continue reading Amos' blog post and see why he says it's ungrammatical:
Amos then went on to decry the state of the art scene in Singapore if people thought highly of a piece of writing that contained what Amos termed a grammatical error. He continued to say that there was nothing that you could learn in school that you could not learn as a school dropout.
Well, if we are to look upon Amos Yee as a fine representative of a school dropout, grammar obviously isn't something a dropout can come to grips with. He certainly can't.
Amos makes the same mistake that is made by those who are not comfortable with the English language. They are usually absolutely ignorant of phrasal verbs and they take every English word or phrase to mean literally what it says. But that's not how English works. But to an unlettered dropout like Amos who does not speak English as his native language (even if he puts on a fake American accent that is good enough to fool the hapless writer in Vulcan Post), you can only look through a shop if it's entirely made of glass. It will make a good joke if Amos were to play the role of a UK immigrant from China in the comedy "Mind Your Language" and when asked by his language teacher, Mr Brown, to look through his answer script before submitting it, Amos replies, "I can't look through my script, Mr Brown. The paper is opaque."
English, like every other language, has its peculiarities and a dropout like Amos who's not a native speaker will find it fiendishly difficult to master. While it is true that "look through" does have the literal meaning of looking through something eg "You can't look through a wall to see what's on the other side", the phrase has other meanings. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "look through" to mean also to "direct one's view over the whole of or to every one of".
Since "look through" is a phrasal verb, one can always turn to the Longman Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs which gives a definition that is more brief and to the point - "To examine something carefully".
Now, I don't expect a school dropout to be able to look up a dictionary but surely the writer of the Vulcan Post article should have done that before making a statement that is not just wrong but unjustly so.
As I have said, it is not my intention to slam a school dropout for his atrocious grammar. What puzzles me is why the writer of the article in Vulcan Post should just accept everything Amos says about grammar as correct. Good journalists must have a good command of the language and of course the acid test is always to look through (yes, that phrase again) a person's academic credentials before they are employed by respectable newspaper publishing houses. I don't know what Vulcan Post really is and what their criteria for hiring journalists are but perhaps they aren't so demanding on the kind of writers they have on their team.
Who is the author of this article in Vulcan Post? The article gives a little writeup about her:
Let's look again at what she wrote:
In response, Yee posted yet another blogpost, titled “Responding To The Molester’s Son“, in which he rebutted some of Francis’s post, while correcting his grammar at the same time. Ouch.I don't want to be hypercritical but I would be remiss if I did not mention that even that one sentence contains a grammatical error that no respectable journalist should make. But I won't let this article descend to a fault-finding exercise; that is not my intention. But no journalist should make a remark like this without thinking of its implication. She's effectively stating quite categorically that Amos corrected Francis' grammatical errors. That is a statement of fact which is false and irresponsible. The truth is, as I have illustrated, Amos did nothing of the kind. Amos does not even know what grammar is if it stood up and cudgelled him on the head.
I really hope Yahoo News will be more careful when it picks up news articles from sources that are unknown or dubious. And no responsible journalist should assume that a school dropout is right when he speaks on a subject as academically rigorous as grammar.