Monday, June 29, 2015

Poor Raffles Girls' School!

I love a good fight particularly when I'm right and have truth and right on my side and there is no fight that I await more eagerly than a spirited and angry reply to this post in my blog: Singapore School Anthems Part 2.

For almost a year, there was total silence to that post and then one day, I got this one-sentence comment from someone who presumably wanted to defend her favourite school anthem. But the one sentence contributed nothing whatsoever and I replied to it promptly.

Miss Anialet Tan made no further response. After that reply of mine, she withdrew into silence which was a shame. I was hoping some plucky Mother Goose with a large dose of that mindless loyalty to the school would grab her rolling pin from the kitchen and confront me. I didn't have that long to wait. One Mother Goose recently came feverishly at me but I only saw it a few days ago after returning home from abroad. I will post her comment verbatim but I will break it up into segments so that I can respond to each point she raised. This woman who calls herself Caesium writes:
To be exact, the song was an old British war hymn. It is also the school song of a few other British schools; one example is Clydebank High in Scotland. Link: It is true that the anthem is plagiarised, save for the last stanza and the refrain which were added by RGS to the old war tune.
I have googled this ridiculous song and all I can see is that this is a song of a school called Clydebank High School in Scotland. Let me tell you a little more about Clydebank High School. It's a pretty new State school or what we would call a government school. It started in 1872 with only one qualified teacher and it was meant to be a school for the children of shipyard workers in this western part of Scotland. I will say more about the location of this school later. I have a lot of respect for a school built for working class children but if I must plagiarise a song the way RGS shamelessly did it, I would be careful not to pick the song of such a school. It's inevitable that while a school for the children of shipyard workers may have admirable strength in many areas of education and character building, a firm grounding in the classics (such as Greek mythology) or even in English grammar may not be something it can boast of. And why should it? So please don't misunderstand me. I do not fault Clydebank High School at all and I will reiterate my view that any school that is built for the children of labourers deserves our profound respect.

But I fault Raffles Girls' School for plagiarising the entire lyrics of the song of this working class school. If you must steal, be clever and steal from a more appropriate source.

Caesium continues to say this:
However it is not true that it is ungrammatical and inaccurate. Nobody said the sacred fire referred to the Promethean flame. That you think it is only proves RI's regrettable influence over the perception of RGS and nothing more. 
What I wrote in my blog post has nothing to do with any influence from RI.  Here is an excerpt of what I wrote about the "sacred fire" gaffe that RGS made:

Apart from linguistic problems, the writer is obviously unsure of her Greek mythology. Writers of school anthems must be careful when they want to introduce elements from Greek mythology into a song. If they do it clumsily, they can appear pretentious and silly. They must not do it on the misguided understanding that it will imbue the song with a respectability it otherwise lacks. You can't make a rotten song great by throwing in the names of Greek mythological figures especially when you know nothing about Greek mythology. My sympathy is actually with RGS. I understand why this was done. RGS is closely related to Raffles Institution (RI) which is Singapore's top school. The RI anthem makes a direct reference to Prometheus but it is done in a subtle and tasteful way. The reference to Greek mythology in the RI anthem lends further depth to the meaning of the song and it enhances the beauty of the song. RGS, ever envious of RI's superiority, probably felt that it should not be left far behind and so it threw in Greek mythological references without a firm grounding in mythology. That may have moved the RGS anthem writer to write "On us the sacred fire descends" but then she should have read up more about this fire before she comes up with this gaffe: 
 The magic fire that moves the gods to love us. 
When Prometheus stole fire and brought it to men, the gods were far from being moved by feelings of love. If the punishment they meted out to the thieving Titan is anything to go by, love is the last emotion they felt.

Caesium claims that the "sacred fire" in the RGS anthem did not refer to Prometheus' fire. But she says nothing more. That's because just like her school, Caesium knows nothing of Greek mythology. What sacred fire or magic fire is there that "moves the gods to love us"? If your knowledge of Greek mythology is zilch, you cannot make up your own sacred fire and claim that it's what moves the gods to love us without identifying in the first place what this fire is. That's precisely my point. You cannot make up your own story and try to insert it into Greek mythology just because you are clueless about the Classics.

Next this volatile liquid Caesium writes:
Further, the Bible is not the definitive grammar guide. I suggest you look to the Oxford English instead for linguistic advice, which states "In the 15th century, when 'you' had become the dominant subjective form, 'ye' came to be used as an objective singular and plural (equivalent to thee and you)."

This is hilarious. Did the clucking hens not teach her how to think rationally? I have not said anywhere in my article that the Bible is a definitive grammar guide.  My precise words are that the Bible (KJV or AV) "gives the best illustration of how one should use 'ye'..." but of course Caesium is so wooly headed that she's unable to distinguish an "illustration" from a "definitive grammar guide". But I would not have expected more from this Mother Goose.

"Ye" used in the objective case only became common for a very brief spell and by the time Shakespeare wrote his plays and particularly in the 17th century, the use of "ye" as an objective pronoun decreased in literary language but it was still common in conversational language and in dialectical usage (which is precisely what I wrote in my blog).

This is what I wrote verbatim in my blog:
While still on the first stanza, we next see one of the most jarring lines (it's hard to decide which is most hideous since every line seems to be jostling for that honour) 
Rise, sisters, rise, the world is all before ye 
In standard usage, "ye" is the archaic form of the 2nd person plural pronoun in the subjective case. In standard archaic English, "ye" has from its first usage been nominative. There are of course later instances in the past where its use in the objective case is recorded but in these instances, such use is almost without exception colloquial or dialectical. 
The Authorised Version of the Bible gives the best illustration of how one should use "ye" but this is hardly useful to most of us who are quite content with using the good old "you" (or perhaps I should say the newer "you"). But we always have in our midst those who think they can spice up their lacklustre writing with a few archaic expressions and these are the people who should take heed of the following highly instructive sentence from the Bible which illustrates quite comprehensively how one may properly use "ye": 
If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? 
If Madam RGS-Composer (that's the honorific Chinese language teachers love to use) had read her Bible diligently, she would have written "the world is all before you" and the hope and rousing beauty that this line evokes in its Miltonian simplicity would have been spectacular.
I always like to do a bit of investigative work and get into the mind of the writer just to see why she wrote what she wrote or as Jeeves would put it simply, to get to the psychology behind the problem. Why did she write "ye" when "you" would have been so much more elegant? 
My guess is she had probably been reading the Scottish poem called "The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond". 
Oh, ye'll tak' the high road, and I'll tak' the low road, 
And I'll get to Scotland afore ye; 
But me and my true love will never meet again 
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond. 
Notice the use of "ye" in the objective case? "And I'll get to Scotland afore ye". I've already explained that "ye" used in this way can be found in dialectical writings and it is easy to see many examples in Scottish poems. But I really doubt very much if any respectable girls' school will want to fashion their school anthem after "The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond" especially when for the rest of the anthem, we see failed attempts at Greek mythological allusions. The two just don't make good bedfellows.

What I wrote is absolutely correct and now that we know that RGS stole this song from Clydebank High School, what I said about "The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond" is spot on. Clydebank High School is only about 10 miles from Loch Lomond. But of course this poem is hardly what a respectable girls' school should look to for its guide on English usage when writing its anthem.

Next, Caesium writes this:
A song is in essence a poem and in poetry one aims not to be too literal. Thus 'the glory' is a proper noun known only to the singer. It should in fact be read as 'the Glory'.
Although I'm the last man on earth to be a sexist, I must confess that I cannot help but gravitate towards sexism whenever I read what Caesium writes and I'm so tempted to declare that she sounds so deliciously feminine in her imbecility.  I have met a few women who are perfect dunderheads like Caesium and these women tell me that they write poems. Many featherheaded women who have no firm grounding in grammar think it's all right for them to take to poetry-writing because poetic licence can excuse their shoddy grammar. But poetry-writing is not for fools and illiterates. What Caesium has written above is so outrageously incoherent and deliriously wrong that I cannot believe she wrote it without blushing as any decent woman should when she knows she's writing bunkum. She does not even know what a proper noun is.  This is how I explained in my earlier blog post why the first sentence of RGS's anthem is incorrect:
The very first sentence is elliptically jarring. 
From high Olympus flows to us the glory 
The glory of what? That's probably on everyone's lips when he reads the first line of the anthem of Raffles Girls' School. We saw in Part 1 the strange tendency of the ACS anthem in leaving out an article in a sentence but here, the addition of the article leaves the reader hanging in midair. What the writer probably means is "Glory flows to us from high Olympus". That would be grammatically more acceptable but it doesn't cure the sentence of the pervading sense of childish hubris that informs the entire anthem. It reminds me of a loud bungling supercilious little girl who doesn't know how to be tasteful in her boastful speech. This reference to Olympus is pretentious and falls flat particularly when there is no reason to speak of it in the first place. I'll deal later with this tiresome need of the anthem writer to force a bit of Greek mythology into the song and I'll suggest what I believe is the reason for this need. I love to get to the psychology behind the problem. But more of that later when I discuss the anthem's allusions to Greek mythology.

Caesium says "the glory" is a proper noun! She doesn't even know the parts of speech and that, mind you, is elementary English.  Capitalising it does not cure the sentence of a glaring ellipsis. But if she doesn't know what a proper noun is I'm sure she doesn't know what I'm talking about. Didn't the clucking hens in RGS teach her simple English grammar? "Thus 'the glory' is a proper noun known only to the singer" must take the cake as the looniest sentence I've ever read in all my life.

Next, Caesium writes this:
Lastly, I am aghast that you have never heard of the phrase 'heart to heart'. You remind me endearingly of Polonius. I rest my case.
This is another statement that can only spring from an unthinking person. I'm avoiding the word "dumb".  Let's see what I wrote exactly and you'll see why I think Caesium's statement reveals the kind of muddle-headedness I cannot tolerate.  Here's what I wrote in my blog:
There are many instances where the writer of the RGS anthem leaves the reader befuddled as to the intended meaning. For example, in "So heart to heart we'll scale the heights of learning," what is meant by "heart to heart"? I'm tempted to think Madam RGS-Composer meant "side by side" which would appropriately highlight the solidarity and camaraderie of the girls. In the Mandarin Chinese language, the word for heart is liberally used in just about anything you can think of. The anthem writer availed herself of the same liberty when she wrote this anthem.
At no point did I say that I had not heard of the term "heart to heart". I merely asked what "heart to heart" meant in the line in the RGS anthem "So heart to heart we'll scale the heights of learning". Of course everyone knows what "heart to heart" means. As in a "heart-to-heart talk", the term means candid and intimate. It has no application here. And yes, if I may allude to the same play, Caesium reminds me of Ophelia who spoke inanities at the height of her delirium.

Is there another Mother Goose from RGS who might want to grab the rolling pin and come at me? I'm ready for you, 'sisters in learning and sisters at heart"!