Friday, November 25, 2016

National Errors

In many of my earlier blog posts, I have said scathing things about the Speak Good English Movement. And there is perfect justification for what some may wrongly see as my overreaction. In many of these blog posts, I merely expressed surprise and sometimes horrified shock that the Speak Good English Movement could be so incredibly wrong in almost everything they wrote. Click on the above link if you want to experience the same shock at what the Speak Good English Movement is capable of. Don't forget - these are the people who say categorically that 'Alan and George works as a team' is grammatically acceptable.

Sometimes it is possible to tell by someone's error where he's from. Some errors can be categorised according to national boundaries. What makes the Speak Good English Movement so peculiarly bad is not only do they make language errors that are commonly found in Singapore but they also make countless errors that no Singaporean ever makes. When it comes to English grammar and usage, the Speak Good English Movement is just irredeemably and hopelessly abysmal and as I have repeatedly said, the only decent thing to do is to disband the Movement. Singapore does not need an English Movement which is totally clueless about English grammar.

Most organisations aren't that bad. Yesterday, I received an advert in my letter box from a private school called Eye Level. It's a glossy colourful flyer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Illiterate Graduates?

Singapore is a land of paradoxes. It's such a small island that you can't even run a marathon in a straight line without hitting the sea and yet it's a huge economic powerhouse and it tops the educational charts every year and is recognised as the country with the best educational system in the world.

But there are other paradoxes that Singapore can't be proud of. I have shown in more than 80 posts in this blog irrefutable evidence that the only thing Singapore's Speak Good English Movement knows about English grammar is perhaps the spelling of the word 'grammar'. Apart from that the Movement is totally ignorant of English grammar and usage and it has been giving erroneous grammar tips since the day it started and continues to dish out 'advice' on grammar that is so obviously wrong that I am compelled to dub it Singapore's Illiterate Movement.

Recently, I posted a photo of a poster in the National University of Singapore that contained a surprising error.  Shortly after that, I posted another illiterate poster this time from the Land Transport Authority. Just yesterday I took this pic of an ad by NUSS (the National University of Singapore Society) which proudly calls itself on its website 'The Graduate Club'. The ad appeared on a shuttle bus in NUS:

Saturday, November 12, 2016

What my crystal ball says about the new era of President Trump

The world will soon be abuzz with news of the world's most fashionable First Lady of all times. She will be what Lady Diana used to be but without any of Diana's many problems. She has poise, charisma and incredible good looks. She is one of those women who look fantastic from any angle and at any moment of the day. She will be the next major trendsetter in the world of fashion.

The English language is alas inadequate in describing such a woman succinctly. The only word I can come up with that fits such a description is 'Trumptastic'. I predict it will be the first new word to be accepted by the OED in 2017. It's not a word you can use lightly on just any pretty woman. To be Trumptastic, you've first got to be 'unbelievably beautiful' (if I may borrow her husband's favourite phrase). 'Trumptastic' can only be used to describe a woman of exquisite beauty and elegance. And in recognition of her husband's love for superlatives and perfection, the word must always be spelt with an initial capital or, better still, all letters in upper case and it should be followed by no fewer than three exclamation marks - TRUMPTASTIC!!!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Puzzling prepositions? Why grammarians should stop being contrary.

No, there's nothing puzzling about the preposition. The OED and all other English dictionaries are very clear on what a preposition is. It's just that sometimes, some grammarians think they need to spice up grammar a bit and that's when they do funny things.

Let's look at these sentences:

1. He came after breakfast.
2. He left before I had drunk my coffee.
3. What did you do it for?
4. He felt bad, for he knew he was wrong.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Grammar is just a game

I've been wrongly called a pedant when nothing can be further from the truth. Those who know me well know that I don't care in the least about grammar. When I blasted Singapore's Speak Good English Movement in about eighty posts or so on this blog, I did so only because the Movement has repeatedly shown itself to be totally ignorant of basic English grammar and yet it insists on telling others they are grammatically wrong when they are not. It is this blatant idiocy of the Movement that I had to address in those posts.

But I do not generally go about telling others they are wrong grammatically however much they may have flouted the rules of grammar. That's because I don't give a toss about grammar. Grammar is nothing more than a game with a set of rules that get altered every few years. It's a game in which the goal posts are repeatedly moved about according to the taste and fashion of usage.

Let's look at a simple example. For decades, many school children were told off for using some conjunctions as conjuncts. I can speak about this with some passion because I was rebuked as a schoolboy by my English teacher for doing precisely that. But I didn't just take it lying down. I cited Sir Ernest Gowers in my defence but to no avail. My teacher was a stern and inflexible woman with a beehive hairdo and as you probably know, a teacher with a beehive hairdo usually doesn't budge an inch once she's decided on something. So I was obliged for as long as she was marking my exam scripts to comply with her 'superstition' which is what Gowers calls such a non-existent grammar rule.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Is the Queen's English really the Queen's English?

I was reading the newspaper last night when one sentence caught my attention:
If you want to read the entire article, it's the 29 September 2016 news report by Channel News Asia

Whether you are annoyed by this sentence depends a lot on your age, education and upbringing. Henry Fowler gives many instances of such a usage from seemingly educated sources and slams it as 'illiterate'. Eric Partridge, without any discussion, dismisses it as unacceptable and says that such a construction 'rings false'. Frederick T. Wood in his then hugely popular Current English Usage simply calls it 'incorrect'.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

ABBA was wrong?

I sometimes snoop around to see what others are saying of me. I'm generally not bothered one wee bit about other people's opinion of me but sometimes, curiosity gets the better of me. But it's always just curiosity and never concern.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Breaking news: The Speak Good English Movement is finally disbanded.

No, I'm afraid we haven't got such luck. The Movement which I have dubbed the Illiterate Movement is still tenaciously clinging on to its position.

As I have said elsewhere on this blog, Singapore's Speak Good English Movement is incapable of writing a single correct sentence in English. That's an exaggeration of course. What I meant is they are not capable of writing two sentences in English without some serious error. But one thing is clear: all the English tips they have given so far are wrong. Every week I screen-save the English tips they post on their Facebook page for my future blog postings and I can do this without even having to read what I'm saving because I'm so certain that whatever it is they publish is sure to be erroneous.

And I'm right. The real breaking news is what they published on their Facebook page just two hours ago:

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Unable Inability

Recently, my phone gave me some trouble and I sent a text to my wife and kids to tell them that I might be uncontactable. As I was texting to them, I decided to type 'incontactable' instead just to see their reaction. One of my kids immediately replied, 'You mean "uncontactable"?' That gave me the opportunity to launch into a full explanation which, because of its length, I did by email. You see, quite apart from the peculiarities of the 'in-' and 'un-' prefixes, the word 'uncontactable' itself is rich with interesting little nuggets of history.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Why the green great dragon can't exist

Just a few days ago, the tweet of Matthew Anderson, the editor of BBC Culture, went viral and now, everyone is talking about it. You can read it on BBC Trending. He posted an excerpt from Mark Forsyth's book which I read last year and it's a book which I enjoyed tremendously. I do not like to filch photos from the internet and so I've taken my own photo (from my own book) of the same excerpt posted on that tweet:

Tuesday, May 24, 2016



School principals are traditionally viewed as the paragon of literacy and scholarship. One would not expect to see grammatical errors in something as important as the school principal's message in a school magazine. A school principal does not write his or her message without first weighing every word he or she uses and checking every sentence to ensure it is elegant, felicitous and grammatically correct. He or she will no doubt cast an eye over the entire message to see that it's properly punctuated before it's published. The Principal's Message sets the tone for the entire magazine. It echoes the ethos of the school and as everyone knows, the school magazine will be read not only by the students of the school but also by parents and members of the public. A shoddily written Principal's Message that has grammatical errors and poor punctuation is a disgrace not only to the principal himself but also to the entire school, former students of the school and anyone else associated with the school.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Prof Bas Aarts is wrong about the subjunctive mood

Prof Bas Aarts is among the world's most influential linguists today. He teaches English Linguistics at UCL and has for ages been the Director of the Survey of English Usage, a post held formerly by Randolph Quirk who's the author of some of the world's most authoritative books on grammar. Whatever Aarts says is of great importance to teachers and students of English. But while I acknowledge Prof Aarts's undoubted cachet in the world of English linguistics, it would be irresponsible of me to be silent on a serious error which he has made in his treatment of the subjunctive mood. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Grammarless ain't glamorous

Any etymologist will tell you that the word 'glamour' originates from a variant of 'grammar' used at one time mainly in the North, principally in Scotland. Even today, there is some glamour attached to grammar. In my society, people who don't know their grammar will do all they can to conceal that fact. The surest way you can incur their mortal anger is to correct their grammar. A mere hint to a woman that her sentence is less than felicitous is enough to earn for yourself her lifelong hatred.

I remember listening to a talk by Iris Murdoch in which she explained the connection between intelligence and language. A person's command of a language is closely linked to his intelligence. You can almost convert a person's score in a grammar test to his IQ. Why are people so sensitive when you tell them they are ungrammatical? When you question the correctness of their language, you are effectively telling them they're unintelligent and of course that is offensive.

Many ignorant people who have the audacity to teach English have made the erroneous remark that grammar is illogical. They can't be more wrong than that. English grammar is almost as logical and precise as mathematics and you stimulate your brain in about the same way whether you're reading a grammar or an advanced Maths book.

Before I continue, I should explain briefly that this blog post is all about grammar. It is sometimes necessary to give examples in order to shed light on a grammatical rule. This article would be unbearably boring if I mentioned 'predicative adjective' without illustrating it with an example: 'Angela Merkel has policies which are idiotic'. And if I talk about adverbs, it's sometimes useful to remind my readers what they are by giving an example: 'Angela Merkel's policies are incredibly idiotic.'

You will of course understand that the examples need not necessarily accord with facts and they do not necessarily reflect my opinion on anything. They are here simply to serve as an illustration of a grammatical point. If I write: 'The Holy Trinity comprises of the Father, the Son and the Blessed Virgin Mary', you should only focus on 'comprises of' as incorrect; the information (including dogma) given in the sentence is of no relevance in this article but I will try, for the sake of my readers' sensitivity, not to sound heretical.

Let's take a look at this sentence:
In vain Angela Merkel shouted and screamed till she was hoarse, but she could not convince sensible Germans that she was right.
Some of my readers will be able to spot the error instantly. Others may need some time and yet others may not see any error in it at all.

There is hardly any difference between the above test and the following mathematical test except that one is verbal and the other numerical. Both test a person's IQ. A person with a high IQ will spot the error in each of these tests instantly and those with a low IQ may insist there is no error in them.
2 + 10 ÷ 2 = 6
But the perception of the importance of these tests differs drastically in society. Most people I know, especially those who love to be identified with the 'better segment of society' (whatever that segment may be in their twisted mind) are perfectly happy to tell the whole world they are innumerate. I know of one who was miffed when I complimented her on her knowledge of the sciences and she told me long after that that she was hurt by my remark. She made it very clear to me that she was a 'humanities student' and she knew no science and maths. I actually had to apologise to her for saying that she was good at the sciences.

While most of these people in society will gladly announce to the whole world that they can see no error in the numerical test above ('I really haven't got a head for numbers. I can't do maths even if it's to save my life!'), they will not say the same of the grammar test. Society has somehow ruled that it's unglamorous to be ungrammatical and no self-respecting snob will admit that he (or more aptly, she) can spot no error in that sentence.

Grammar is as logical as mathematics and idioms quickly pass into archaism and are dropped out of use the moment they become illogical. They usually become illogical after a word in the idiom takes on a new meaning. For example, in the early 20th century, such a sentence structure would have been common but I did not expect to see it recently in one of the comments about the US Presidential candidates:
Trump is the most generous man of anyone I know.
The 'of' in that sentence meant at one time something totally different from what we know it to mean today. Now that the preposition has lost its former meaning, the logic behind the idiom is gone and that utterance falls completely, or almost completely, out of use. Grammarians were already speculating even before the Great Depression almost a hundred years ago that such a sentence would be obsolete. Common usage, which is the final arbiter of the direction grammar takes, mercilessly weeds out anything that is illogical or becomes illogical through a change in the meaning of words.

You can think of any grammatical rule or a legitimate exception to the rule and I'm sure it is not difficult to demonstrate that it is perfectly consistent with logic. Whether you should say 'He hates her more than I' or 'He hates her more than me' depends on your meaning and the expression of that meaning must accord with logic and making sense of an utterance in a logical fashion is what grammar is all about.

Apart from being almost perfectly logical, grammar can also be interesting. It is amazing how much spite and vitriol can be poured into one's condemnation of another person's use of the language as if wrong usage could be looked upon as a serious crime. And the venom that drips from the censure of purists is not in any way diminished even if the sentence may not strictly be ungrammatical or common usage is decidedly in its favour as the following sentence which can rightly be termed the purist's abomination, if the frequency and fury of its condemnation are to be the gauge, will illustrate:
Hopefully, it won't rain tomorrow and we can look forward to going to the beach and basking in the sun.
Most grammarians today are agreed that although the sentence is quite acceptable as far as usage goes, you should avoid it if you do not want to offend your readers who may include language faddists and this happens to be the kind of sentence that is most likely to arouse the rage of purists. Of all the languages in the world, English is the only one that is so linguistically versatile that you can probably say in half a million different ways anything it is that you want to say. There's no reason to write a sentence that is sure to offends some of your readers.

Some of us who were taught proper grammar as kids were so traumatised by the strictures placed on our use of the language that many of us exhibit unmistakeable symptoms of the trauma even to this day by our careful avoidance of sentence structures that would have brought the frown to the brow of our educators. Happily, there are, from my observation, very few of us who are so affected and who would pause for a few seconds before we make such a sentence even though it is now universally accepted to be perfectly grammatical:
The sketch of Milton's life is inserted in this volume as it illustrates some points that occur in the Sonnets.
I'm not one of those who would argue against the teaching of grammar in schools. On the contrary, I'm firmly of the opinion that grammar must be taught rigorously by teachers who should really be knowledgeable in the subject. We cannot have for our teachers the people I have castigated elsewhere in my blog such as Singapore's Speak Good English Movement who, as I have shown in countless posts in this blog, are so ignorant of even the basics of English grammar that they harm more than help students in the language by their sheer inability to grasp the simplest concepts in grammar.

We are not Milton who could say anything he pleased and still be revered by the literati. If we had referred to Eve as the fairest of her daughters, we would have been laughed out of any publisher's office. These great poets had it easy. One of them, if you will recall, even used a very rude four-letter word in his poem and got away with it. Most scholars say today that he didn't know what the word meant but wrote it anyway. None of us could have got away with that kind of excuse or any excuse at all.

That grammar is logical and the word 'grammar' can sometimes be replaced without any loss of meaning by the word 'logic' can be seen in these sentences which are ungrammatical because they offend against the rules of logic. If you have a good knowledge of English grammar but are unable to spot the grammatical error in each of these sentences, there can only be one reason. Either you are not addressing your mind to the sentences or you have some serious cerebral impediment that hampers your logical thought. I can think of no other explanation. Contrary to what a friend says of me, I do not make extreme observations. Everything I say is tested and backed up by evidence. I have tested my own children with these sentences and they are perfectly able to identify the errors immediately. All one needs is a clear logical mind and a basic understanding of English grammar.
Ireland, unlike the other Western nations, preserved not only its pre-Christian literature, but when Christianity came, not direct from Rome but from Britain and Gaul, that literature received a fresh impulse from the new faith. 
It would be impossible for any ruler in these circumstances, much less a ruler who was convinced of his own infallibility, to guide the destinies of an empire.
The old trade union movement is a dead horse, largely due to the incompetency of the leaders. 
Grammarians are very quick to brand those who form incorrect sentences as 'illiterate' and this is by no means the trait of only the old prescriptive grammarians. But would 'illogical' be less offensive? Illiteracy merely highlights a failure in education whereas illogicality, like stupidity, places emphasis on a person's mental deficiency which would of course be far more offensive.

It's very easy for anyone to make a careless mistake when he's writing a sentence, particularly, a long sentence. It's also very easy for listeners or readers to spot an error because he's only focussing on what is being said while the attention of the speaker or writer is usually diverted to what else he has to say and how he can fit everything in nicely and interestingly and he can ill afford the time to focus on the sentence he has said or written unless of course if he reads through what he's written which (I'm sure I'm not speaking for myself when I say this) nobody ever does. Why then is it wrong for the listener to tell the speaker that he has made an error? It's no different from telling the same speaker that his trousers are unzipped. Why should that be offensive?

But it is very offensive to many people, particularly women. While queueing up for dinner and chatting with a friend one evening when I was in uni, another friend, a woman, interrupted my conversation by observing that my use of the word 'perceptiveness' was wrong. I merely replied that the noun for 'perceive' was 'perception' but that of 'perceptive' was 'perceptiveness' but she was so outraged that she stormed off and refused to talk to me after that.

People do liken grammar to glamour and telling her she was wrong was no different in her mind from telling her she was not glamorous. It's similar to walking up to a woman and telling her that she shouldn't have worn red shoes with a blue dress or whatever it is that women with a disdainful toss of their heads would frown upon as a colour mismatch. But I didn't go out of my way to tell her she was wrong. I was merely explaining why I used the word 'perceptiveness' which she wrongly objected to. If I'm to use a fashion analogy, this would be better - she rebukes me for wearing red shoes and a blue shirt and I refer her to chapter 27 of Coco Channel's The Gentleman's Guide to Fashion which declares that such a colour combination is not just acceptable but highly desirable among the more fashionable Parisian men.

It is because of such sensitivity that correcting someone else's grammar openly is condemned by society as gross discourtesy. In polite society, nobody corrects anyone else and if I don't understand what someone is saying because his sentence is so incorrectly framed, I merely apologise that I'm a little hard of hearing and would he be so good as to repeat himself? I'm of course hopeful that he will recast his sentence and make it more grammatical and intelligible. But you can't tell him he's so ungrammatical that he can't be understood.

I have observed this rule of etiquette all my adult life and the first time I allowed myself the liberty of criticising someone else's errors was when I came into contact with the writings (including a grammar book) of Singapore's disgraceful Speak Good English Movement. I was utterly shocked that anyone who was so incredibly ignorant of even the basics of English grammar could arrogate to himself the right and authority to correct the nation's grammar. And as I have shown in many examples in the link above or here (if you don't want to scroll up), they set about their task by ruining the otherwise correct grammar of some students in Singapore who made the fatal mistake of asking them for advice on grammar. This was what led me to post articles in this blog against the Movement. As Yoda would say, when monstrous ignorance and shameless illiteracy parade themselves as grammatical correctness and elegant usage, slay them I must.

But this has painted a false image of me. Some people think I'm a nasty chap who's always waiting to pounce on people who make the smallest error in their speech or writing. There's nothing further from the truth than that. When I read through some of my own blog posts and I spot errors in them, I usually don't even bother to edit them. Why then should I correct other people's errors? You see, I have nothing against the making of mistakes. As long as the sun rises in the east, that will always happen. I'm only concerned when people do not know what the mistakes are. This is the fault of the Speak Good English Movement. It's not the occasional slip-up that people make that matters. It's the flagrant ignorance that bothers me. When the Speak Good English Movement pronounces something to be wrong when it is not (and this happens very often), that is a clear example of a mistake that stems from pure ignorance and not carelessness. That is what I detest. People can be as careless as they want to be or they can be totally ignorant - I have no quarrel with them. But the moment someone claims that a sentence is wrong, he had better be right. Right-thinking and fair-minded people must all pillory him if he's not.

The other false image is that of a highly competent English language teacher. I get numerous emails about grammar and I only have the time to read some of them. Many of them are questions that cannot be answered in one or two sentences. We now live in an era when prescriptive grammar is no longer fashionable and I can't simply dismiss a sentence as 'illiterate' without explaining the different gradations of formality that the sentence is appropriate for. There was a time when grammarians could punctuate their sentences with (these are direct quotations from old books on English usage and grammar): the Eton boys of a former generation... 
The mistake is sometimes made by those who know no Latin... 
...if he had remembered dissentire and abstinere, analogy would have led him to...
But today, if you write like that, your books won't sell. They may not even get published. They assume that the readers are familiar with Latin and sometimes, Greek. Although I was made to study Latin as a boy, I'm firmly opposed to this lunacy. The only good it does is it provides a very strong foundation for the student in his study of grammatical mood and cases (there are 7 cases in Latin). Except for a few pronouns, English words no longer undergo as many inflections as they used to and so a knowledge of Latin is of minimal benefit. Unless you're the Pope who's forced to write encyclicals in Latin which are then translated into modern languages for the masses (what folly!), most people can't remember a word of what they've studied and honestly, I can't tell the difference between insulae and insularum and I'm not bothered in the least.

Some sentences were wrong at one time but are acceptable today. For example, a reader wanted to know if this sentence he constructed was really in error, as a captious friend insisted it was:
Although I do not have any statistics, I'm sure many ISIS terrorists, disguised as Syrian migrants, have sneaked into Europe.
How do I answer the reader's question? Apart from praising the reader for the perspicacity of his observation as expressed in the sentence, I am quite unable to address the grammatical concerns without explaining that it was considered incorrect up to possibly the 1990s but it's of course very hard to be precise on the year. Why it was considered incorrect requires a further paragraph. To answer just a simple question on grammar, I'll have to go into the history of the usage and even after I've explained that it's acceptable today, the reader is sure to send another email to me asking how such a straightforward sentence could possibly have been wrong in the past.

I did try at one time to answer most of the emails on grammar but I've since given it up. There are just too many emails that are sent through this blog and it's all because of the wrong perception that people have. I have said many times that I'm not a teacher and I do not aspire to be one. That they continue to write to me with questions on grammar tells me that people are just influenced by the image they have formed of me as a teacher and no amount of protestation to the contrary can alter that impression.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Lee Hsien Loong is absolutely correct?

In the recent spat between Singapore's Prime Minister and his sister which had journalists all over the world aflutter, what captured my attention was something entirely different. The PM wrote on his Facebook wall a defence against his sister's accusation but neither the accusation nor the defence interests me in the least. I'm more interested in a sentence he wrote which was the subject of a small dispute I had with a few friends recently. All my friends insisted that this sentence the PM wrote was ungrammatical but I disagreed:

Can 'neither' govern three items - I, the PAP and the Singapore public? It's very hard for me to explain to my friends who don't really understand grammar that while the general rule is that 'neither', like 'either', should not strictly be used to refer to numbers more than two, there is an exception in its adverbial use. Even where there is no legitimate grammatical exception, writers have been known to flout this 'essential duality' rule, the most outrageous being none other than Shakespeare himself:
They say there is divinity in odd numbers, either in nativity, chance, or death.
Merry Wives of Windsor V, i.

There are many examples of unobjectionable use of 'neither' with numbers greater than two. Kipling's The Ballad of East and West comes readily to mind:
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth
For me, the quotation that most swiftly comes to my mind is from the book which was drummed into me throughout my formative years and which has proved extremely useful in my study of grammar and literature (and mainly because I've always used the King James Version and not the other linguistically inferior versions):
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Rom 8:38, 39
There are ten items introduced by 'neither' in that sentence.

A discussion of grammar would not be complete if I made no reference to a grammarian. Henry Fowler would have given Lee Hsien Loong's sentence the thumbs up; in 1926 he gave this example as correct:
Neither fish nor flesh nor fowl
It no longer surprises me that people who are ignorant of grammar should go out of their way to insist that a sentence is wrong just because they perceive it to be so or they recall an equally ignorant teacher telling them that it is ungrammatical. In Singapore, the most notorious must be the disgraceful Speak Good English Movement which I've shown in my other blog posts to be totally incapable of getting even a single sentence correct and yet they are hypercritical and would denounce perfectly grammatical sentences just because they are written in a style that the Movement in its ignorance is unfamiliar with.

If you would like to read about the shocking errors of the Speak Good English Movement, please visit this page on which I've listed links to all my blog posts on their many errors. The Movement is dealt with under section 1A on that page.

Friday, March 11, 2016

How can Prof John Sutherland be so wrong?

I've read some of John Sutherland's books on literature and I have nothing but admiration for him. When I saw his book, How Good is Your Grammar? (published last year), I thought it would be as good as the other books of his that I had read. But I was wrong. However renowned a literature prof may be in his area of expertise, and Sutherland is most certainly a universally acknowledged authority on Victorian literature, the reader cannot assume that he is also a grammarian; literature and language are as different from each other as Physics and Mathematics. No mathematician would presume to write a book on Physics and if I may be so bold as to add, no lit prof should attempt to write a grammar if he is ignorant of some of the rules of grammar and I will show in this article that Sutherland was sadly out of his depth. If only he had written Is Daniel Deronda Really a Jew? or Will Pip Ultimately Marry Estella? or some other book of this genre of which he is the undisputed master instead of delving into a subject which he obviously knows so little about.

I would not have said anything about his book - so great is my respect for John Sutherland - if he had not been unjust, totally wrong and even cruel to H.W. Fowler. I have nothing against people who disagree with Fowler. When I was a boy, I was made to read the tracts of the Society for Pure English. What started out as coercion (today's parenting guide calls it 'child abuse') soon became a joy and an addiction. I would read about the fight between H. W. Fowler and Otto Jespersen with relish. But in all their disputes, both men acted with gentlemanly civility throughout their exchanges and they were intellectually honest and did not accuse the other party of saying things that weren't said.

I cannot say the same of John Sutherland. I will repeat verbatim what Sutherland says in his book and you can judge for yourself how he treats the world's most famous grammarian who died almost a century ago. On the question whether one should insist on a singular concord after 'none', Sutherland says:
According to Fowler most certainly yes. Could you say 'No one of them are...'? But that noise you hear is Fowler, spinning in his grave, his 'rule' alongside him. It's gone by the board. And none of us is / are / ain't sorry to see the pesky quibble go.
I'm tempted to tell Sutherland to his face that what he's written is a blatant lie. But that won't be fair. Sutherland is probably just ignorant of what Fowler says and  he has no intention of deceiving his readers. But his words are false, untrue and deceptive. Anyone with the least acquaintance with Fowler's works must know that he has never made such a 'rule'. I was having dinner when I first read that passage in Sutherland's book and I almost choked on my food. I was taken aback by the obvious falsehood of the allegation which is couched in such unadulterated barbarity too.

Fowler has never made such a rule. On the contrary, in the first edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage, Fowler calls it a mistake to insist on a singular concord.  The same word, mistake, is preserved in all subsequent editions, including the 4th (edited by Jeremy Butterfield) which was published last June.

The best-loved (and, I would add, the greatest) linguist David Crystal whom I once met in the basement of a wooden book shop in Wales and with whom I had a most entertaining chat has this to say about 'none':
[Many] will be surprised of Fowler's tolerance of divided usage here, and (given his reference to the OED) his apparent support for plural concord.
How then did Sutherland get the idea that this erroneous 'rule' is being spun by Fowler in his grave when it was not spun by him in his lifetime? I looked up Fowler's The King's English for good measure and there is nothing in the book to suggest that Fowler endorses this erroneous rule. Fowler does apply such a rule to 'each' and to 'either' and 'neither' as pronouns but nothing is said of 'none'. What more evidence do I need when Fowler has unequivocally called the erroneous 'rule' a mistake in his Modern English Usage in 1926? What Sutherland writes is totally false. Sutherland may not have read Fowler - you don't have to read Fowler to teach Dickens - but I would have expected a literature professor of his stature to at least look up Fowler before attributing an error to him and in such a vicious way too.

This is the oldest book I have by Fowler. The pages have turned a dark brown colour.
I have all four editions of his Modern English Usage, spanning a period of almost a
whole century - from 1926 to 2015. But owning books (or in the case of academics, 
having easy access to books) means nothing if you don't read them. If Sutherland 
had read any book by Fowler instead of choosing to ridicule him unjustly, he would 
have realised he was wrong to accuse Fowler of having made up an erroneous rule.

There are many other instances of Sutherland's ignorance of standard grammar rules, some of which, I would have thought, are elementary. For example, Sutherland calls the problems associated with the use of 'due to' and 'owing to' a 'notoriously foggy area of grammar' and he demonstrates how foggy it is in his own mind by getting it wrong when he says that 'the Telegraph is probably in grammatical error' for the headline 'Rise in Child and Teen Fraud Arrests Mainly Due to Increase of Internet-based Crimes'. The Telegraph is perfectly correct grammatically. And it's not only Fowler (along with Sir Ernest Gowers, Burchfield and Butterfield) who would say it's correct. Eric Patridge and Janet Whitcut too, if I am to be guided by Partridge's Usage and Abusage as edited by Whitcut. At least I don't refer my readers to internet blogs which is what Sutherland does!

Sutherland says in his book that 'battle' when used as a transitive verb is wrong and he cites Simon Heffer as authority. Simon Heffer is a journalist, not a grammarian. In the past two months, I've read three books on grammar written by journalists. These books were of course reviewed in glorious terms in the newspapers of the journalists themselves. The only thing I've learnt from all three books is I should only go to a journalist if I need an update of world news. A grammar book written by a journalist is not much better than one written by a Literature professor.

My dictionary gives four different definitions of 'battle' as a transitive verb, one of which is obsolete but three of which are still current. In Sardanapalus, Byron writes, 'They battle it beyond the wall'. Simon Heffer is wrong if he says that the verb 'battle' must always be intransitive (which is what Sutherland claims). I have nothing against Simon Heffer. There are many things about him which I like but I won't be in a hurry to read his grammar book.

That Sutherland's foundation in grammar is shaky can be seen in his treatment of the question whether the sentence, 'Samantha is twenty years old, blue-eyed and has a large bust' is correct. This is a question posed by Kingsley Amis in his book, The King's English. I have to say something about this book by Kingsley Amis. When I was at school, Amis was one of my favourite novelists and it didn't take long for me to discover that he wrote a grammar book. It's a very old book and much of it is dated. Even when I read it as a schoolboy, it was way past its prime - I'm not that old!. I don't remember a thing about it today except that I recall Amis calling anyone who mispronounces or misuses a word a 'wanker' and I found it terribly amusing as a boy. I grew up in a strict Christian family and books with 'wankers' in them would not have received parental imprimatur but this was a grammar book!

Sutherland begins by saying that the sentence ('Samantha is twenty...' quoted above) is incorrect 'if you go along with Amis (I'm not sure I do...)'. However, the incorrectness of the sentence has nothing to do with Amis and Sutherland is wrong to imply that it's just a case of Amis laying down his own grammatical law. But that is the problem with Sutherland in his book. He tries so hard to convince his readers just how hip and modern he is and he probably thinks he can best achieve this by distancing himself from Amis whom he calls Fowler's 'grumpy disciple'. But Amis did not create his own grammatical rule. I've said that much of Amis' book is dated but this point of grammar has not evolved. That sentence is still grammatically incorrect today. But if you choose to be ungrammatical, it's not that you don't 'go along with Amis'; you're just ungrammatical.

Sutherland is also wrong to say that the sentence 'The Victorians aged faster than we' is ungrammatical. This contradicts just about every grammar book I can think of. There are so many examples to choose and here's one from Burchfield: 'On the whole the men...are more formal and authoritarian in tone than she.' And what is Sutherland's authority? You won't believe this - some internet blog! Now, isn't Sutherland cool, hip and (we mustn't forget this trendy word the young can't do without) awesome? That's the impression one gets when reading his book. He tries so hard to be fashionable. [I wanted to use a more 'hip' word than 'fashionable' and I thought of 'groovy' but I had this uncomfortable feeling that it might be dated and sure enough, my dictionary confirms that 'groovy' is dated!]

Sometimes, Sutherland forgets his hip image and pontificates about what 'real' grammar ought to be but because of his ignorance, he makes a fool of himself. For example, in his book, he asks the question:
What's the first grammatical error in the King James's Bible?
The thought that came to my mind was of course that 'wages of sin' bit which is what everyone knows but which in fact is quite defensible but I changed my mind. Sutherland is asking for the FIRST grammatical error, It has to be something from the Old Testament and not a Pauline epistle. The answer Sutherland gives nearly floored me - it's in Genesis and not just Genesis but the first chapter of Genesis, second verse. 'And the earth was without form...'. And I knew that was yet another clanger from the clueless Sutherland.

What is Sutherland's authority for saying you can't start a sentence with 'and'? Citing an authority is something Sutherland doesn't do in his book. All he does is to make references to internet blogs and occasionally, he repeats what his colleague Bas Aarts tells him. To show that he is correct in saying the second sentence of the King James's Bible is grammatically wrong, he relies on his memory of what he was told as a schoolboy. That's the extent of Sutherland's scholarship. This is what he says:
Schoolchildren, in my day (when grammar was grammar), used to be instructed not to start sentences with conjunctions, like 'and'.
Let's see what real grammarians have to say about this. Burchfield says:
There is a persistent belief that it is improper to begin a sentence with And, but this prohibition has been cheerfully ignored by standard authors from Anglo-Saxon times onwards. [He then quotes from the OED which gives examples from the 9th century onwards.]
Contrary to what Sutherland says, Fowler does not spin erroneous rules from his grave. Fowler was quite progressive and forward-looking even in his time. This is what he says:
That it is a solecism to begin a sentence with and is a faintly lingering superstition.
This is one superstition I'll never forget because of what I had to go through in school. One day, my schoolteacher who had a hairdo that closely resembled a large black beehive told me sharply that I was wrong for having begun a sentence with 'and'. But unlike Sutherland who accepted unquestioningly what he was told by schoolteachers as clueless as himself in grammar, I had a dispute with my teacher. Since I was made to read the tracts of the Society for Pure English in my early childhood, I was familiar with the works of Fowler, Jespersen and other grammarians. I told my teacher she was wrong and I said I had the support of Henry Fowler. She said she had never heard of him but the nuns who taught her English in her school made it very clear that starting a sentence with 'and' was grammatically unacceptable. I remember telling her that nuns were hardly the sort of people who could be expected to get their grammar right. They couldn't even get their theology right or they would've been Protestants. I apologise to my Roman Catholic readers for this but If I'm to recount a story of my life, I must do so truthfully. What I said was wrong and rude but I was only a child and saying politically incorrect things has been my weakness since my earliest days. I don't remember how she responded or whether I was sent to the Headmaster's office. I don't even remember if she was RC. My memory has this happy tendency of getting rid of unpleasant events.

There are other errors in Sutherland's book which I will not deal with here. The purpose of this blog post is mainly to defend Fowler against a false charge. If the accusation were made by a relatively unknown person, I would have ignored it. But Prof John Sutherland is a highly regarded academic and many people who read his book and who are not familiar with Fowler's works may believe his false accusation without further investigation.

Sutherland is quite an elderly and respectable academic but in How Good is Your Grammar?, he writes with the obnoxious flippancy of a rebellious teenager.

If Sutherland will listen to a bit of advice, he should not venture beyond Victorian literature when he writes his next book. He may talk about the colours of the curtains in the house in which Jane Eyre lives - Sutherland fans should be able to tell from this that I've read his books and they will perhaps think less harshly of me - but  he should stay away from any subject of which he has no knowledge.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Wrong Again!!!

This is from the Speak Good English Movement's Facebook page (16 February 2016):

I have shown elsewhere in this blog many instances in which the Speak Good English Movement copies blindly from grammar books without understanding even the basic grammar of English. This can be seen in the way they attempt to explain an aspect of grammar. They are ineffectual because they don't even understand the concept behind what they are explaining. A good example of how the Movement ties itself up in knots and comes up with an erroneous grammar rule of their own devising can be seen in this blog post I wrote just last month.

One bemused reader of the Movement's Facebook post asks if someone can explain why 'some time' is an adjective. She can't be faulted because the meme does suggest that.

Another reader rightly points out that 'some' is a determiner. This is what every child in Singapore who has been through the first day of Primary 1 knows. If the Speak Good English Movement had as much knowledge as a Primary 1 child, they would have explained that 'some' is a determiner followed by 'time' which is a noun. This simple explanation is far more helpful for a student than that stupid meme which only God knows where they got from. There are sometimes different ways to classify a word but a good teacher will pick a classification which best illustrates a grammatical point to the student. Labelling 'some time' as an adjective is shoddy. Brevity is of course necessary in a meme but writing 'Determiner + Noun' below 'SOME TIME' will not take up too much space. The Movement is unable to do that because it is clueless of even basic English grammar and I have shown overwhelming evidence of this in my other blog posts (please see the link below).

When will the Ministry of Education disband this disgraceful Movement?

If you would like to read similar articles in this blog about the many errors of the Speak Good English Movement and other educators, please go to my regularly updated one-page post with links to all the articles on the subject.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

When it can be embarrassing to receive a national award from Singapore

If I were a teacher in Singapore, I would reject this award if it were given to me. Receiving the Inspiring Teacher of English Award from the Speak Good English Movement is like receiving an award for political correctness from Donald Trump or receiving the Nobel Peace Prize from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or the MENSA high-IQ award from Sarah Palin.

A teacher of English who truly loves the language and knows his grammar should have the conscience to reject this award from the Speak Good English Movement. Anyone who loves the English language and who is desirous of teaching correct grammatical English must be repulsed by the Movement and unless there lurks within his heart some traitorous element, it is impossible for him to accept an Award from what is essentially the Archenemy of good standard English.

The Movement posted this on their Facebook page yesterday:

This is an announcement to get people to nominate their favourite English teacher for the award. But the Movement can't even get its first sentence grammatically correct. 'Know a teacher who inspires... and are...'

Let me assure you this is not just an oversight or a slip of the pen or the keyboard. The Movement ALWAYS gets its grammar wrong. Getting the subject-verb agreement wrong is nothing new for the Movement. About ten years ago, the Speak Good English Movement published its notorious grammar book which is aptly titled ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN or more accurately, ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN BY THE SPEAK GOOD ENGLISH MOVEMENT and this is what their grammar book says:

1. 'Alan and George works as a team' is acceptable if we consider the two as 'one team'. 

Yes, I quoted that verbatim. Two years ago, I wrote more about this astounding error here and if you don't believe what you are reading, do take a look at that blog post.

2.  Despite its plural form, 'premises' is treated as a reference to a single place or building, for example: 'If you must smoke, leave this premises'. 

I know you will find it hard to believe that I quoted the above verbatim but I did. If you are interested, I wrote at great length about this error two years ago here.

3. 'One of the boys who likes to play soccer is John.'

OK, some people do stumble over this but it's not unreasonable to expect a grammar book to get it right. If you would like to read my blog post on this error, please click here.

The Speak Good English Movement is still clueless about grammatical concord after all these years. Their highly flawed grammar book has been on the top of Singapore's bestseller chart since it was first published ten years ago. It's been ten years and the Movement is still struggling with subject-verb agreement.  Just last year, the Movement is so confused over this plural/singular aspect of English grammar that it could not even get the title of its conference right.

When I first saw these two photos on the Movement's Facebook page, I thought referring to 'communications' as 'it' was just the error of the woman who was writing on the white board.

But I was wrong; the woman was not to blame. She ought to be commended for her artistic skill. She was merely repeating the error of the Movement. 'Communications - Keep It Simple and Clear' is the actual title of the conference itself. This photograph below which shows the cover of the conference programme proves that the error was not that of the woman writing on the white board but a part of the Movement's age-old inability of getting their grammar right. Any Primary 2 child in Singapore can tell the Movement that a singular pronoun does not go with a plural noun.

As you can see, the Speak Good English Movement is a total disgrace. It is obscene to allow the Movement to give the Inspiring Teacher of English Award to our deserving teachers. I hope the Ministry of Education would do the decent thing and bypass the Movement completely. I have been saying for years that the only right thing to do is to disband the Movement.

Our teachers have worked very hard and many of them deserve some recognition. It is an affront to our English teachers to give them an Award through the Speak Good English Movement. It does not take a good English teacher to know that the Speak Good English Movement is totally clueless about standard English. Everyone knows that.

As I have made clear in scores of posts in this blog, Singapore's Speak Good English Movement is incapable of writing a single sentence without making errors that would embarrass a ten-year-old child. And if you look at this one-page list of all the blog posts I have written on the subject, you will doubtless agree that I am neither unjust nor harsh in dismissing the Speak Good English Movement as hopelessly and disgracefully illiterate. I can only hope that the Ministry of Education will do the right thing for our teachers.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

An ad by Pat's Schoolhouse

This ad by Pat's Schoolhouse which I found in my letter box this evening may very well give the wrong impression of the school.

Its very first sentence is shockingly illiterate for a school that presumably teaches English. Of course I may be wrong - I have no idea what Pat's Schoolhouse teaches. But even if the school doesn't teach English, it has no excuse printing an ad in English that has such a glaring error. And the ad only has three sentences!  This is what it says:
Pat's Schoolhouse provides a distinctly unique education for over 28 years and until today, it's what makes us stand out.
First, I'll put aside the pedantic squabble as to whether what is unique must necessarily be distinct - I'm perfectly fine even if someone writes 'completely unique' and I'm utterly sick of this century-old usage debate which I think is quite needless. But the use of the simple present is wrong by all accounts. It should read, 'Pat's Schoolhouse has been providing...'. This is elementary English grammar which all Primary 2 kids are familiar with.

I must say this is a huge embarrassment for me; I just declared in my blog post this morning that nobody in Singapore except the Speak Good English Movement stumbled over simple tenses. But of course it's always possible that the person in Pat's Schoolhouse who composed that erroneous sentence in the ad learnt his tenses from the Movement's notorious grammar book about which I've written in great detail. If you would like to see some of these blog posts, please visit the complete list of all my blog posts on the language.

I can see why it's important for a school not to make silly grammatical errors. The ad which is printed in colour on hard cardboard looks expensive. The cover says, 'Are you seeking a DIFFERENT education?' Getting the tense in that sentence wrong somewhat mars the entire ad. As a parent myself, I'd probably wonder what kind of 'different education' my kids would get if the school could not even get the first sentence right in an ad that had only three sentences. But this should not in any way cast any aspersion on Pat's Schoolhouse's teaching methods. It only means their marketing manager made an error in one sentence. That's all. I remember many years ago, Singapore Management University (SMU) published an ad about their first batch of graduates in the Straits Times and just like Pat's Schoolhouse's ad, it had only three sentences and one of them had a grammatical error. I wrote to the Straits Times which of course refused to publish my letter. Straits Times is notorious for refusing to publish letters on grammar that might embarrass either their journalists or their advertisers. And that was before the age of the blog.

Schools should take more care when preparing an ad. An expensive promotion exercise can be ruined by language that smacks of illiteracy.

A perfect Singapore?

Educators who are always waiting to pounce on Singaporeans and lay every single error at their door are very quick to name the perfect tense as, so they allege, the Singaporean's linguistic Achilles' heel.

But are these educators correct in their assessment? Do Singaporeans really stumble over the perfect tense? From my own observation, every Singaporean I've ever come across knows his tenses perfectly and the perfect tense is no exception. There are of course exceptions - very young children, those who do not have the benefit of a proper education and the Speak Good English Movement.

Yes, the Speak Good English Movement has been shown repeatedly to be totally lost when it comes to the perfect tense.

Here's an excerpt from the Movement's notorious grammar book. They teach students that the present perfect can only be used on 'something that is continuous and repeated':

If that bit of lunacy on the present perfect is not enough for you, here's another from the same grammar book, this time, on the past perfect.

If you think the folks at the Speak Good English Movement must by now have gone back to Primary 2 to study the perfect tense, you're wrong. This recent post taken from their website is an acknowledgement of Comfort Delgro as one of the supporters of the Movement's work:

And as late as mid-December 2015, the Movement posted on their Facebook wall this poster (or meme, as the Internet-savvy would call it) on the difference between the simple past and the past perfect.  

I'm sure many of you will say the second example of the past perfect is not correct. But I'm always a little hesitant to immediately dismiss a sentence as incorrect unless it is without a doubt an error by all accounts and is viewed by all grammarians to be indisputably wrong. All I'm prepared to say is anyone with a good knowledge of the English language will certainly not pick that second example to differentiate the past perfect from a simple past. A past tense in that example is preferable: 'The accident occurred five minutes before the ambulance arrived.'

You will no doubt recall how Ludwig Tan, a committee member of the Speak Good English Movement, tied himself up in knots when he tried to come to grips with the perfect tense. He found this tense which children in Singapore master at the age of 9 so infernally difficult that he made up his own erroneous grammar rule which I examined in great detail in this previous blog post.

As I have said, it's not Singaporeans who have a problem with the perfect tense. It's the Speak Good English Movement.

If you are interested, here's a one-page summary of all the blog posts I have published on the errors of the Speak Good English Movement and others.

Monday, January 25, 2016


A few friends have judged me to be 'unkind' in some of my blog posts which dwell on the errors of the Speak Good English Movement and some of its committee members. If you want to have a look at some of these blog articles, please click here for my one-page list with links to the articles. Look at Section No. 1 (A) and (B) for articles on the Speak Good English Movement and the highly flawed language blog of Ludwig Tan, a committee member.

I have a simple defence to any allegation of unkindness. What I'm doing in these articles is the arduous task of rectification. I'm countering the insidious poison of not just bad English that is spread by the Movement but outrageously rotten English. I'm not a teacher and I do not benefit from these posts in any way at all. Neither do I own or run any educational enterprise, whether it's a private school or a printing house. I have no connection with any of these, however remotely. Writing these posts (and there are many) takes up a lot of my time and my only motivation is a sense of duty I feel for a country that has done so well in every aspect of education except the English language. It baffles me why the Ministry of Education, which must be among the world's best if you consider that Singapore tops the whole world in the educational arena, has not disbanded the Speak Good English Movement and consigned their notorious grammar book to the rubbish tip.

Like most people who live in Singapore, I started out quite amused by the errors of the Speak Good English Movement. They published a grammar book called English as It is Broken (Parts 1 and 2) which has been topping Singapore's best-seller chart every year since it was first published almost ten years ago. But my amusement turned into concern when I read some of the entries in their grammar book and it became clear to me that they didn't even have an iota of knowledge of basic English grammar. And my concern grew into alarm when I saw instances when the Speak Good English Movement did REAL HARM to Singaporean students. The following examples are just the tip of the iceberg:

Example 1

The Speak Good English Movement's grammar book makes it a point to tell students who write correct sentences such as 'Do you know who the inventor of the camera is?' that they are wrong. The book tells them the question should be corrected to 'Do you know who is the inventor of the camera?' Can you believe this? And the Movement's 'experts' refuse to budge when a reader suggests that the first sentence is correct. You can read more of this shocking error here.

Example 2

A student wrote an essay that contains the phrase 'high morality'. The 'experts' in the Speak Good English Movement's grammar book insist that you can't say 'high morality'. And they gave a most obnoxious and arrogant answer. You can read it for yourself. In a blog post I wrote almost two years ago, I showed why the student was in fact correct. I showed that 'high morality' was used not just by Ronald Reagan and Sir David Attenborough, but also by Emily Bronte.

Even if you aren't angry that these 'experts' from the Speak Good English Movement teach students bad grammar and stifle their creativity every time they come up with something beautiful, surely the arrogant way in which they address the students (as you can see from the excerpts in my linked blog posts) is at least infuriating?

Example 3

This is the best example of the imbecility of the language 'experts' of the Speak Good English Movement and it's what I dealt with at great length in this blog post of mine. When asked if a plural verb is required, the 'experts' write:

You may think such a daft answer can't be representative of what one might expect from the Speak Good English Movement but I'm not so sure about that.

One of their committee members, Ludwig Tan, whose embarrassing blog on English grammar I have previously written about (see, in particular, this most recent post), is not that much different from the Movement's other experts in his knowledge of this aspect of grammar.

In his blog, he picks on the subheading of a newspaper and this is what he says.

Before they embarrass themselves further, the writers of the Movement's grammar book and Ludwig Tan should be reminded that the English language has rules they have to follow regardless of their personal preferences and private eccentricities. You cannot, by considering two persons to be 'one team', unilaterally decide that a singular verb is acceptable. Neither can you, by choosing to treat two actions as a single activity, insist that the singular verb is preferable, particularly when you are seeking to correct someone else who has used a plural verb correctly. Bear in mind that in Ludwig Tan's example, the journalist uses a plural verb. Tan suggests a singular verb as preferable but he is wrong. He has obviously made the mistake of misapplying one of these exceptions (meant for entirely different situations) to the two separate actions of 'smiling' and 'recalling something pleasant':

1. Fish and chips is what I usually eat for dinner. 
2. A scale and polish costs very little at this dental clinic.
3. His calmness and confidence is amazing.
4. The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords is coming again in glory (coordinative apposition).

Ludwig Tan when criticising others in his blog loves to repeat the famous misquotation, 'A little knowledge is a dangerous thing'. That is a platitude he would do well to heed himself. 

Despite his many failings, Ludwig Tan can be quite merciless in his criticism of others. I have shown in my previous blog posts how he would pick on small Singaporean businesses eg the Cafe Lobby and headlines from Singaporean newspapers. Sometimes he pounces on a journalist for a careless mistake made, no doubt, while rushing to meet a deadline. In one instance, he dismissed an article by a Straits Times journalist as 'a truly awful, muddled piece of writing'. Tan says further of the journalist, 'Sounds like a Primary 4 "descriptive writing" essay, unbelievably bad even for a 10-year-old. But this is a Straits Times journalist, most probably an SPH scholar.' 

I usually try to be a little kinder to Tan when he displays bitterness about other people's scholastic achievements. Knowing that Ludwig Tan was himself a Ngee Ann Polytechnic student, I try to cut him some slack when he pours scorn on people he imagines to be scholars. But whatever aversion you might have to scholars, such an insult is quite unjustifiable. Just because the poor journalist makes the common enough error of writing 'phenomena' as singular, Tan continues, 'Since it's singular, it should be a phenomenon. (But, of course, we don't expect 10-year-olds to know this.)'

When another journalist makes a minor error when using 'albeit', Tan castigates her viciously, 'This monstrosity, from Mediacorp's Deputy Editorial Director no less, is a curious error that affects English-educated Singaporeans with delusions of grandeur.'

All this coming from someone who makes up his own flawed grammar rules, shows a shocking lack of understanding of how to use the Oxford English Dictionary and blunders repeatedly in his grammar and usage.

In my previous posts, I mentioned at great length some of Ludwig Tan's egregious language errors. See, in particular, this most recent post. But there are a lot more in his language blog and unless one intends to write a book on Ludwig's ludicrous howlers, and it's got to be a pretty thick book, one cannot possibly address all his mistakes.  

While it's all right to make mistakes, it's not all right to tell others they are wrong when they are not. Or to launch into a diatribe against Singaporeans especially when he has repeatedly been shown to be so incredibly ignorant of the rules of grammar. And it's not all right to insult Singaporeans so viciously even if they do sometimes make mistakes.

For example, Ludwig Tan is forceful against the 'Singaporean' use of 'clarify'. He points out that in Standard English, it's a transitive verb but in Singapore English, it's often mistakenly used as an intransitive verb. When I read that, I was fairly certain that Ludwig Tan would make the same mistake he has dismissed as non-Standard. After all, I have seen enough of Tan's writing to know that he's incapable of getting his language right. So, all I did was to continue reading his blog and sure enough, I found him slipping over not just one but two transitive verbs.

The sentence which Tan took objection to is, 'We hope this clarifies, and thank Dr Lim for his feedback.' However, about a year before that, Ludwig Tan, after explaining some unrelated matter in his blog, wrote this:

Singaporeans (the butt of all Tan's rudeness) may very well use 'clarify' incorrectly as an intransitive verb but Tan himself uses both 'clarify' and 'confuse' (both are transitive) as intransitive verbs. He criticises Singaporeans for making one mistake but he himself is guilty of making two such mistakes. After the National Pledge, schoolchildren should all say in unison  in good Singlish, 'We, the people of Singapore, double-confirm plus chop that Ludwig Tan is a ninny!'

Everyone regardless of his nationality makes careless mistakes which is why it is my policy not to bring them up as mistakes worthy of our attention. And if you're one of those naturally loquacious people who have a lot to say in their blog or Facebook and if, like me, you hate reading through what you have written and would speedily press 'SUBMIT' and exit your blog, there are sure to be times when you read through your past posts only to be astounded as to how careless you have been in your writing.

If you have followed what I've been saying in this blog, you will notice that I only point out errors which are not the result of carelessness. When the Speak Good English Movement or Ludwig Tan says expressly that some sentence is ungrammatical and offers his advice, any error he makes in giving his advice cannot be the result of carelessness. That's because it's his considered opinion. He's saying someone is wrong when he really isn't. It's a mistake that stems from his own ignorance. This is the kind of mistake I look out for. Not careless mistakes which don't show anything except that you're dealing with a human being. Everyone knows 'phenomena' is plural. When the journalist wrote 'a phenomena', she was just careless. One shouldn't call her names for that.

I have said in my previous posts that I have evidence to show that Ludwig Tan does not know how to use the Oxford English Dictionary. Sometimes I wonder if he even owns a dictionary or has access to one.

For example, Ludwig Tan picks on the use of 'ashes' in an ad by a Singaporean company. He says that 'the word ash is uncountable (hence singular) in the context of tobacco, wood, coal or volcanoes. The plural ashes is more appropriate for cremated bodies...'

But, as I have shown in many examples in my previous blog posts, Ludwig Tan is very often wrong. I've shown how he would make up his own grammar rules that contradict the rules of Standard English. I've also shown in a few other posts how he always gets the definitions of words wrong. He would rely on learner dictionaries for students and take them to be the final arbiter on the English language when the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary and other reliable dictionaries say something quite different.

Only an idiot with a serious head injury would say that 'ashes' is more appropriate for cremated bodies. Of course we see ashes in crematoriums too. Any reasonably educated person knows that you can speak of cigarette ash or ashes. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary under the entry for 'ash' says, 'Frequently in plural, ashes' and the Concise Oxford Dictionary says the same thing - 'often in plural'. For the first example of 'ash', the Oxford Dictionary Online gives - 'He looked over at her, raising his eyebrow, tapping his cigarette and sending burning ashes into the air.' And the writer is not making any allusion to cremated bodies.

The Speak Good English Movement has no moral right to make any more pronouncements on the English language. They have been shown to be always wrong. Every utterance of theirs is a huge mistake. Every publication of theirs including their notorious grammar book is an embarrassment to all Singaporeans. The Ministry of Education should step in now and disband this disgraceful Movement. If the Ministry doesn't do that, I urge all members of the Movement to put an end to this miserable Movement on their own. As I have always said in my blog, I know they are honourable people who have the best of intentions and they will not want to remain a minute longer in a Movement that they are so obviously not suited for.

Do you still think I'm unkind to the Movement?

I wouldn't be surprised in the least if some idiot thought that the title of this article was wrong. I have shown in this blog that Ludwig Tan is fond of looking for errors in the headlines of Singaporean newspapers. But titles and headlines serve a different purpose and sometimes, as is the case with this title, a title may very well be a quotation.

As my educated readers probably can tell, the above title is a direct quotation from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar - the famous speech of Mark Antony. The cut refers to the stabbing of Caesar by Brutus, a close friend of Caesar's. It was a treacherous act, or, as the Bard puts it, 'the most unkindest cut of all'. Teachers who harm their students by teaching them incorrect grammar are in fact betraying the trust placed in them. They are giving their students that same 'most unkindest cut' that Brutus in his treachery gave Caesar. Instead of accusing me of being unkind, my readers should direct their just anger at the Speak Good English Movement. The Movement, by its grammar book alone, has inflicted 'the most unkindest cut of all' on all Singaporean students.

NOTE: If you want to read some of my other blog posts on this subject you may go to my one-page post that has all my previous posts neatly linked and arranged under different headings. Posts that deal with Ludwig Tan's errors, for example, appear under Section 1B.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

When everything a Singaporean says is always deemed to be wrong.

As I have mentioned in some of my previous blog posts, some Singaporean educators can harm the general development of students and kill any creativity that the students may have. They can stifle the creativity of students and ruin their interest in language and grammar. What are some of these negative characteristics that we should look out for in an educator? In this post I will talk about what in my opinion is the most ruinous of these characteristics:

The tendency to assume Singaporeans are always wrong.

I've seen this often enough. This must be the most disastrous trait an educator can possibly have. In many of my posts on language, a lot of the errors made by educators originate from this tendency of assuming that the Singaporean student has got to be wrong. And when a Singaporean tries to be creative, he is immediately struck down by such teachers and sometimes he is viciously insulted. But when a foreigner writes the same thing, he is praised or if it is really a mistake, he is somehow excused. When a Singaporean makes a mistake, his mistake is one of sheer ignorance but the foreigner's mistake is always due to a mere oversight.

Ludwig Tan who sits in the committee of the notorious Speak Good English Movement and who teaches English at UniSIM is particularly guilty of this. I've written many blog posts about the Speak Good English Movement but I'll focus now on just the language blog of one of its committee members.

In his language blog, Tan gives this example from a Singaporean newspaper -

He goes on to say that Singaporeans may be able to see a link between 'celery negotiation' and 'salary negotiation' but non-Singaporeans 'would probably find it rather baffling'. This is because, according to Tan, Singaporeans do not distinguish between the two vowels, /e/ and /æ/, and to them the title is 'punny' whereas those who differentiate an /e/ from an /æ/ (ie the Almighty non-Singaporeans) will find the title strange and confusing. So, a rather clever title from one of our best food reviewers is, in Ludwig Tan's opinion, a Singlish error and one that highlights the Singaporean's poor pronunciation skills.

But when the same play on /e/ and /æ/ is made by a Brit, Tan's reaction is quite different. In this excerpt from the Daily Mirror, there is a similar play on 'Shell' for 'shall'. If this had been the creation of a Singaporean, Ludwig Tan would most certainly have castigated the writer for his 'Singaporean inability' to distinguish an /e/ from an /æ/. But because it's by a British daily, Tan calls this an 'utterly brilliant wordplay' in his blog.

There are dozens of examples that I can pick to show this tendency that Ludwig Tan has to dismiss any Singaporean writing as wrong and to claim that the writer is ignorant of the correct pronunciation of words. He usually picks on newspaper headlines which are intended to be short and catchy. The beautifully alliterative 'More Malls' is slammed by Tan as an example of the Singaporean inability to distinguish phonetically 'more' from 'malls'. When someone types 'bore' when he meant 'bald', the error is immediately assumed by Tan to be due to the writer's inherent merging of both vowels, a typical Singaporean handicap. He even insists that a notice that humorously spells 'specials' as 'speshuls' 'doesn't work for most Singaporeans, since they would not pronounce the final syllable with a reduced vowel, ie schwa.'  That's utter balderdash. How else do Singaporeans pronounce 'specials'?

It's very painful to read what Ludwig Tan has to say in his blog because he seems to have a decided opinion against anything Singaporean. A friend told me that I should cut Ludwig Tan some slack because unlike most Singaporeans, Tan went to a polytechnic instead of a junior college and perhaps his impression of what's Singaporean comes exclusively from that small segment of Polytechnic crowd he used to hang out with which isn't representative of most Singaporeans or polytechnic students in general. I have met some Polytechnic students and they can certainly pronounce 'specials' flawlessly and they have a better understanding of English grammar and usage than Ludwig Tan. We must be careful not to blame Tan's personal pronunciation problems on all Polytechnic students or to think that all those who go through the Polytechnic route will end up with the same language weaknesses.

When some Singaporean gets his article wrong eg 'an UN...' instead of 'a UN...', the error is immediately seized by Ludwig Tan as an example of a mistake that stems from ignorance and the faulty teaching methods of Singaporean schools. When an American cartoonist writes 'A elephant', Tan swiftly goes to his defence and declares that the mistake is one of carelessness and not ignorance and he goes on to explain how easy it is to make a mistake in typesetting.

How many of our Singaporean teachers are like that? How many of them are equally quick to pounce on a Singaporean for the smallest error or for what is not an error but wrongly assumed to be one?

Here is a summary of the earlier blog posts I wrote about Ludwig Tan's many language errors:

1. In this blog post, I explain why he is wrong to fault a Singaporean journalist for using 'will' for habitual situations. I quote renowned grammarians to show that Tan is talking rubbish when he claims that the 'error' comes from the Chinese use of 'hui' to express habitual events. The Singaporean journalist's use of 'will' is Standard English and Tan's objection only shows his ignorance of basic grammar.

2. In this other post of mine, I address his objection to the use of 'departmental store' which he dismisses as non-Standard Singapore English. What he says of course is contradicted by all good English dictionaries including the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

3. By way of a subtle reply, Ludwig Tan edits his blog post and I immediately respond with another post of mine in which I summarily dismiss his ridiculous reply and I raise yet another error of his - his objection to the use of 'naiveness' by a Singaporean journalist. In his blog, he writes that he is unable to find 'naiveness' in his learner's dictionary and he concludes that it's a non-existent word! I have not known of a single student of English who uses a learner's dictionary as the final arbiter of what correct English is. And Ludwig Tan teaches English!

4. In yet another post, I show why his objection to the use of 'disallow' is wrong. He claims the usage (by a Singaporean newspaper of course) is non-Standard Singapore English. I also tender clear evidence in that post why I'm convinced that Ludwig Tan does not know how to use the OED. Mind, he is a teacher of the English language!

5. In this very interesting blog post which everyone should read, I expose Ludwig Tan's lack of knowledge of how the past perfect may be used. I show incontrovertible proof that Ludwig Tan makes up his own erroneous grammar rule on the use of the past perfect which flies in the face of the rules of Standard English. In his blog, Tan has been pontificating on how ignorant Singaporeans are on the use of the past perfect and so it's rather surprising that he is really far more ignorant than the Singaporeans he loves to put down.

6. In this blog post, I address his complaint about a newspaper headline which is, in fact, not incorrect at all. Of course it's a Singaporean newspaper.

7. And finally, in this hilarious blog post, you can see Ludwig Tan training his hypercritical but faulty light-sabre on a small Singaporean establishment that goes by the name of Cafe Lobby. It's in this blog post that you will see how the son of my nasi lemak seller who dropped out of primary school could teach Ludwig Tan a thing or two about the English language.

The Ministry of Education should address this problem that we see in some Singaporean educators who have this set opinion that nothing Singaporeans write can ever be correct or creative. I've seen very creative Singaporeans but many of them are afraid of being insulted and humiliated by teachers who have little knowledge of English usage and grammar but who are very quick to come down hard on anything they perceive to be a departure from what they are familiar with. And what these teachers are familiar with is very much restricted by their scant knowledge of English grammar and their inadequate reading repertoire. I feel very strongly that it's not good for the country to have too many of such teachers.

If you want to look at the rest of the articles I've written about not just Ludwig Tan but other educators too, please visit my one-page list with links to all my blog posts on the subject.