Thursday, January 28, 2016

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.

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