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.

No comments:

Post a Comment