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.

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