Thursday, February 16, 2017

Singapore's English Movement in error again.

Elsewhere in this blog, I have explained why I no longer read Singapore's Straits Times but this afternoon, a friend referred me to a letter written by Goh Eck Kheng, the Chairman of Singapore's Speak Good English Movement, which was published in the Straits Times on the Forum page on 13 February. I have furnished  irrefutable evidence in almost 100 blog posts why I can justly conclude that anything written by the Movement is bound to contain some language error but when my friend first brought the letter to my attention, I thought it was rather presumptuous of him to expect that there would be grammatical errors in such a short letter. Writing a grammatically correct letter should not be an impossible task for anyone who has been through some basic education in English. To oblige my friend, I thought I should just cast an eye on a couple of paragraphs of the letter and I would then tell him if the letter was flawlessly grammatical. And it isn't flawless.

You may click here for the full letter in the Straits Times website. It's really a very short letter with only 11 sentences and for reasons which are beyond even my wildest imagination, each paragraph has only one sentence.

I quote from the letter:

This is a perfect example of garbled language usually seen in the writing of young children who are unable to handle long sentences. School teachers often tell children to write short crisp sentences and to stay away from long sentences which they may find unwieldy. Adults who don't feel quite at home with the English language will do well to heed such advice.

I'm reluctant to call this a case of an unattached participle because in most examples of unattached participles that grammarians quote in their grammar and usage books, the offending participle is really not unattached but wrongly attached. I must have seen hundreds of examples of unattached participles in usage books and in the writings of uneducated people but this is the first time I have seen a participle that is really attached to nothing at all. Quite unlike your regular conjuror's rabbit that pops out of a black hat, Mr Goh's rabbit simply appears out of thin air.

If you must write all that in one sentence because your feng shui master tells you that it is bad omen for you not to limit each paragraph of your letters to only one sentence, you may cast that clause parenthetically: 'We agree that Singlish, which uses words and structures from English, Malay,..., is a cultural...'. If clarity is more important to you than the jabbering of your feng shui master you should break that up into two sentences because that ugly monstrosity that sticks out of Mr Goh's sentence carries nothing more than additional information about Singlish which can be presented more effectively in a separate sentence.

I have no doubt that the people in the Movement are all wonderful people. I have never once criticised them for anything other than their appalling ignorance of English grammar. Mindful of my inherent insensitivity, I have taken the trouble to delete huge chunks from the first draft of this post which I thought might cause offence to those who are thin-skinned and all I have left behind is a dry and rather clinical analysis of the errors which is wholly inoffensive but which I fear may bore my readers to tears. I have sacrificed entertainment and humour just so that I don't cause offence and I hope this gesture of mine will go some way in appeasing my friends who are in any way connected to this sad and ineffectual Movement which really ought to be disbanded if we truly care for the standard of English in Singapore.

EDITOR: I have also taken the liberty to shorten this post. I have been told that I should keep my posts short and comprehensible. I will henceforth bring up only the obvious errors and there are indeed many of them made by the Speak Good English Movement. Errors that require too long an explanation will not be posted. Where they were posted in the past, I will remove them when I come across them. My intention in writing these blog posts is to alert the public to the many mistakes made by the Movement. Many people in Singapore are unaware of how ignorant the Movement is of English grammar and the proof of their reliance on the Movement can be seen in the speed at which 10,000 copies of the Movement's highly flawed 2017 book Grammar Rules were snapped up within a couple of weeks. The Speak Good English Movement owes a duty to the Singapore public to get its grammar right when it publishes a book on grammar. As I have shown in this blog, it has failed in its duty. It behoves all of us who know better to alert the public to this serious defect in the Movement. If you are interested in reading about the errors in the Movement's 2017 Grammar Rules, please click here and follow the link in that article to Part 2.

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