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

THE MOST UNKINDEST CUT OF ALL

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 reparatory work. 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.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Why Singapore's language 'experts' make up their own erroneous grammar rules.

It may seem strange to anyone who has read any of the 60 blog posts I have published in this blog alone about the ludicrous language errors made by the language consultants and 'experts' from the Speak Good English Movement that the Movement has not been disbanded by the Ministry of Education. I'm equally puzzled. Some of the mistakes involve grammatical rules that are so elementary that only illiterates can possibly stumble over them. If you want to take a look at these blog posts, please go to my one-page list that has links to all the posts.

I have criticised the Speak Good English Movement for making up their own grammatical rules that contradict the rules of Standard English. In one blog post of mine, I showed incontrovertible proof that Ludwig Tan, Vice-Dean (School of Arts & Social Sciences) in SIM University who is also a committee member of the Speak Good English Movement, went so far as to cook up his own grammatical rule which I demonstrated to be not just erroneous but laughably so. Click on the link to see that blogpost for yourself or if it's more convenient for you, you may just click HERE.

I may joke about the committee of the Speak Good English Movement and I may say funny things about them in jest but I have always maintained that they are good people who happen not to be equipped or qualified to occupy the post of the nation's language watchdog. I have also argued elsewhere in this blog that there is no need for such a watchdog but that's a different matter altogether and I won't talk about that here.

Since I have always declared that these are good people whose only fault is a complete ignorance of English grammar (you don't have to be good at grammar to be a good person), what then is the reason for them to make up non-existent grammar rules? Am I implying that they are dishonest? If they are dishonest, how can they be good people?

I really believe they are honest people and have always said so even when I exposed those instances when they made up non-existent grammar rules. But within me, I have always struggled with this apparent blot on their escutcheon. How can I reconcile the act of cooking up non-existent grammar rules with a person's integrity and honesty? Surely a person who makes up a non-existent rule is dishonest?

I'm happy to say that I went through a Eureka moment last night and like Buddha under the Bo tree just at the point when he achieved enlightenment (whatever that means), I instantly knew that I was all along right in defending the goodness and honesty of the Speak Good English Movement. They may be illiterate and they may be ignorant but they are good and honest people.

You see, last night, as I was reading in bed and was about to fall asleep, something in the book jumped up at me. I was reading Michael Swan's book on English usage and there is a passage on determiners. The writer divides determiners into two groups - Group A and Group B. He then goes on to lay a rule governing determiners and as I read that, I suddenly remembered something I had read before. I immediately reached for my phone and looked up my blog for a post I wrote some two years ago.

Two years ago, I slammed the Speak Good English Movement and MOE's language experts for something they wrote in their disgraceful grammar book. Here's the blogpost. It actually began with a question from the public as to which of these three are correct:

1. A friend of John
2. John's friend
3. A friend of John's.

The 'experts' say that only 2 and 3 are correct. A reader then wrote to them and cited a textbook that said all three were correct. Not to be outdone, the experts then posted their considered opinion which is in fact a misquotation from that passage I was reading in Swan's book.

Swan merely states a rule which all of us who speak English observe anyway. That's what most grammars do (which is why many children hate to read them) - they formulate rules for simple things we already know but in a terminology that may baffle children as it certainly baffled the Speak Good English Movement's experts. What Swan says is simple. He groups together determiners which are articles, possessive determiners and demonstrative determiners under Group A. Determiners which are quantifiers are categorised under Group B. He then states the rule that you can't put two Group A determiners together and so you can't say 'The my friend'.

Of course that makes good sense. Anyone who knows English knows that. But the Speak Good English Movement writers misunderstood that and in an attempt to apply the rule, they wrote that 'a John's friend' was not possible because you'd be putting a determiner with a possessive. They then went on to say that you could rewrite the phrase as follows:
Determiner + noun + 'of' + possessive 
Hence you can only say 'a friend of John's' and not 'a friend of John'.

But that's not what Swan says at all. A simple glance of the book will tell any student of English that the section merely deals with a possessive determiner and not ANY other possessives. The example given by the Speak Good English Movement, 'a John's friend', has completely gone beyond the ambit of what that section in Swan's book is dealing with. To misapply that rule to any possessive would be a gross mistake. That's why in my blog post two years ago, I immediately gave the example of 'the boy's bag' to show that the rule they had come up with was nonsense. In other words, the rule mentioned by Swan is perfectly correct. It's the misquotation of that rule by our silly language 'experts' that has effectively created a new but erroneous grammar rule that is not a part of Standard English.

So, what the experts from the Speak Good English Movement have done is to invent an erroneous grammar rule based on their misunderstanding of a valid grammar rule.

That section in Swan's book does not in any way touch on whether 'A friend of John' is correct. It merely explains determiners and their uses. But the experts of the Speak Good English Movement don't know that because they don't understand grammar at all. They misapplied a simple and plain rule on determiners to a totally different and unrelated situation.

What does this tell us? One thing is clear. The experts from MOE and the Speak Good English Movement are not dishonest people. Their only fault is they can't understand English grammar and they come up with their own grammar rule that is erroneous. And they wrongly believe that's what grammarians say.

Are grammars that difficult to understand? Anyone who has been properly educated must have read grammars at least in their early youth. I still read them today. I'm quite sure the majority of Singaporeans understand grammar rules and can apply them correctly. It's the experts from MOE and the Speak Good English Movement who seem to have so much difficulty with simple rules of grammar.

But at least one thing is clear. Experts from the Speak Good English Movement have been shown to make up their own grammar rules that are not a part of Standard English. However, there is no dishonesty in this. They cook up false grammar rules out of ignorance and a failure to understand the books of grammar that they read. As I have always said, they are honest but ignorant. And the Speak Good English Movement must be disbanded.


EDITOR'S NOTE:

I forgot to mention one more point. If you look at the blog post I wrote two years ago, you will see that the 'experts' refer to 'John' as a pronoun. That may be one reason for their mistake. They can't even get something as basic as the parts of speech correct! Of course if 'John' is to them a pronoun, 'John's' has got to be a possessive pronoun and that must have led them to apply Swan's rule to the question when it really is not applicable at all.

EDITOR'S FURTHER NOTE:

Swan's book actually addresses the question of possessives too. Swan gives as examples the following correct sentences: 'He's a cousin of the Queen' and 'She's a friend of my father'. So, I was right in saying that the experts from the Speak Good English Movement do not understand the grammar book they read. They apply a rule on determiners to a question about possessives when in fact the book they misquote from actually gives examples which show how wrong the Movement's experts are.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Embarrassing Ads by Private Schools

It can be pretty annoying to see your letter box stuffed with ads you take no interest in. Who delivers these ads and why is it that nobody seems to have seen the delivery men? Once I happened to be awake at about 5 in the morning and I heard a motorcycle stopping just outside my gate. I looked out of my window and I saw a man stuffing ads into my letter box. He then moved to the other houses down the road. Like a thief in the night, he operates at this unearthly hour.

Except for KFC ads (and I'm a huge KFC fan), I usually throw away all the other ads without reading them. Almost exactly a year ago, I got an ad from a private school that went by the name of Stalford. It amused me a little because everyone knows anything that sounds like 'Stanford' is a good name for a private school. There's one that calls itself 'Stamford' and you can't fault the management because they'll tell you that they were thinking of Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, and it didn't once occur to them that their name would sound a little like Stanford University. And Stalford? Come on, 'L' is two letters away from the 'N' of Stanford, so where's the similarity?

There were many errors in the ad and I took a pic of it and forgot all about it until just the other night as I was going through some of my old photos and I saw Stalford's ad again.


What's really funny is this bit about their English and GP teacher.


In that short writeup, there are 4 language errors which I've indicated in luminous red. And it's a writeup about Stalford's English and GP department! Evidently, Mdm Rubie's 'secret of constructing essays' remained an impenetrable secret to the advertisers of Stalford.

Out of curiosity, I looked up Stalford's website and this time, they have a section that talks about their 'star tutor' who is another English and GP teacher.



A year ago, they wrote about Mdm Rubie having 'developed her own pedagogy'. Not to be outdone, their current 'star tutor' is now said to have 'devised her authentic set of teaching pedagogy', no doubt to differentiate this kind of pedagogy from the kind that has nothing to do with teaching and education. And they really should not use the word 'authentic' if they don't know what it means.

I'm just wondering if next year they will have a new English language and General Paper teacher who will be reported as having 'discovered, developed and enhanced a proactive [I'm surprised they left out this gem of business-speak] and holistic educational academic teaching pedagogy'.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

They can't even get the title of their conference right.

There are many languages that do not distinguish gender or plurality in their pronouns. The ta in Mandarin and ia or dia in Malay are examples. Children who come from a non-English speaking background may find the pronouns difficult and they may resort to using 'it' for all situations even where the plural is required. One hears sentences such as 'The boys are wrong, isn't it?' quite often from very young children but as they grow older and they begin to grasp the concept of plurality, they stop making this childish error.

Alas, the Speak Good English Movement has not outgrown this childish error. As I have shown elsewhere in my blog, they are known to make many such errors:

'Alan and George works as a team' is said by the Movement to be 'acceptable'.

If you want to have a look at the more than 50 posts in this blog on the Movement's many errors, click here for a list with all the links.

If you think the Speak Good English Movement should by now be more careful than to make such stupid mistakes, you are wrong. I happened to look at their Facebook page and I found these photos which were taken at an English language conference held at Concorde Hotel which was organised by the Movement almost a year ago.




As usual, I try to be fair so I looked at more of the photos. Here's one that led me at first to think that the mistake was made by this woman who was writing on the board and it's not a mistake that I could lay at the door of the Movement itself.



But, as it turns out, this woman is not to blame. 'Communications - Keep it Simple and Clear' is the very name or title of the conference itself! Here's proof of it:



One of my grouses is that it's very hard now to find proper sentences written by the Speak Good English Movement. They have stopped posting their Chairman's speeches and I've just checked again - they have not uploaded their official speeches on their website since 2014. One would have thought that it'd be very difficult to find grammatical errors made by the Movement since it's hard to find anything longer than the occasional short Facebook comments that they make. But hey, that's not true! They can't even get the main heading of their conference right! With the Speak Good English Movement, you don't have to get them to write long essays. I have already said many times elsewhere on this blog that Singapore's Speak Good English Movement is absolutely incapable of getting their grammar right. They can't even get a short title right.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Singapore's Illiterate Movement

Correcting the ridiculous mistakes made by Singapore's Speak Good English Movement calls for a full-time job. Everything they write or post online is a mistake and I'm not exaggerating when I say that. I used to pick on their grammar book ironically titled English As It is Broken (Parts 1 & 2). You will recall that I played a game - I'd turn to any page in the book and my bet was I'd find some serious error on every page. If you would like the links to the 60 blogposts that I've written here on the errors of this illiterate movement alone, please go to this user-friendly page.

I have stopped picking on their grammar book because I've written so many blogposts on its errors that I cannot now remember which errors have already been dealt with in my blog. I really should have been more methodical and systematic in addressing the errors of their book, probably page by page but that would have been tedious. I still stand by my claim that every page of their grammar book contains at least one major error. Every time I'm bored, all I have to do is to take a look at their website or Facebook page and I'm sure to spot a shocking error on whatever webpage I chance to see.

I just picked at random a page on their website and this is what I saw:




Like many other nuggets of stupidity and ignorance that Singapore's Illiterate Movement is infamous for, this is one more to add to their mountain of dumb errors.

The word nauseous, first recorded in 1613 (3 years before Shakespeare died), antedates the verb nauseate from which nauseated is derived. If you look at the history of these two words, you will find that there has never been an issue anywhere in the world except the US. Jon Gingerich (an American language teacher who posted his views online) made the same mistake which I commented on in this blog 2 years ago. Click here to read that post.

Nauseous meaning 'suffering from nausea' has been a part of the English language for many centuries. How did the confusion first arise in America? Butterfield (2015) traces this error to the 1950s in America when usage commentators first 'perpetuated the myth that nauseous can mean only "causing nausea" and never "suffering from nausea"...'.  That this is illiterate nonsense even in America today can be seen from the pronouncement of the Merriam-Webster Concise Dictionary of English Usage (2002) which is the American equivalent of our Oxford English Dictionary:
Any handbook that tells you that nauseous cannot mean 'nauseated' is out of touch with the contemporary language.
How did the Speak Good English Movement in Singapore make the same mistake that was made by American illiterates in the 1950s? Obviously, our illiterate Movement must have picked up this error from the internet. That's what you can expect when a bunch of illiterates learn their grammar from the internet.

If you agree with me that the Speak Good English Movement is a disgrace to Singapore and an embarrassment to the people of Singapore, do you not think the Movement ought to be disbanded? I have written about 60 blogposts concerning their many errors. Surely the Ministry of Education should look into this? I'm sure if members of the Speak Mandarin Movement had made even a fraction of the errors made by the Speak Good English Movement or exhibited such appalling ignorance of grammar and usage, they would have been rounded up, shackled on the floating platform of Marina Bay and soundly flogged.

If you want to see other examples of the Movement's mistakes that even our ten-year-olds do not make, go to the link on the first paragraph of this article or if you are too lazy to do that, just click here.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Endless Stupidity

I have excoriated the Speak Good English Movement in at least 60 blogposts by now and I'm reluctant to go on endlessly. But they continue to generate rubbish on their Facebook page and in their website and I'm compelled to counter them. It's a case of meeting endless stupidity with endless criticisms.

I have said many times before that anything that the Speak Good English Movement posts on its website or writes in a book MUST be wrong. But that's of course not true. They do sometimes get their grammar right but even in instances when they are not outrageously wrong, there is sure to be something about what they say which will make you feel a little uncomfortable. You are sure to get this impression that perhaps they are not sure of themselves or they probably don't understand fully a grammatical point that they are trying to transmit to the rest of Singapore.

I'll give you an example. Supposing someone posts a little poster, commonly called an internet meme, with the title "NOUNS" and in the poster are these two sentences, presumably to illustrate what nouns are:

He is a BOY.
The BOY is crying.

You will probably wonder why there should be this fixation on 'boy' as a noun. Surely on a poster about nouns, a responsible teacher would not dream of giving the same noun, boy, as an illustration of what a noun is. But because everyone knows what a noun is, you may not suspect that the originator of the poster is unclear in his mind what a noun should be.

Now, look at what Singapore's Speak Good English Movement posts on its Facebook page today:



Upon reading the examples given on the poster or meme, I immediately asked myself if the Speak Good English Movement really knew what correlative conjunctions were. Both examples were the either...or conjunction. I then read what the Movement wrote next to the meme. It may just be a brief single sentence but it's enough to tell me that the Movement knows absolutely nothing of correlative conjunctions.  This is what they wrote:
You can use correlative conjunctions to avoid repeating words in a sentence.

Good Lord, no! That's not the use of the correlative conjunction at all. It's not designed to aid brevity. At least that's not the purpose or function of the correlative conjunction.

'Not only are they illiterate, but they are also clueless about grammar' is useful both as an example of the correlative conjunction and as a statement the Movement might want to consider for their corporate motto. 

Incidentally, there are two correlative conjunctions in that single sentence.


This is not the first time the Speak Good English Movement has shown itself to be totally incapable of explaining any aspect of English grammar. I have written more than 50 blogposts pointing out the many errors of the Speak Good English Movement and others. If you are interested, here is a page with links to all the articles I've written in this blog on the subject of language.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Speak Good English Movement Blunders Again.

It's amazing how Singapore's Speak Good English Movement can so shamelessly continue dishing out error after error to the people of Singapore. A more respectable movement would have called it quits after I exposed, in more than 50 posts on this blog, their embarrassing errors. Many of them are errors that even a school-going ten-year-old wouldn't have made. If you would like to see a list of their errors and links to all my blogposts on the subject, please click here.

I have visited the Movement's website a few times and I'm not surprised to see errors that are too numerous to blog about. But just this evening, I was minding my own business and looking at my own Facebook wall when something posted by the English Language Institute of Singapore (ELIS) caught my attention. They re-shared what was originally posted by Singapore's Speak Good English Movement and ELIS wrote on their Facebook page, 'Very useful tips!'


I'm not sure if ELIS went through what the Movement posted in their Facebook site before giving their endorsement but I know enough about the Movement to know for sure that whatever they say is bound to contain some stupid error. You see, the Speak Good English Movement is just incapable of getting their grammar right. I have read through their grammar book which I've torn to shreds in my blogposts about their errors. See the previous link I gave if you are interested. I could not go through two pages of their grammar book without encountering at least one or two major errors. Singapore's Speak Good English Movement is just irredeemably hopeless and I was certain ELIS could not be right in saying that what they gave on their Facebook wall were useful tips. ELIS would do well to distance themselves from the Speak Good English Movement.

A cursory glance at what they posted is enough to tell me that there is at least one glaring error. Before going into it, I will explain more about some English words.

English is a highly versatile language and new words are coined every few seconds. Some are simply forgotten and others, possibly because of their usefulness or just aesthetic appeal, are repeated by others and used by writers and they become a part of the language. Shakespeare was known to have coined many words that we use today even if we may not know that it is to the Bard that we owe our gratitude.

The easiest way to coin new words is to make use of existing prefixes and suffixes and attach them to existing words. In the examples given by the Movement above, 4 of the words employ the prefix of repetition 're-'. While three of them are transitive verbs, one of them is not and that is where the clueless Speak Good English Movement trips up.

According to the Movement, 'I need to relook at my lesson plans' is wrong and it should be 'I need to relook my lesson plans'. Let's look at 'relook' more carefully. I suspect the Movement does not know what it really means and it has mistaken it for another word which is transitive. The definition for 'relook' given by all dictionaries is the same. Collins defines it as simply 'to look again'. So do other dubious online dictionaries which I normally wouldn't look at such as Wiktionary and the Urban Dictionary, the latter of which even gives by way of an example this sentence: 'You may want to relook at that problem.'

What is important to me is what Oxford has to say about this. After defining it as 'To look again', Oxford adds that it's a no-object verb. In other words, it's intransitive. That settles it. The Speak Good English Movement is wrong again, as always.

Oxford very helpfully gives the etymology of the words it defines and this word was first used as a verb in the writing of Fanny Burney who lived from 1752 to 1840. Longevity is not all she's blessed with; Burney is now immortalised as the originator of 'relook' as a verb'.

Unlike the Speak Good English Movement which is, as far as I'm concerned, totally illiterate and dumb, I am reasonably well-read and I'm familiar with Frances Burney's The Diary and Letters of Madame D' Arblay. I believe the exact moment when 'relook' was first placed on record in the history of the English language was when Burney wrote this in her Diary:
Yet we all stared, and looked and re-looked again and again, twenty times, ere we could believe our eyes.
What were they looking and re-looking at? They were looking at Sophy's tears. The silly girl could cry even without any provocation. The story is not important. What's important to us is just this - the person who's on record for having first used the word 'relook' as a verb used it intransitively and that is in line with the definitions of all English dictionaries today.