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.

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