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 the first and last paragraphs of the letter and I would then tell him the letter was flawlessly grammatical. I could hardly believe my eyes as I read those two paragraphs!

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.

The first paragraph I read is really the second paragraph of the letter. I didn't read the first paragraph because it has links to two other readers' letters and I chose to read the first uncluttered paragraph:

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.

Let's now look at the next error which appears in the last paragraph of the letter:

The first thing that will irritate the careful reader is Mr Goh's use of the contrastive conjunction 'but'. How can the sentence justify its use? I accept that some grammarians can be quite exacting about its correct usage and they come up with sentences that demand quite a bit of mental gymnastics before you can spot its improper use but I would have thought using it in this sentence is plainly wrong and anyone should be able to see it. I would have made no mention of this if this letter had been written by anyone else. Surely I cannot be faulted if I expect a higher standard from the Chairman of the Speak Good English Movement?

It is also plain for all to see that Mr Goh has failed to grasp the full grammatical import of the verb 'improve'. Like most English verbs, 'improve' has both transitive and intransitive uses. but in that sentence, it can only be transitive. This explains why anyone who reads that sentence will undoubtedly feel its illegitimate ellipsis most keenly and 'What can we strive to improve?' is sure to be the question any careful reader asks in his head especially since 'where' prevents 'our use of English' from being the object of the transitive verb 'improve'.

I've read only two out of eleven sentences in the letter and there are errors in both of them. This is a letter from the Speak Good English Movement. I have exposed (see the link at the start of this article) in almost 100 articles the many outrageous language errors made by the Movement. This is the same Movement which once wrote (you may read about this in the same link) that 'Alan and George works as a team' is grammatically acceptable.  There are hundreds of other such errors made by the Movement. Every time the Movement says or publishes something, it is sure to be a minefield of innumerable grammatical errors, many of which are far more unacceptable than the errors I have written about in this post.

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.

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