Saturday, September 06, 2008

Squandered English?

Saras was insistent that I blog this. Placed the photocopies in my hand since I had missed the originals. (Yes, I've been telling her to get a blog of her own and I think she's finally listening.)

I'm sure most of you will have read it and been horrified by the advertorial which appeared in the New Straits Times (Lim Kit Siang was kind enough to put it on his blog). Quite apart from it having more capital letters than any other piece of writing I've ever seen in my life (I'm sure there's a parody to be made out of this), the standard of English is completely, totally inexorable. What hurts most is that this tribute to a royal personage was put out by a university.

Syed Nazri in the NST asked the questions that need to be asked about the state of English in the country.

It's a decline I've witnessed over the time I have been here (25 years). One of the assets the country had - the English language - has been stupidly squandered.

Of course the move to Bahasa Malaysia* means that everyone speaks the National language so much better. Or do they?

In my writing classes I often have participants who have very interesting things to say, but are clearly struggling in English. (Note that these are above average intelligence, educated adults holding down good jobs.) Some can barely write a grammatical sentence.

"Why not write in Malay instead?" I say. "I've taught you the skills, and you can transfer them to writing in your own language. You might even find a bigger market for your work."

"No"
they reply. "My English is so much better than my Malay."

Now that really scares me. Without even one fluent language, aren't even your thought processes screwed?

And is it really so difficult to teach students to be fluent in two languages?

(Sorry for the lack of posts over the last few days. My internet connection is very very slow and frustrating again at the moment. Pages keep hanging on me, can't go anywhere, can't read my email much of the time. When will we have some better alternatives to Screamyx and the rest?)

*The national language (B.M.) became the medium of instruction nearly 30 years ago.

105 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't understand what the problem is with Malaysia. I am non-Malay and I am good with both the languages. I learned both the languages here in a Malaysian school!

Puteri Kamaliah at-Tarawis said...

Sharon, to say I am ashamed to the core of my being, is to put it mildly...

caving liz said...

Maybe the award is from one of the dubious unis in the British Virgin Isles or wherever people are buying degrees :-)
The standard of English in the Star seems to be dropping every month and is noticably worse and worse. SUN seems to be of a higher standard. I don't know about NST.

ikanbilis said...

I personally have stop buying or even care about the two main English newspaper which produces gibberish nonsense on regular basis. I rather now opt for The humble Sun as its free with minimal nonsense.

English in Malaysian news are just pathetic to be frank. Tabloids and propaganda. Its annoying!!

Kak Teh said...

Sharon, I was surprised when you didnt blog about it when it came out. At first I thought it was a joke.

savante said...

Screamyx. I love that :)

About the sad state of the English language? Happens when there's such a shift to a new medium of instruction without any emphasis on the English Language. Now they're trying to inch back in reverse but there's already an entire generation who can barely string together a coherent sentence ( and I'm talking about the teachers! ).

Not only Malays. We have Malaysian Chinese students in the city who can barely speak English, their Malay is nonexistent and their Mandarin sucks. Now, isn't that sad?

Anonymous said...

Great, less competition for the rest of us, hahahaha!!!

Yo. said...

lol to the comment about competition :)

***
i always thought that our english would be fine as long as we went to school.

and THEN, i went to college.
***

"No" they reply. "My English is so much better than my Malay."

Well that's because you can't use the Malay you learn in school. I can't count how many times I've been laughed at for speaking proper Malay.
***

"And is it really so difficult to teach students to be fluent in two languages?"

depends who your teacher is.
***

Anonymous said...

Actually, Mr Lim isn't that great himself. How big is the PM Department's "bosom" actually ? :)

Anonymous said...

More examples :

"Water supply gets cut off everytime after heavy rain. The quality of water we receive most times are murky and smelly."

Pots and pans, Mr Lim ? :)

dreamer idiot said...

Horrified, I think they even got the gender confused. If I recall correctly, Her Majesty Raja Zarith writes articles for the Star. Which is why she went to Chaltenham Ladies College.

Note the 'his father'... and at the end, 'her father'. Shocking.

Anonymous said...

Maybe she had a sex-change.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone considered the possibility that the whole thing was written in Bahasa Malaysia and then fed into an online translation service? It really doesn't read like Manglish -- Manglish, whatever its innovations of vocabulary and syntax, is marked by a consistency of tone and grammar that is missing here. Also, the passage contains a curious mix of very high diction and completely garbled syntax, which to me is a hallmark of automatically generated translations; true Manglish doesn't use constructions like "set forth" and "refinement of soul," or words like "immortalize" (the American spelling of that word *also* suggests an internet translation service).

Which is not to say that it's excusable -- maybe it would be even more frightening if the person charged with drafting this announcement knew SO LITTLE English that they had to write it in B.M. and surrender it to Babelfish.

But then again maybe I'm totally off the mark and this is just some poor sod's half-past-six attempt at writing formally.

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

It reads like a literal translation from Malay to English. With constant references to a Malay-English dictionary.

-Poppadumdum

Subashini said...

Yes, I'm thinking the same thing... it really doesn't read like "natural" appalling English (whatever that means, eh?) ;) Shoddy work on the university's part, all the same, but maybe we can rest easy knowing that no one in the university actually WRITES English like that.

I hope.

Anonymous said...

The comments on Lim Kit Siang's blog are hilarious as well...

cycads said...

I'm shocked. What looks like a highly contrived joke is *gasp* real. It's really sad, because whoever wrote this surely does not even have the capacity to speak correct informal English.

I'm also a little perplexed. I've read numerous papers written in English by academics in local public universities, and they read pretty well.

Reading at the comments above about the declining standards of English in Malaysian newspapers(!) is alarming indeed. I read the Star; the English isn't too bad, a little bland though.

Suzanna said...

I thought it was a joke too. Now I know where not to send my kids....

Anonymous said...

What's more hilarious is how biased everyone is :) This reminds me of the one of the "boss" jokes --

If LKS makes grammatical errors, he's being honest. If anyone associated with the government makes the same mistakes, they're just incompetent. "True or not ?" :)

Truth be told though, there's no excuse for either to be so sloppy.

"In my writing classes I often have participants who have very interesting things to say, but are clearly struggling in English. (Note that these are above average intelligence, educated adults holding down good jobs.) Some can barely write a grammatical sentence."

Does this means that a good command of any language is not necessary? if people who can barely write a grammatically-correct sentence can hold down good well-paying jobs, why would anyone care to be proficient in any language?

What would be the purpose of it?

cycads said...

Dear Anonymous at 8.51am,

I don't want to be antagonistic or anything, but WHO is being biased here? Bad English is bad English whoever the offender is. Poor English does not have a political leaning. And no, I would still cringe if LKS makes grammatical slip-ups occasionally. Sheesh!

A good command of any language is always, always necessary. Those who still get jobs in spite of poor communication skills do so because they've had their degrees through rote learning where even language lessons are swallowed whole and regurgitated during exams. They are the ones who end up writing advertorials like the one posted here. Okay, that's a generalisation, but it's also the govt's fault - there's too much wasteful debate about Sci and Math being taught in English and the advertorial is a testament of the real issues that are being neglected.

Good speaking, reading and writing skills can get you very far. From the rather mundane things; like writing an impressive formal covering letter to a future employer, and boosting your self-esteem, to expressing yourself effectively and even discovering yourself and your potential.

kimster said...

Our standard and command of the English Language has declined over the years.

At the same time, we are becoming completely rubbish when it comes to Bahasa Malaysia.

Happy days!!! :)

Anonymous said...

it seems that everyody is either shocked/concerned/appalled by the poor state of english in malaysia. lets stop and think for a minute- would u rather have an entire nation with perfect english but lousy in everything else (eg science, medicine etc)? instead of blaming the schools and teachers, can anybody actually come up with practical, solid suggestions to improve our education system? and to be frank, (no offense) simply copying from the west isn't exactly a good suggestion. all this whining will get us nowhere.

Madcap Machinist said...

on a slightly different note...

I'm working on a tender for not-to-be-named local university, who seem to have made a boo-boo in their planning. They're about to buy some equipment, expensive and bulky... but looking at the site drawings, I just realised that someone didn't exercise much sense: they're trying to fit something 8 meters long in a 5 by 6m room...

(or was there a mistranslation somewhere hm?)

Anonymous said...

"would u rather have an entire nation with perfect english but lousy in everything else (eg science, medicine etc?"

- Wah, you mean we're actually good in science, medicine, etc?
HAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAH!!!! So funny. We build highways that crack, our grasp of law is so good we lost our own territories to Singapore, the Angkatsawan goes to space with his taugeh experiment in a box (which he loses on landing because it ot knocked around)...

Anonymous said...

hmm.. thats wat i mean with too much whining & complaining. to anonymous at 2.40pm (u with ur 0h-so-mighthy-english) can YOU bulid better highways? take back the island from singapore? hold on to the taugeh box in space?

Anonymous said...

I wasn't whining or complaining. I was laughing.

marineko said...

hmm... i heard that this was an uncorrected draft that got printed by mistake, as the clerks (at the uni) that did the editing sent in the wrong copy to the papers.

still, it's pretty shocking... 0_o

Anonymous said...

Just imagine it is one big manuscript and you got to edit it!

Anonymous said...

These Anonymice are getting truly ridiculous: from suggesting that if you criticise the way something has been done, YOU PERSONALLY should be able to do it better (what then, Anonymous MCXXVII, is the point of the division of labour in human society?!? If I have to build my own highways and make my own taugeh experiments in my own boxes, I may as well be the only human being on this earth!) to the tired argument that if you can get a "good" job without [insert skill of choice] then there is no point to developing that skill. There are all sorts of things without which one could get a "good" job (depending on how one defines "good" -- filing clerk osso good wat! And all you need is opposable thumbs!), but the mark of true civilisation is the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Really, to survive as a species, all we need to do is to hunt and gather. Why bother studying history, philosophy, the arts, or astrophysics? None of these things will make you rich, and yet how much poorer humanity would be without them! But if that's too vast a concept for your Anonymouseheads, think about this: already, in the controlled environment of the classroom, Sharon notices these students' shortcomings. How are they supposed to compete on an international stage? Who is going to have any respect for a person with a "good" job who can't string together a decent sentence in *any* language? "You know lah," people will say, "so-and-so only got that job because [insert reason of choice, from nepotism to sleeping with the boss to quota system]." It doesn't take long for such a person's credibility to disappear.

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Practical solutions for improving the situation:

1) Pay teachers a lot more (no money? Er, how much did we spend on that angkasawan nonsense again?) to increase the pool of applicants;

2) Employ teachers who can actually write and speak (or add and subtract, depending on their field);

3) Require the study of literature (both BM and English) for at least 2 years in secondary school. Nobody should be able to finish Form Five without EVER having read Shakespeare, Dickens, Achebe, or K.S. Maniam, as I would've if not for my parents.

-- Preeta

kimster said...

you want solid suggestions?
(1) go to school
(2) learn
(3) learn properly
(4) stop making excuses
(5) don't stop learning

Madcap Machinist said...

give the proper attention and time.

*grabs a sledgehammer*

glenda larke said...

My children went from
Sekolah Kebangsaan Bangi to an English medium school in Austria - aged 11 and 14. They both had to take German, and the younger one had to take French as well.

From DAY 1, not a word of English was ever spoken in the language classes.

They emerged from the system a few years later speaking and writing grammatical, fluent, colloquial German and French. Simple. Total immersion with teachers who knew and loved the languages. No translations, EVER. First textbook consisted entirely of pictures, enabling the teacher to point to things as she used the words and sentences needed.

You teach kids to speak first and read later and write later still.

We need to a) have English teachers who speak the language faultlessly and

b) teach it without a word of Malay being used.

Can anyone tell me why I - a qualified English language teacher with experience - was refused a job in the system by the Ministry of Education when I first arrived here as the wife of a Malaysian? Because I was white? Because I wasn't a citizen? That was much more important, you see, than giving your kids a good education. The person who got the particular job I applied for (I can't remember now if it was Bukit Nanas Convent or Bukit Bintang) had NO TEACHING QUALIFICATIONS at all. One hopes she spoke Engish...

june said...

"My English is so much better than my Malay."

Maybe they meant that their spoken/written Malay is more colloquial/street-speak than the formal Malay literature that is taught in school?

I think it would be interesting to read local literature works in colloquial Malay and/or Manglish. Take Shannon Shah's Aircon for example, or the Indian family in Evening is the Whole Day (which I'm currently reading!)

Anonymous said...

Ah, I have fond memories of advertisers and writers who say, "Don't you DARE correct anything because my writing is PERFECT. I'm better than you. You're JUST the editor."

Ok.

- Consonant Quack

Anonymous said...

"These Anonymice are getting truly ridiculous: from suggesting that if you criticise the way something has been done, YOU PERSONALLY should be able to do it better"

All I'm saying is that pots shouldn't be calling kettles black. If you don't correct your shortcomings, what right do you have to point out the same shortcomings in others? it's just "personal" in here because language is something you do yourself. You speak yourself, and you write yourself. You don't build bridges yourself.

"(what then, Anonymous MCXXVII, is the point of the division of labour in human society?!?"

To save time and effort. But what does this have to do with anything?

"to the tired argument that if you can get a "good" job without [insert skill of choice] then there is no point to developing that skill."

Not that there's no point, but people have to consider the opportunity cost of building that skill. It's all a question of priorities.

"There are all sorts of things without which one could get a "good" job (depending on how one defines "good" -- filing clerk osso good wat! And all you need is opposable thumbs!)"

I know business owners who are very successful, and they don't speak any language really well. Passably well, well enough for everyday conversation, but I don't think they wax lyrical in any language.

"but the mark of true civilisation is the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake."

So in a ultimate civilization, no one makes money and everyone starves? :)

"Really, to survive as a species, all we need to do is to hunt and gather. Why bother studying history, philosophy, the arts, or astrophysics? None of these things will make you rich, and yet how much poorer humanity would be without them!"

How much poorer exactly? people are no better financially from them. These appear to me to be the pastimes of the idle rich mor than anything. Philosophy is very much fun, but how would anyone make a living from it? let's not talk about beinbg rich, how would anyone even afford to pay the bills ?

"How are they supposed to compete on an international stage?"

Companies in China employ lots of people who can't speak English. It doesn't stop them from being internationally competitive.

"Who is going to have any respect for a person with a "good" job who can't string together a decent sentence in *any* language?"

I have worked in places where good English (or being too clean, or too well-dressed) would instantly brand you as an outsider and thus not worthy of respect.

"You know lah," people will say, "so-and-so only got that job because [insert reason of choice, from nepotism to sleeping with the boss to quota system]." It doesn't take long for such a person's credibility to disappear.

And if your credibility disappears, then what? a lack of credibility does not mean a lack of success. People like David Blaine have made careers out of doing seemingly incredible feats. It would not matter a bit if he did not speak English well.

It's a dangerous thought (especially in this blog,) but in the spirit of openness and non-censorship, can I invite everyone to consider the possibility of good language skills being unnecessary and even possiblity an impediment to success (at least for some definitions of "success" ?)

If you want these skills, then you want these skills. But do you _need_ these skills? I don't think so. I've spent time in places where the opposite is true. It's a good skill to have, to be sure, but it's not like people will never be successful without good language skills, is it ?

Jordan said...

Anyone who wishes to know of the poor level of English in Malaysia need only work as a sub-editor here. Pening.

Yo. said...

jordan: no lah. you don't need to be a sub-editor to know that. even my boss who has bad english can criticise other people's bad english. hahaha. stewpit.

yang bikin pening is some of the the comments here.

so defensive la.

Anonymous said...

Jordan :

I hear the subs are an over-worked lot. But then, hey, it's job security, innit ? :)

jawakistani said...

once again...this page rawks!!!

what was...my English is better than my Malay...reminds me of what Sh Amani said at the start of her speech during an award event or something. she got smacked left right center.

poor girl.

Anonymous said...

It's a strange situation, isn't it? If a Malaysian-Chinese actress had said that "My Mandolin isn't very good, compared to my Engrrish," she would have gotten less flak for it than S Armani did...

- Poppadumdum

Anonymous said...

Going back to highways and taugeh. We need the right people with right skills in the right job. No problem with fantastic entrepreneurs who can't speak good English or can't read, because that's not what they're responsible for. Major problem if teachers with bad English are given responsibility to teach English. No job fit, no results. Same with any other subject.

Anonymous said...

Agree, Anonymous at 6.21pm. Some jobs don't require a decent grasp of English, but others do.

Successful entrepreneurs may speak English badly, but they have employees writing letters, vetting contracts, preparing minutes and annual reports and sales pitches.

But a university...ah....Imagine the advert: "You is come to UITM to studies Medicines, architect and computers."

Anonymous said...

Mr./Ms. Long-winded Anonymous: yes, language is something we all practise ourselves, and I think what we're saying is that those of us who practise it in any professional capacity -- whether as journalists, politicians, teachers, or public-relations staff (or whatever the official title was of the person who wrote that notice for the NST) -- should be able to practise it well. That's what I meant by the division of labour; if society has invested you with the responsibility for good language or good taugeh experiments or good highways, then society should be able to criticise you for not delivering even if many elements of society would *not* be able to do those things themselves. I'm sorry if "division of labour" was a tad too opaque for you.

Also: "if you want these skills then you want these skills" -- well, I think what Sharon was saying was that her students who could write neither in English nor Malay DID want these skills. As do many people. Your exceptions -- these people who are blissfully happy despite being able to communicate only in grunts and burbles -- are most welcome to their bliss. More power to them! It just that I haven't met a lot of them. Most people I meet who can't write or speak well are painfully conscious and regretful of that fact.

Poor English doesn't stop China from being internationally competitive at the moment, but it's a major worry in the competition with India. In fact, that competition is exactly why English classes are so hugely popular in China at the moment -- if you read the international news sometimes, you might have heard about this.

A lack of credibility doesn't mean a lack of success?!? What a wonderful world that would be! I'd like to visit that universe in which success doesn't depend on what the public thinks of you. There would be no need for marketing, advertising, or any such nonsense -- so what you're saying is, people would come and buy your wares even if they thought you were an idiot? How novel! In my universe, I've heard too many people dismiss anyone from a doctor to a bank-teller to a hotel receptionist with a "Cannot even speak English properly! What kind of place is this?" and then take their money elsewhere.

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Good points, Preeta! :-)

- Poppadumdum

Anonymous said...

A big portion of my time spent in the office went towards correcting the drafts of documents prepared by young 'uns who've just joined the profession, and it does drive me nuts, especially when I'm under pressure to deliver my own work to clients by the deadline.

And I wasn't correcting the young 'uns' clarity of thought, arguments, points they wanted to put across etc but their basic grammar and spelling. I even had to check their emails before they sent them out to clients...

- Poppadumdum

Anonymous said...

"A lack of credibility doesn't mean a lack of success?!? What a wonderful world that would be! I'd like to visit that universe in which success doesn't depend on what the public thinks of you."

Proton. TmNet. Microsoft. McDonald's. Have you ever met anyone who ever had a good word to say about these companies?

"There would be no need for marketing, advertising, or any such nonsense -- so what you're saying is, people would come and buy your wares even if they thought you were an idiot? How novel!"

One word -- TMNet. Or if you prefer, two words -- Proton and TMNet. Or maybe internationally you could try Microsoft, or McDonald's. Most people I know think Windows sucks but they use their products anyway. Fast food is bad for you, but McD's isn't closing down anytime soon. Ditto for Proton and TMNet.

"In my universe, I've heard too many people dismiss anyone from a doctor to a bank-teller to a hotel receptionist with a "Cannot even speak English properly! What kind of place is this?" and then take their money elsewhere."

Which I think is odd. The bank I use -- they're very mean to me, they treat me like dirt, but the interest is higher than any other bank in the country. I'd like to meet someone who's willing to lose a lot of money just because the teller's language skills did not meet her high standards. Oh and hey, could you introduce a lot of them to me? if these people will only spend money where people have good English skills, I'd definitely be interested in selling them stuff :)

I'm serious. If people will pay a premium for good English skills, I'd like to meet them. As far as I know, good English skills are not a selling point outside of the literary professions.

I think though, that all this is just a lot of hot air, like Animah's library :) I mean come on, I don't argue with people for fun. Okay, part of it is fun, but
part of it is because people make silly outlandish claims that they can't back up with action.

So well, there you have it, the ball is in your court, but I suppose I'll be waiting for Godot again, much as I am with the aforementioned library.

Puteri Kamaliah at-Tarawis said...

ppdd, you and I share the very same problem.. we end up looking over their shoulders for every little thing, including e-mails to be sent out to clients... apa sudah jadi..(sighh)

Anonymous said...

McDonalds is successful because of location. Amusingly, Mc-tuition centres for English can work that way too.

Macs are expensive compared to Windows.

Cars are a liability investment, but somewhat necessary in Malaysia. With a whopping import tax for non-Proton cars, Proton is more affordable than, say, a Jakarta taxi. Oops, I meant a Toyota Vios.

Premium for good language skills? NLP practitioners and coaches are often hired to help the human resource department or management in corporations; linguists; emcees.

I agree that language skills aren't necessary everywhere though. Just walk into any Mph bookshop and try to strike up a conversation with the staff for your own personal amusement. And they're the best English bookshop, apparently.

- Consonant Quack

Anonymous said...

"McDonalds is successful because of location. Amusingly, Mc-tuition centres for English can work that way too.

Macs are expensive compared to Windows.

Cars are a liability investment, but somewhat necessary in Malaysia. With a whopping import tax for non-Proton cars, Proton is more affordable than, say, a Jakarta taxi. Oops, I meant a Toyota Vios."

Proves my point anyway right?

"Premium for good language skills? NLP practitioners and coaches are often hired to help the human resource department or management in corporations; linguists; emcees."

NLP is a huge superset of language skills right ? and NLP practitioners apparently don't need good English. I was just at the site of a NLP practitioner, and could spot several mistakes already. As for "linguist" and "emcee", well their job depends on it right?

"I agree that language skills aren't necessary everywhere though. Just walk into any Mph bookshop and try to strike up a conversation with the staff for your own personal amusement. And they're the best English bookshop, apparently."

Borders has staff with better language skills. If only their books weren't so well-thumbed through :P

Yusuf/Martin said...

Sharon this is something that Mazna (my wife) and I are always talking about, the declining quality of English (and I stress English as opposed to American) language in Malaysia. It saddens us both as Malaysians had such a high quality of English before the 1980s/90s.

Yusuf/Martin said...

ps Unfortunately there are many teachers of the English language in Malaysia whose command of the language is very poor, this they pass on to their students and this has happened time and time again, hence poor standards.

Like you Sharon we have worked to correct this but it has been an up hill struggle which continues. Mazna now works for a large finance concern and corrects their English as part of her job. There has been much for her to do.

Anonymous said...

Hi Martin,

I wonder if your last name/surname isn't Spice. I did read a few good pieces by that guy. Anyway, more support of my position, unfortunately. JK Galbraith wrote in
"The Affluent Society" :

"Now we find our concern for goods undermined. It does not arise in spontaneous consumer need. Rather, the dependence effect means that it grows out of the process of production itself. If production is to increase, the wants must be effectively contrived. In the absence of the contrivance, the increase would not occur...It means that since the demand for this part would not exist were it not contrived, its utility or urgency, ex contrivance, is zero."

So in order to create more work for people who speak flawless Emglish, a need and desire for it must be contrived. We must teach people that their language skills should be perfect and not just passable. There's no demand for it as yet, and there will almost never be since it's an art and not a necessity. People buy art for thousands of dollars (or pounds even) but they will not pay a lot for a perfectly written piece of work.

So we have to contrive a way to make people not accept anything other than flawless English, regardless of how true the grammatically-incorrect work is. A cure for cancer should be rejected on the grounds that it has a spelling mistake, because, well, we all know how important proper grammar and spelling are, don't we? Then we will have incredible demand, since it will thus become a necessity.

Yusuf/Martin said...

Reply to, yet another, anonymous who obviously isn't committed enough to their own comments to leave a proper name.

Firstly you have my name, should you care to look, and it is Yusuf Martin.

Secondly I have no idea what Emglish is.

Thirdly do you propose then that we lower the standards in everything, as you seem to think that is acceptable in language.

Language is communication, proper use of language is good communication, whatever the language you care you use.

Bad English is bad communication in English, which frequently leads to miscommunication or no communication at all.

This is true with all languages.

Anonymous said...

It'll be interesting to make a list of where the children of all Malaysian education ministers past and present, and in fact, the children of ALL ministers, are sent by to for their primary, secondary and tertiary education. I'm sure the education ministers, in charge of the future of young minds in our ocuntry, have enough faith to have their kids educated in Malaysia all the way to University level.

Puteri - I sympathise with you! :-)
- Poppadumdum

Anonymous said...

ocuntry - country!

- PPDD

Anonymous said...

See that's what I mean, if we create a bunch pernickety fault-finders, and deem typos absolutely unacceptable regardless of quality of content, how much more money would we make? and it'd only slow down global progress a little, that's a small price to pay for flawless, crisp, entertaining, hard-hitting research reports, isn't it ?

You think, PPDD? KJ is an Oxford grad. LGE is a Monash grad.

Who are you going to vote for ? :)

Anonymous said...

Martin,

Well your name is listed as Yusuf/Martin and not Yusuf Martin.

I forgot to answer this earlier. If you'd only have read the quote, you'd see that I don't propose that we lower the standard. I propose that we make typos unacceptable, because it's not like the ten seconds a doctor spends to spellcheck his prescription is going to kill anyone, is it?

Never mind spellcheck, they should learn to write clearly and legibly. Or maybe they should all type them out in those handheld printer things. And then, of course, take the time to proofread it. Ever seen doctors write prescriptions? it's all a long scrawl. Sure it's fast and perfectly legible to the trained eye, but still, it's not exactly good grammar. If we made clear, legible (and most importantly, grammatically-correct) writing a necessity they might just hire someone to sit in the doc's office and properly proof-read everything.

It's like I said, we must contrive to make it a necessity. Content and urgency must come second to grammar and spelling.

That way if I'm ever sitting in a doctor's room dying of something, I can take comfort in the fact that the prescriptions don't have any silly typos or grammatical errors, and I would not have died in vain.

Yusuf/Martin said...

anonymous your rant does you a severe discredit, do come back when you have matured enough to engage in adult conversation.

Anonymous said...

I can't keep track of all these Annoynimusk people anymore and I can't be bothered to see what time each of them has posted their comments, but:

Of course language skills are not necessary for "some definitions" of success. That's neither here nor there. It's like saying, Keira Knightly is obese according to "some definitions" of obesity. The more important question is, are those definitions of success (or obesity, as the case may be) USEFUL to society? Are they the definitions we want? And my answer -- oh wait, did you guess already? -- is an emphatic NO. Let's take this out of Malaysia for a minute: I blame poor language skills for the political mess in the United States. Even if Dubya "stole" the last two elections, well guess what, there were still people who voted for him, and why did they? Because they lack the ability to process complex thoughts that comes with superior language skills. They can't read anything with a subordinate clause in it, they can't process words with more than 2 syllables, and therefore politics sinks and sinks to meet the needs of the lowest common denominator. All people can handle is snappy sound bytes and lots of visual stimulation. Who wants to actually read ideas?!? What a dangerous thought! Like one of the Anonymice said, ideas are a luxury -- or are they?

Back to Malaysia: you think the person who wrote that notice for the NST has good reading comprehension skills in any language? Well guess what: critical thinking comes with good reading comprehension skills. Written language is a crucial form of communication in any democracy -- that's why literacy is such a huge political issue, even though lots of people pretend it isn't. When people can't read or write properly -- when their definition of success is simply "my pockets are full and I can eat crabs every day" -- all of society suffers.

It's also striking that the people who claim that art and philosophy and literature are "luxuries" are usually the people who HAVE these things. In places where these things are scarce, people crave them desperately. Go and read Doris Lessing's Nobel Prize acceptance speech, or the recent New Yorker article about Burma (people filling the libraries and begging for more Dickens, Hesse, Beckett), then come back and tell me that literature is a luxury. Why is it that we sit in our air-conditioned SUVs and luxuriate in our pity and tell ourselves that what Those People *really* need is food and vaccines, but Those People can understand what Dostoevsky meant when he said that beauty alone would save the world? It's one of life's great enigmas.

-- Preeta

Madcap Machinist said...

all your base are belong to Preeta.

animah said...

Preeta/Yusuf,

It's clear to me that the annoynimusks are the same person. He (or she) even comments on his own comments. He's just an attention seeker. I wouldn't even bother holding an argument with him. At least Preeta, you try. How patient you are.

MM, that's the funniest thing said on this post.

Anonymous said...

Animah, you win first prize for your gentle and diplomatic way of telling me to go and do something useful instead :-) . My mum could learn a few lessons from you!!

Actually, I've been not only aware that most of the multiple Annoynimusks were the same person, but I also have a pretty good idea of who it might be, as anyone who's been reading this blog for a while must. It's just that I need some way to procrastinate, and Anonymous was right about one thing -- this is kind of fun :-) .

All right, all right, back to work.

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

So who's Annoynimusk?

- PPDD

Damyanti said...

I have asked Sharon why she lets anonymous comments publish on her blog and now I know the answer.

It is interesting to read the posts of these Anonymice, or the same Anonymous, if Animah is to believed (I do believe her, cos the tones of all the Anonymice are so similar). I can sense a great character in a story there:). For me, I wish the anonymous would keep posting.

It is also a pleasure to read Preeta Samarasan's responses. I read "Evening is the whole day", and love her writing. I now get to read her real-time!

I am one of Sharon's students in the class, and have personally met these students.

I have no quarrel with the engineers or managers in the creative writing class who have bad English, though they clearly wish it were better. But people training to be English teachers (in the same class) incapable of stringing a grammatical sentence together make me cringe.

marineko said...

< But people training to be English teachers (in the same class) incapable of stringing a grammatical sentence together make me cringe.>

ah, this reminds me of my classmates. I'm an Advertising student, but the majority of the students in my Public Speaking (English in Oral Communication) class are TESL students, and they all could barely speak in English. Even my lecturer uses 60% English, 40% Malay when teaching.

Greenbottle said...

okay, who the fuck is this (are these) anonymice, i'd like to know. own up!

by the way is preeta's novel a chic lit?

ah pong

bibliobibuli said...

greenbottle!!! you are ah pong too!!! another anonymouse revealed!

bibliobibuli said...

going back to the point about english teachers ... i worry about some of our soon to be graduates who are put into schools where the kids speak much better english. those on our b.ed course have been to the UK and should be much closer to native speaker standard. i can only see it as a question of attitude. if your stock-in-trade is a certain thing, surely you work to be first-class at it?

Amir said...

Don't tell anyone, but the most notorious Anonymous is right here!

Yusuf/Martin said...

Mmmmmmm, thinks ......................sometimes my lack of patience with mankind reveals there is more of me in Melvyn than I should otherwise have liked to admit.

Anonymous said...

Ah Pong, yes, my novel is chick lit. You've clearly done your research, so I can tell you my secret. I plan to write a whole series: _Evening is The Shopaholic Day_, _Sex in The Twilight City_, _Henna Hands and Boy Bands_, and _Making Out in Masjid India_. Good idea or not you think?

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

nothing wrong with being anonymous, really.

Anonymous said...

Another chic lit title for you to use, Preeta: The Rose of Madonna.

:-)))

- Poppadumdum

Anonymous said...

"Of course language skills are not necessary for "some definitions" of success. That's neither here nor there. It's like saying, Keira Knightly is obese according to "some definitions" of obesity."

Obesity is not an abstract concept, success is. Definitions of abstract concepts are by nature ephemeral.

"The more important question is, are those definitions of success (or obesity, as the case may be) USEFUL to society? Are they the definitions we want? And my answer -- oh wait, did you guess already? -- is an emphatic NO."

Well people need to be able to afford books. And to be able to afford books, they need to be able to afford basic necessities first. And then they'd need to have the time to go shopping, they'd need to have the time to read...

"When people can't read or write properly -- when their definition of success is simply "my pockets are full and I can eat crabs every day" -- all of society suffers."

All of society suffers mentally perhaps, but if your pockets weren't full, you'd soon be suffering physically. It's crossed my mind how I would even be able to afford major surgery. When you're young you don't think about stuff breaking down, and not being able to afford healthcare. I have a ton of physical problems now, that I would have been able to fix had I gotten a proper desk job somewhere. There's no place in society for those who are old and/or feeble. If you can't afford the medical bills, you'll just have to die quietly at home. Harsh but true. Maybe I should write about it, ha ha.

Burma (Myanma(r)) is a rich country -- they export gems and narcotics. The government is very "benevolent despot" -- I'd say that although poor, the people don't lack food or basic necessities. They have clothes to wear and food to eat. Look at

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burma

It's true that their "pockets are not full" and they "can't afford to eat crabs every day" but I think the majority are pretty well fed, clothed and sheltered. They're very underdeveloped, yes, because the definition of "development" is whether people's pockets are full. I mean, if they can understand Dickens and Beckett, their level of literacy may be higher than ours. So they have a higher standard of literacy, but they are less developed. How would this happen? they are so well-educated, and yet they cannot bring about any change in Myanmar.

Another thing is that for a lot of people, literature is about entertainment, not ideas. It's like watching TV. For a country where the electricity supply is not constant or assured, anything powered by it (such as a TV) is not feasible. So the only real means of escape they have is a book. Whether they _like_ reading or not is debatable, they don't have a choice, it's probably preferable to staring into space.

"Who wants to actually read ideas?!? What a dangerous thought! Like one of the Anonymice said, ideas are a luxury -- or are they?"

Ideas are not a luxury, time is. For someone that's involved in an everyday battle for survival, independent thought (and the time in which to think it) is definitely a luxury.

My identity is only revealed on a strict need-to-know basis. It's only really available to people I can trust to keep the secret.

PS. Sorry to drag you away from your work. Mine doesn't start until next month.

And Yusuf. you're not the first or only one. Remember Sir Walter's "I wish I loved the human race" ? :) and while you're at it, remember Dylan Thomas' "Do not go gentle" ? that's a good way to go I think :)

And have fun editing my posts, I'd be more than hono(u)red :)

animah said...

What a post of revelations!

Greenbottle is Ah Pong.

Yusuf's alter ego is Melvyn.

And the Annonymice are .... Rick Astley!

cycads said...

I for one respect anyone who is able to respond constructively on this blog, especially to Preeta and Yusuf/Martin who, unfortunately for the medium, can sound quite aggressive and pretty annoying in my opinion. And no, it doesn't matter at all if he/she is "not committed enough" to their comments because being committed to their thoughts can mean many different things to different people. The internet is the last few avenues where anyone can speak freely, either with aliases/anonymity/with their 'real' names. Being anonymous is not a game, it's a choice.

Anonymous said...

ah hahaha ..exactly the response i expected from preeta.

lighten up ms preeta! i know you're a very nice girl and good luck to you as a 'serious'/ 'literary' fiction writer!

i was just kidding about chic lit of course - don't get offended. you might offend all those nice women who read chic lit...not all of them have 'small brain' you know...

but in your next book go easy on the manglish. i'm not sure if it'll translate well in swahili or kazakh language...

ah pong

Anonymous said...

Er, I like how *I'm* being called "aggressive and pretty annoying" when I'm not the person who said this:

"who the fuck is this (are these) anonymice, i'd like to know. own up!"

Did I say people shouldn't be anonymous?!? I only said that I wouldn't respond to anonymous *personal* attacks. It's one thing
to insult someone using a name (or even a consistent pseudonym, like most people here); most people would agree that it's another to do so anonymously. You could have called me shallow and silly and annoying and even worse things, and then when I meet you in KL you will smile your toothy smile and make like my friend, and that, I'm sorry, is just not cool with me. So if you've got a personal bone to pick with me and you want to wear a mask while picking it, you can just pick it over there in the corner by yourself. That's all I'm saying.

Anyway, Anonymous, I think you made my point for me when you said "independent thought is a luxury." Oh dear, oh dear. Are you saying that is a *good* thing? Are you saying we will never change that? I happen to think that independent thought is *part* of the "everyday battle for survival," not a separate thing. That everyday battle for survival happens thanks to the perpetuation of a system that most people cannot think independently enough to question.

Re: Burma -- I wish I could link to the article here because then we could have a better discussion of it. The article (like Doris Lessing's earlier speech) made it very clear that literature is *not* just entertainment to these people -- that it informs their lives and, well, helps them to survive. And it also posits some very compelling answers to the question of why "they cannot bring about any change in Myanmar." Let me just say that if they *weren't* reading these books, they would be even further from bringing about any change in Myanmar.

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Look, I'm even borrowing that point-by-point response tactic from Anonymous to show I'm capable of learning from my enemies :-) :

"lighten up ms preeta! i know you're a very nice girl"

I might be serious, aggressive, and annoying, but I assure you I am anything but a Nice Girl. That is possibly the worst insult I have received here.

"you might offend all those nice women who read chic lit...not all of them have 'small brain' you know..."

Um, did I say they have small brains? Did I say I'd never read chick lit myself? Don't go putting words in my mouth, Ah Pong.

"but in your next book go easy on the manglish. i'm not sure if it'll translate well in swahili or kazakh language..."

Actually, it translates pretty well in the hands of a gifted translator. How do you think they translated Midnight's Children, A House For Mr. Biswas, or The Palm-Wine Drinkard into Swahili and Kazakh? It's the same for Manglish. The German and Dutch translations are ready and I think they're brilliant.

Anonymous said...

hahaha lighten up ms preeta...you're a very bad girl...

what's gotten into you meh?

ah pong

cycads said...

Preeta, if you had heard the tone of voice and seen my kind, smiling face, you would not have thought that I was making a personal attack on you by only **perceiving** a hint of aggressiveness and annoyingness through the screen of my computer. Like Anonymous/Ah Pong has said, you should calm down. And good God, I have no personal bone to pick with you either! You shouldn't take my criticisms so personally!

Anonymous said...

Cycads: you are not anonymous! Therefore, I was not talking about you when I spoke of personal attacks. I was making a reference to something far up above in the misty beginnings of this discussion. You see? One problem with all this anonymity is that it simply gets confusing and no one knows who is talking about whom anymore.

And I'm completely calm, trust me :-) . If I were any calmer I'd be pronounced dead. My problem in life is actually a little too much calmness (according to Ayurvedic principles). I'm merely wasting time and having fun. If I were a little less calm, you see, I'd be off busily achieving important things.

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

"Are you saying that is a *good* thing? Are you saying we will never change that?"

Not as long as people have to work to survive. Not as long as poverty exists. Not as long as people want to preserve their fat salaries.

"I happen to think that independent thought is *part* of the "everyday battle for survival," not a separate thing."

For you it is. For the vast majority of people whose lives revolve around not rocking the boat, it's not. They're debt slaves in a way, they can't risk their jobs on anything so controversial as independent thought. The other thing is they haven't the time really.

"That everyday battle for survival happens thanks to the perpetuation of a system that most people cannot think independently enough to question."

Well, do you think people would not struggle to survive if people were capable of independent thought? how would their lives change (for the better) if they were sudden;y capable of independent thought?

"Re: Burma -- I wish I could link to the article here because then we could have a better discussion of it. The article (like Doris Lessing's earlier speech) made it very clear that literature is *not* just entertainment to these people -- that it informs their lives and, well, helps them to survive. And it also posits some very compelling answers to the question of why "they cannot bring about any change in Myanmar." Let me just say that if they *weren't* reading these books, they would be even further from bringing about any change in Myanmar."

Well you can post the link. A miss is as good as a mile I think. The fact remains that they are educated and they haven't.

Anonymous said...

"how would their lives change (for the better) if they were suddenly capable of independent thought?"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Revolution

And that's only one example.

"Well you can post the link. A miss is as good as a mile I think. The fact remains that they are educated and they haven't."

No, they haven't, but they do keep trying, and in the meantime -- according to them, at least -- Dickens and Hesse and Beckett and all the rest help them to make it through each day.

And I'm sorry but *can't* post the link. The article isn't online. I could bring you a copy in October, though, except then we wouldn't be able to go on pretending that I don't know who you are. Haha!

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

You mean if the citizens of a country were suddenly capable of independent thought, there'd be bloody revolutions? hey that's about right, isn't it? independent thought is always accompanied by bloody revolution.

Anyway that was centuries ago, firearms have evolved a lot since then. Current revolutions are not usually so successful. Think about Tiananmen for instance. China has no human rights but they just staged a successful (if somewhat boring) Olympics. And nothing has changed -- unemployment in France is still high at 8-10%. East Timor is still a mess.

We can still pretend you don't know who I am, no one has to know we met :)

Anonymous said...

Unemployment in France may be high at the moment, but the political system is a far cry from feudalism. If anything, it's the polar opposite of feudalism -- obsessively egalitarian and secular.

And the French Revolution was probably the single most crucial contributor to the end of feudalism across Europe, not to mention to the founding ideals of the US. Now you can say that all these countries have problems, unemployment, fluctuating economies, etc. etc., and that the US has largely betrayed its beautiful ideals, but the point is that the revolution brought about an immense and far-reaching change in human society, and arguably saved more lives, ultimately, than it took. It's easy to focus on the negative, but if you look at the big picture -- especially if you look at it through the eyes of a woman or a person of colour -- the world as a whole has made stunning progress since the middle ages, and all thanks to the "luxury" of independent thought. None of that would have been possible without the print revolution -- I think most historians agree that the spread of literacy and cheap printing materials helped more than anything else to end feudalism.

Shall we throw a grand masquerade ball at which I shall slip that article on Burma into your gloved hand? ;-)

-- Preeta

glenda larke said...

I am loving this comment thread. Amongst the sniping, there is much good sense being said on both sides.

The trouble is when you try to suggest solutions to big problems, the solutions themselves have to be multilayered. And although I agree with much that has been said about how things happened in the past, that is no longer as relevant as it used to be.

Instant communication, the media, modern surveillance, modern commerce and all sorts of things make many of the lessons of history redundant, even those of fairly recent history.

Leadership - whether educational or political or whatever - has to stay ahead of the curve, and somehow I think they are failing everywhere. I also think writers can do much to highlight specific problems and make people think. [And yes, that applies even to writers of chick-lit. Or fantasy. You don't have to write mainstream literature to write social commentary.]

And I do so wish more people would think more about things instead of having kneejerk reactions. No one should say: "I am X race/gender/religion/nationality and therefore I believe Y to be an absolute."

Anonymous said...

"At the moment"? unemployment in France has been high for at least 5 years. France is egalitarian? the president lives in this big mansion, while lots of people live in tents.

"if you look at the big picture -- especially if you look at it through the eyes of a woman or a person of colour -- the world as a whole has made stunning progress since the middle ages"

Women were equals before literature made them unequal. Among the indigenous tribes of the country, many of whom have never seen a book, there's no inequality. They took away all your rights, then they returned some of them. That's progress? the whole movement seems to have stalled anyway, the glass ceiling isn't going away any time soon.

Slavery was once limited to persons of colour, but now no longer. Instead of being forced by someone to be a slave, people are forced by circumstances. "Education" has created a new race of slaves. You can't see their chains, but they're still there. The only difference is now instead of having no choice, they have Hobson's Choice.

Modern civilization depends on power, wealth and authority, not education or literature. You can write and write and write, and read and read and read, but if you have no power, no money and no authority, nothing much will happen. All you can hope for is that someone with wealth, power and authority reads the book and likes what it says.

I don't think many people want to read books that make them think. Many people read books that make them not have to think, which is why DVC is popular. In fact, some people even read books that claim to think FOR them.

I've never read a book that made me think. Posts yes, but never books. Posts have no commercial value, so there's no pandering to the masses here mostly.

And yes, we could do that. Or you could just get permission to upload it, which I think would be easier on all of us :)

Yusuf/Martin said...

hrumph!!! I've been down graded to a pretty annoying.

Just what does a man have to do to be plain annoying these days

Anonymous said...

Anonymous -- if you think I can "get permission" to upload an article from the New Yorker, you are ascribing far more power to me than I actually have in real life, so I'm honoured :-) . But I have to confess I don't have that direct line to the editor's office, haha.

I think we'll just have to agree to disagree, because I completely disagree with every single part of your summary of history -- for example, with the idea that literature made women unequal. I could go on and on about how the fourth estate and literature liberated civilisation, but you're not going to agree with me and I'm not going to agree with you. Whether hunter-gatherer societies are more egalitarian is beside the point, because that isn't a tenable (or even desirable) lifestyle for the world's majority. Hunting and gathering could not have sustained the world's growing population for very long. So we turned to agriculture, and with agriculture and landowning came patriarchy. And things got worse and worse and worse for a very long time before people realised, thanks to ideas and words, that they could do something about it. And yes, I still think we're making progress, even though it's slow and painful and there are setbacks.

Like I said -- France has its problems, but it's still a hell of a lot more egalitarian than it was before the Bastille fell :-) .

Glenda -- you are right, of course, that so much of history is inapplicable to the present. But I still think "independent thought" as it is manifested in the written world is the one consistent factor in lasting social change -- it's not for nothing that social historians compare the Internet revolution to the print revolution in its impact and its potential for social change. And one doesn't have to look far for examples -- don't you think the internet has played a massive role in Malaysia's own political awakening? I know from talking to people that there is a significant change going on in Malaysian society -- a shift from the apathy of my parents' generation to something else -- and at the heart of that change is the "luxury" of independent thought. The young people who believe in change now read Malaysiakini, Amir Muhammad, Farish Noor, Jacqueline Surin. So I'm a long, long way from dismissing the power of the written word.

-- Preeta

Glenda Larke said...

Absolutely, Preeta.
Re women in society, I don't think women ever had it good in any society except the relatively modern one simply because we are (mostly) less muscularly strong in a world where where strength was a HUGE advantage, and secondly because childbearing from a young age, plus child-rearing, kept us from going out and doing other stuff.

There were always exceptions of course, but they were few and far between, and mostly from the wealthy or politically important segment of society anyway.

"I don't think many people want to read books that make them think. Many people read books that make them not have to think, which is why DVC is popular...I've never read a book that made me think."
Oh, dear, anon. I don't believe that for a moment. The art of a good writer can of course transcend the barrier between "popular" and "thought-provoking". I write fantasy, which must surely be the most "divorced-from-real-life" genre there is - and yet my books are full of social commentary and (I hope) they are thought-provoking. I also hope that my readers just enjoy the read and are mostly unaware of how much they are being roused to (horror-of-horrors) thought.

bibliobibuli said...

i should just set up a cafe in here so you could all hang out at the counter.

Anonymous said...

Yes, can you? And can you serve those pandan-gula melaka cupcakes? ;-)

Preeta

Chet said...

Going off-topic for a bit ...

There's a shop in Damansara Utama called Wondermilk that sells mini cupcakes. It's along the same row as the TM shop.

Anonymous said...

I think we should just keep talking about cupcakes (mini or maxi). We've exhausted this topic and it's clear that Anonymous and I are never going to agree, whereas it's quite likely we (and everyone else) will agree on the subject of cupcakes :-) .

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Glenda,

I wish I could agreee with that. I mean, I respect you as a writer, but the fact is "Da Vinci Code" probably outsold any book you wrote (which I think is tragic, but unfortunately can't be denied.)

And about the cupcakes, too much sugar for me :P it's amazing how much sugar there is in the Malaysian diet, isn't it? teh tarik, cakes made with sugar covered in sugar... :P

glenda larke said...

Well, I'd have to say that the Da
Vinci code sure made me think. What I thought is, of course, not printable here...

And we do agree on cupcakes, Anon. I don't think Malaysian chefs quite understand the true art of the cupcake.

Anonymous said...

I rather enjoy Da Vinci Code. And Dan Brown's other books, plus mysteries, crime thrillers, whodunits, children's books, comics ... You can pick up a couple of good tips. I learned a lot from Da Vinci, actually; and the deluxe illustrated edition helped. Why am I butting in here? No idea. saras

Anonymous said...

Glenda,

Agree with you about Da Wanky Code...And Angels and Demons was even worse, if possible...!

What DVC teaches us writers is how NOT to write.

The fact that it outsold nth times the number of other books is not a sign of quuality - Big Macs outsells more cooked food items (including cupcakes) than anything else (probably!) but...

- Poppadumdum

Anonymous said...

Sugar - Yes, air bandung, cendol, ice kacang...

:-)))

Sugarsugarsugar...

Maybe Michael whatsisname holidayed in Malaysia before he wrote The Crimson Petal and The White :-)

- Poppadumdum

Anonymous said...

Does Wondermilk come from Wonderbra? :-)))

- PPDD

Anonymous said...

Poppadumdum, you don't like cendol and ais kacang?!?!? I'm not sure I can be your friend!

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

I like cendol and ais kacang, but brown liquid in a bowl is not my ideal of cendol. Ais kacang used to be really good when it wasn't all about the ice.

Anonymous said...

Preeta,

I love cendol and Ais Kacang (but no sweetcorn in it, please!) So we can be kawan, okay? :-))))

- Poppadumdum