Very-the-Powderful England (JC teachers)

I have great pride in Singlish. Certainly much more so than LKY and his soulless technocrats who believe economic growth trumps all other considerations.

However, sometimes, we might like to use standard English. Y’know, like when writing exam questions. Below are several examples of very-the-powderful England, all from JC economics teachers. (This post was first written on 2017-10-03. I will continue expanding this post if I find more common mistakes.)

1. Confusion over when to use the definite article the.

Explain the likely reasons for the shortage of face masks and the role of price mechanism in correcting the shortage. (Hwa Chong 2015 Prelim Essay Q1a.)

Assess the economic case for the two different approaches towards childcare services in Singapore and United States. (Jurong 2015 Prelim Essay Q3b.)

The increase in foreign worker levy by the Singapore government has led to higher unit labour cost. (Dunman 2015 Prelim Essay Q2.)

Discuss whether firms in the real world set prices at profit-maximising level. (Dunman 2015 Prelim Essay Q2b.)

UK is in battle over stagflation. (Dunman 2015 Prelim Essay Q5.)

Explain the key causes of stagflation in UK. (Dunman 2015 Prelim Essay Q5b.)

In the next example, there are two missing definite articles, but that isn’t the only reason why the England here is so powderful:

With rising incomes, consumers are demanding for more premium leather goods. However, leather shoe suppliers are facing tough times as price of leather increased.

Using economic analysis, discuss the likely effects of the above changes on leather shoe market and its related markets. (Nanyang 2015 Prelim Essay Q1.)

The size of multiplier varies significantly amongst countries. (Pioneer 2015 Prelim Essay Q4.)

Unemployment rate hits record high in some countries due to internal and external problems. (Pioneer 2015 Prelim Essay Q5.)

Again, England very the powderful and not just because of a missing definite article:

In each of the budget announcements from 2012 to 2014, the Singapore government has emphasised on two key themes. One, the restructuring of the economy to improve domestic labour productivity while reducing the reliance on foreign workforce (Yishun 2015 Prelim Essay Q5.)

2. Confusion over when to use the indefinite article a.

Weak economy, too many graduates and the lack of suitable jobs created are often cited as the culprits. (Hwa Chong 2015 Prelim Essay Q5b.)

Discuss the extent to which conflicts in macroeconomic objectives may arise for Singapore when it adopts exchange rate policy. (Victoria 2015 Prelim Essay Q5b.)

Discuss the extent in which increase in labour productivity can help to address these problems. (Innova 2015 Prelim Essay Q4b.)

I am not a linguist (IANAL), but according to Hickey, “Sino-Tibetan languages (including Putonghua/Mandarin and Hokkien) do not have definite and indefinite articles”. This is the “obvious” explanation for why Singaporeans are not very good in dealing with these articles — see e.g. Wong & Quek (2007), Chrabaszcz & Jiang (2014), and the references therein. (Sun, 2016 disagrees though.)

If I may throw in my two cents (again with the IANAL disclaimer), the use of the definite and indefinite articles in English is often arbitrary and peculiar, even when compared to other Western European languages.

For example, as noted in this discussion, it’s Love in the Time of Cholera in English, but El amor en los tiempos del cólera in Spanish, Die Liebe in den Zeiten der Cholera in German, L’Amour aux temps du choléra in French, and L’amore ai tempi del colera in Italian. Why the hell is it that English requires the definite article for “Time” but not for “Love” or “Cholera”?

Another example: It’s used to be “the Ukraine” and “the Sudan”, but it’s now simply “Ukraine” and “Sudan”. As Time notes, these three little letters can even be quite a politically-sensitive matter.

It’s “the Mississippi” (the river), but Mississippi (the state named after the river). Yet somehow the countries are “the Congo” and “the Gambia” (again both named after rivers) (see this linguist’s discussion).

I suspect that there’s no definitive list of rules as to when to use the definite and indefinite articles (except of course if this list is supplemented by a long list of exceptions, exceptions to the exceptions, etc.). So perhaps the only cure is to speak, listen to, and read more standard English (rather than Singlish).

3. The word exemplify.

I’m not sure where this came from, but it seems that some JC teachers now like to use “To exemplify” to mean “to give an example”.

Technically, this isn’t wrong. The dictionaries do define exemplify as “to serve as an example” (Merriam-Webster) or “illustrate and clarify by giving an example” (Oxford).

However, in standard usage, exemplify is usually reserved only for examples that are particularly outstanding.

FEW places exemplify the chaos that has enveloped Libya better than the oil ports of Sidra and Ras Lanuf, which have changed hands twice in March (The Economist, 2017-03-16).

There are plenty of examples of the chaos enveloping Libya, but only some of these (such as Sidra and Ras Lanuf) are exemplars.

As an army colonel who became a woman, she exemplifies a society in flux (The Economist, 2017-02-11).

There are plenty of examples of China as a society in flux, but only some of these (such as this army-colonel-turned-woman) are exemplars.

To further illustrate, I wouldn’t write “to further exemplify” at the start of this sentence.

And I’d simply write “Here are some examples of The Economist using the word exemplify”, rather thanThe Economist exemplifies the use of the word exemplify”.

There is perhaps a close parallel here to the use of the word consolidate in the SAF. I’m not sure if this is still common, but at least when I was there, folks in the SAF used to say things like “Let’s consolidate all these radio sets.” By which they meant something like “Let’s gather all the radio sets and put them at this one particular spot.” (There were many other hilarious SAF phrases that we could go on about — e.g. “for the benefit of the doubt …” to mean something “for those who aren’t clear, let me repeat/rephrase myself …”.)

Again, this SAF use of the word consolidate is arguably not technically wrong. Dictionary definitions of consolidate: “to join together into one whole” (Merriam Webster), “Combine (a number of things) into a single more effective or coherent whole” (Oxford). But at the very least, we’d have to say that the SAF use of the word consolidate is non-standard and not recommended.

Of course, if you’re William Shakespeare, you’re free to make up words and twist the meaning of words, and eventually the rest of the world will follow your usage. But if you’re a JC economics teacher or SAF warrant officer whose England isn’t exactly powderful to begin with, it’s unlikely that your neologisms will ever catch on around the world. So, maybe you should stick to phrases like “to give an example” or “to illustrate”, rather than the weird and non-standard “to exemplify”.

4. “Thus dynamic inefficient occurs”; “Thus x-inefficient occurs”; “To compete with the potential entrant of large foreign pharmaceutical firms”.

These should, of course, instead be “Thus dynamic inefficiency occurs”; “Thus X-inefficiency occurs”; and “To compete with the potential entrance of large foreign pharmaceutical firms”. (These examples are from the suggested answers. The first two are from Catholic 2015 Prelim Essay Q3a and the the third is from Anglo-Chinese 2015 Prelim Case Study Q1d(ii).)

This is the same error as when shops have signs saying “Close for lunch”. (There’s probably a name for this particular sort of error, but I can’t find it.)

Again, IANAL, but these written mistakes are probably carried over from spoken Singlish where the last consonant is often dropped (e.g. “dun wan lah”). Linguists apparently call these “unreleased final consonants” and “reduced consonant clusters”  This is probably not solely a Sino-Tibetan thing, because I’m pretty sure that in Thailand/Cambodia/Laos they also say things like “fryyy riiiii~” (instead of “fried rice”).