The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The effect of arrogance in the media.

When I first came to Singapore, I noticed something very clearly: almost no-one spoke well in broadcast media. At first, I made allowances for it, assuming it to be a local language. Then, as the months and years passed I came to understand something else: the mistakes they made in pronunciation were neither English, nor Singlish, they were just pure ignorance.

At one time, I took to calling up Mediacorp to complain about the pronunciation of Channel News Asia anchors, pointing out, in detail, the errors they had made. I got no more than: "You have a very detailed mind." out of them. They said they would call back, but they didn't. I tried several more times to alert them to the deficiencies of the speech of their public figures - but no-one ever got back to me. In the end, I stopped complaining.

One day, however, I made a special visit to Mediacorp where I met a senior executive to make a proposal. I offered to help them with voiceovers, since there were innumerable errors that went beyond the easily correctable. He virtually laughed at me. He seemed most arrogant: he looked down his short nose at me, as from a great, unbridgeable height. He said they didn't need people to do voiceovers since they already had them. I thought he was an idiot, because he clearly could not perceive what was so abundantly clear to me - yet he was a senior man in the institution.

Yesterday, I was watching Arts Central, when I heard the voiceover (a typical deep voiced but poorly informed man), say "scarce" in which the first four letters were rhymed with CAR. It was most disconcerting. It was the first time in my life that I had heard anyone, anywhere ever say it that way. I knew it wasn't Singlish - and I knew it wasn't English - it was just pure ignorance, again.

I didn't call the station to complain. I gave up doing that long ago. Yet, it set me to wondering again about the effect of such verbal ignorance among broadcasters. TV and radio stations set an example to the nation. If that example is filled with errors of pronunciation or grammar, the quality of language of the entire population of the country will be lowered. That is precisely what is happening in Singapore. The reason this situation persists is that the powers-that-be do not know English well enough themselves - or care to know, it seems, from that senior executives' arrogant, narrow-minded attitude - to notice the deficiencies of their staff. It is true to say that virtually none of the staff employed in Singaporean broadcasting speaks English well enough to work in the UK broadcasting industry - and this is not a matter of accent, but of grammar and pronunciation.

There is no real concern for quality in language usage here. I find that worrisome - if a nation doesn't care about the quality of one thing, they tend not to care about the quality of many things. That attitude leads to poor quality in many areas, across the board.

Singapore would benefit from hearing good examples of language usage in public figures in broadcasting. There is a simple solution: fire them and hire better spoken ones. It would be a great help to the linguistic landscape of Singapore, in time to come.

It would also be pleasant not to hear jarring errors in pronunciation or grammar on national TV virtually every day (for someone who watches little TV...) However, given the way that senior executive responded to my suggestion, by scoffing, I don't think anything will ever change.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:34 AM 


Blogger Miao said...

I remember reading an article in The New Paper commenting on the substandard calibre of local news anchors as well - the article observed that they are often guilty of bad pronunciation. One of my professors (he is an American and has been living in Singapore since 2000) also joked that he always feels like smashing his television whenever he hears ChannelNewsAsia commentators using the phrase "begging the question" in all the wrong contexts. You aren't the only one who's frustrated with the lack of language proficiency displayed by our local media! It is high time to improve our quality.

Such mistakes are not uncommon in the Chinese media as well. Lianhe Zaobao is the most esteemed Chinese newspaper in the country, and yet it often makes hideous errors too. For example, there was once when a reporter wrote “深造” (meaning: to furthur one's education) as “深草” (“深”means 'deep' and “草” refers to grass; when combined, they don't mean anything) - and the editor didn't even correct it! It could be due to negligence, but it was still really laughable nevertheless.

That aside, local news are apparently terribly unreliable too. ChannelNewsAsia actually reported that Indonesian badminton player Yulianti (who won the bronze medal in the Olympics Badminton Women's Singles) came from India! Singapore is already ranked abysmally low when it comes to press freedom; now I wouldn't be surprised if it is also ranked low in terms of credibility/quality.

10:31 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I am glad I am not the only one who has noticed. That, of course, prompts the question if anyone, with linguistic awareness, notices...why does no-one in power pay heed? It seems they are deaf to critics who are well-informed. It is easier to listen to praise from insiders who know nothing of language.


11:05 PM  
Anonymous ks said...

It was nice to read this today and know that I'm not the only one who recognises these things! Since we only get free TV channels at home, ChannelNewsAsia is really the only news we see. I also find it interesting that some of the newsreaders speak 1/4 British, 1/4 American, 1/2 other pronunciation in the same sentence!

11:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh mr. cawley, stop flogging a dead horse.

i have to say this is a little rich though: "if a nation doesn't care about the quality of one thing, they tend not to care about the quality of many things. That attitude leads to poor quality in many areas, across the board." is the tap no longer running?

anyway, this might cheer you up:

9:14 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, IS. The broadcast voices do tend to be a mix of influences...or, in some cases, of people faking accents they don't have, so as to sound more "sophisticated".

It is good that you care about it.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Miao said...

Sorry, I made a mistake in my previous comment. Yulianti comes from India, but ChannelNewsAsia reported that she was Indonesian. I wanted to type "ChannelNewsAsia actually reported that Indian badminton player Yulianti (who won the bronze medal in the Olympics Badminton Women's Singles) came from Indonesia", but I was careless and typed the reverse instead. It is embarrassing that I criticised CNA while making a mistake myself.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

Your remark about the tap not running reveals something: you don't know much about Singapore in relation to other places in the developed world.

I will explain. Many expats work in Singapore. Some of them are known to me. Their comments on big, important Singaporean concerns go a little like this: "Second rate." So, I really think a lack of interest in quality in one important area does reflect an underlying lack of interest in true quality. You would be really surprised at some of the concerns that are rated second rate by western imported experts. Some of them are very important to Singapore. However, the appreciation of the value of attaining the highest quality is just not there. What is there, instead, is covering up mistakes and firing people who point out errors. Great stuff.

Your link tells us one thing: people really care about the quality of language in the UK because people make a fuss about it.


10:50 PM  

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