《我們》專題時事政治置頂

The Hong Kong Cantonese Language: Quo Vadis?

By/ Robert S. Bauer 包睿舜

Professor Robert S. Bauer is an American linguist. His research interests revolve around topics in Cantonese such as Cantonese phonology and Cantonese script. Driven by his passion for Hong Kong and Cantonese, he compelled ABC Cantonese Dictionary to promote HK local culture and HK Cantonese. Before his retirement, he taught linguistic courses in PolyU and HKU. 

Introduction: Why are these sweeping claims about languages in Hong Kong and mainland China misleading?

Recently, this writer read some sweeping claims about languages in Hong Kong and mainland China which were published earlier this year on the South China Morning Post’s website; they not only raised my eyebrows but left me feeling quite surprised:

“Hong Kong remains unique in being the only place in the world where Chinese is not taught in Mandarin. Hong Kong will never lose its Cantonese character. Shanghai and Guangzhou have made Mandarin their medium of instruction in schools since 1949 but Shanghainese and Cantonese continue to be heard everywhere in those cities. There is no threat to Cantonese. It will forever be Hong Kong’s main spoken tongue” (Postiglione and Chura 2018).

These astonishing assertions have not only raised the contentious and politically sensitive issue of the relationship between Cantonese and Mandarin or Pŭtōnghuà in Hong Kong, but also the (negative) impact that Pŭtōnghuà is already having on the Hong Kong Cantonese language. From my own personal experiences, observations, and knowledge of the state of languages on the mainland and in Hong Kong, I believe that each one of the above statements is either inaccurate or misleading.

The first claim implies that Hong Kong schools are teaching the Chinese-language subject only in Cantonese and not in Pŭtōnghuà (or English); of course, this is not at all true, as approximately 70% of Hong Kong’s primary schools and 40% of its secondary schools have adopted Pŭtōnghuà as the medium of instruction for their Chinese-language subjects (Yau 2018; Yu 2018). Furthermore, the trend is for an increasing number of schools to switch over from Cantonese to Pŭtōnghuà as their medium of instruction for most subjects and not just for the Chinese subject, as the Education Bureau has been encouraging schools to do this by providing additional resources.

In my view it is regrettable that the teaching of Pŭtōnghuà in Hong Kong is already carrying with it undesirable and unnecessary baggage: viz., some schoolchildren have been made to believe by their school principal that learning Pŭtōnghuà requires them to stop speaking Cantonese. Apple Daily (2016) reported that at one Hong Kong school the principal informed the students that they could no longer speak Cantonese on their school premises and that they were only permitted to speak Pŭtōnghuà and English. One presumes the principal wanted to suppress the students’ impulse to speak Cantonese (to reduce negative transfer) and force them to speak more Pŭtōnghuà. However, some students interpreted and even over-extended this “rule” to mean that they were prohibited from speaking Cantonese – not just at their school but anywhere, such at a fast-food restaurant. If more and more schoolchildren replace their Cantonese with Pŭtōnghuà, then it seems conceivable that Hong Kong will indeed over time “lose its Cantonese character”.

The bizarre claim that Pŭtōnghuà has been the medium of instruction in schools in Shànghăi and Guăngzhōu since 1949 would have us believe this language had been introduced into all the schools across the whole of China right after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. It was in the mid-1950s that 普通話 Pŭtōnghuà ‘Mandarin, literally, common speech’, and 漢語拼音 Hànyŭ Pīinyīn ‘Chinese Phonetic Alphabet’, i.e., Mandarin romanisation system, were officially adopted and then promoted throughout the nation. As for Shanghainese and Cantonese being spoken everywhere in Shànghăi and Guăngzhōu, respectively, the fact is people speaking these regional Chinese languages simply does not occur in any official domains, e.g., legislative bodies, conferences, meetings, school classrooms, etc. Furthermore, my own first-hand observations plus statements made to me by people from these two cities tell me that Prof. Postiglione, who is honorary professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong, and Dr. Chura, who is teaching assistant at the same university, are unfamiliar with the sad reality that these languages have been in steep, steady decline on the mainland as a direct result of the highly-successful but heavy-handed promotion of Pŭtōnghuà, and so they have greatly exaggerated the extent to which they are now being spoken (however, I do recall while riding Guăngzhōu’s subway trains hearing announcements about train stations being made in Pŭtōnghuà, Cantonese, and English in that order; while the same thing is done in Hong Kong, the languages occur in a different order, possibly reflecting the predominance of Cantonese here).

What seems to be implied by the claim “[t]here is no threat to Cantonese” is that the promotion and teaching of Pŭtōnghuà in Hong Kong pose no threat to the future development of Cantonese since the majority of Hong Kong residents speak the Cantonese language as their first, usual daily language. However, this situation has been changing as the number of Pŭtōnghuà speakers steadily increases (Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department 2017). During the past dozen years or so the increase in the number Pŭtōnghuà speakers in Hong Kong has been relatively small but quite steady with the percentage of residents indicating this is their usual, daily language having risen from just 0.9% in 2006 to 1.9% in 2016, according to the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department (2017). Mainland immigrant children moving to Hong Kong are mainly Pŭtōnghuà speakers. A few years ago this demographic development was implied in a letter written by Sloboda (2015) to the editor of the South China Morning Post as follows: “Localists should take note: native speakers of Cantonese are not the future of [Hong Kong]. Mainlanders, and children with a Hong Kong father and a mainland mother, are the future.” The trend for mainland immigrants to be predominantly Pŭtōnghuà-speakers combined with the increasing number of Hong Kong schools adopting Pŭtōnghuà as the medium of instruction for their students can be expected to reduce the number of Cantonese-speaking children in Hong Kong in the coming years.

Lastly, as for Cantonese continuing “forever” to be Hong Kong’s predominant spoken language, well, given the increasing number of local and internet publications expressing the exact opposite views on this topic over the past few years, one would have to recognize that many people obviously disagree with Postiglione and Chura. My own bleak assessment of the future of Hong Kong Cantonese is based to some extent on the marginalization and decline of Cantonese in Guăngzhōu and Guăngdōng, along with the increasing number of Pŭtōnghuà -speaking immigrants to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong 2016 By-Census: Cantonese continues to be Hong Kong’s predominant speech variety

What are the most recent facts about Hong Kong’s Cantonese-speaking population? When conducting its survey of Hong Kong residents, the Hong Kong 2016 By-Census asked people what languages they usually speak in the course of their daily lives. According to the most recent findings provided to us by the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department (2017), Cantonese is spoken as the “usual, daily language” by 88.9% of Hong Kong’s ethnic Chinese population aged five years and older; if the people who speak it as an additional linguistic variety are included, then the total figure is 94.6% of the territory’s inhabitants who number just over 7 million. So, realistically speaking, we must clearly recognize that the Hong Kong Cantonese language is currently doing quite well in terms of the proportion of the population who are speaking it. As Liu (2017) has accurately pointed out, “Cantonese may not entirely enjoy the ‘prestige’ of a national language, but it is quite important – and indispensible for anyone living and working in Hong Kong.” While I quite agree with both parts of what Liu has said here, my own personal experiences with and observations of Cantonese speakers over the past five decades lead me to believe that among its speakers – not just in Hong Kong, but in communities wherever it is spoken, the Cantonese language has held and continues to hold much prestige as a major Chinese regional variety. Of course, this is not the whole story, and there is the apprehension that Cantonese is threatened by the increasing use of Pŭtōnghuà in Hong Kong.

Two currently undeniable facts about the Hong Kong Cantonese language

This writer has been learning and researching the Hong Kong Cantonese language for over the past forty-odd years and has become much concerned, as have many others in Hong Kong and elsewhere, about what is going to happen to this language (yes, that is what it is and no, it is not a Chinese dialect, as will be explained in a later section), as the mainland tightens its grip on Hong Kong. As we witness the central and Hong Kong governments push ahead pell-mell with Hong Kong’s integration and assimilation with mainland China, I believe we should keep in mind two undeniable (albeit uncomfortable for some) facts about Hong Kong’s Cantonese language:

(1) The Hong Kong community has been and continues to be predominantly Cantonese-speaking in many social domains, and this widespread use unequivocally distinguishes Hong Kong from other large cities in mainland China which are mainly Pŭtōnghuà -speaking; and

(2) The Hong Kong Cantonese language functions as an integral, highly visible but politicised symbol of Hongkongers’ social, cultural, linguistic, historical, and political identity, and there is simply no denying their special identity that still sets them apart from mainlanders.

The current dominance of Cantonese-speakers in the community and the resulting linguistic difference (or barrier in the view of some) with the mainland can be assumed to be a major impediment to Hong Kong’s integration and assimilation. Central government authorities have used Pŭtōnghuà as a tool for promoting national unification all across the mainland (and especially in the western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang).

Will or could Hong Kong transform itself into a Pŭtōnghuà -Cantonese-speaking community, that is an officially bilingual society? Given the fact that no such community currently exists anywhere in Guangdong, I think the answer to this seemingly positive, optimistic question must be a resounding “No”! Why so? It is simply because neither the mainland nor the Hong Kong government authorities want such an officially bilingual community. Their attitude may be dictated by the contention that in mainland China everyone’s mother tongue is Pŭtōnghuà (Zhang and Yang 2004:151).

How did British colonial rule benefit Hong Kong Cantonese?

I am not one to look for anything good to say about Britain’s colonial rule over Hong Kong. Nonetheless, as someone who has been learning, researching, and writing about the Hong Kong Cantonese language and its speakers for the past five decades, I find it quite ironic that I must recognize that the development of the Cantonese language in Hong Kong had actually benefited from the 155 years that Great Britain exercised its sovereignty over the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong; this was because the colonial attitude toward Cantonese was to essentially ignore it (described as “. . . a de facto policy of benign neglect of and general indifference towards the language . . .” in Bauer 2015:36-37), or even to regard it as a linguistic barrier separating (and protecting) Hong Kong from the Mandarin–speaking mainland. Cantonese was also helped by not having to compete with Pŭtōnghuà, as during that time there was no official movement promoting Pŭtōnghuà in Hong Kong as in mainland China. There should be no question about this observation: If the Chinese communist government had controlled Hong Kong from 1949 up to the present day, then it is fair to say the profile of Cantonese in Hong Kong would closely mirror its profile in Guăngzhōu where it has been pushed by Pŭtōnghuà into a state of marginalization and even sharp decline. Furthermore, let us not forget where schoolchildren are taught to say in unison 文明人說普通話 wénmíng rén shuō Pŭtōnghuà ‘civilised people speak Mandarin’ – seeming to imply that people who speak other linguistic varieties are uncivilised.

Is Hong Kong Cantonese a language or a dialect?

The question of whether a particular linguistic variety should be classified as a language or a dialect is a sensitive one, simply because in the final analysis when all is said and done the answer to it really has little or nothing to do with objective analysis of linguistic facts. Claiming that one linguistic variety qualifies as a language that typically carries prestige, while some other one is merely a low-status dialect has more to do with subjective politics than linguistics. Let us recall the relevant, oft-quoted, and pithy aphorism attributed to Uriel Weinreich, viz., A language is a dialect with an army and a navy (Chambers 1997:214). Humorous as it may seem to be, it hits the bulls eye. Nonetheless, we may consider one criterion that is frequently called on for distinguishing languages from dialects, namely, mutual intelligibility: Different languages are said to be mutually unintelligible, i.e., their speakers cannot understand each other if they were to try to carry on a conversation. So-called dialects, on the other hand, are mutually intelligible; that is, although they may have some differences in pronunciation, accent, vocabulary, etc., these are not serious enough to impede one speaker understanding the other. The problem with mutual intelligibility is that the various Scandinavian languages – Danish, Norwegian, Swedish – are mutually intelligible to some degree, but their speakers would be less than pleased if they were told they are speaking dialects (of what? Scandinavian?).

What really matters to our discussion here is the undeniable fact that Mandarin/Pŭtōnghuà is mutually unintelligible with Cantonese. A Pŭtōnghuà speaker who has never learned any Cantonese simply finds Cantonese speech to be incomprehensible. What about written language? Well, yes, if Cantonese speakers were to write down in simplified Chinese characters the semantic equivalent in standard Chinese of what they had said and then showed that to the Pŭtōnghuà speaker, the Pŭtōnghuà speaker would be able to understand the written text.

At the end of the day, Cantonese speakers in Hong Kong can decide for themselves how to classify their speech variety as either a language or a dialect by simply looking at how and where it is spoken. This writer (Bauer 2015:39) has addressed this matter as follows:

“. . . determining the actual status of Cantonese in the community should be based on how it is being used today in Hong Kong, that is, as the ordinary, regular, default spoken language in official government settings, the law courts, business offices, radio and television broadcasts, as the medium of instruction in many schools . . . , and the fact that the vast majority of Hong Kong’s seven million residents speak it as their usual, daily language variety or as another dialect/language. On the basis of its widespread, diversified usage, Cantonese would have to be unequivocally designated as Hong Kong’s de facto official Chinese speech variety. So, in the context of daily reality Cantonese-speakers feel fully justified in calling it Hong Kong’s official spoken language – and not merely a Chinese dialect . . .”

Has the “Golden Age” of Hong Kong Cantonese come and gone?

Back in 2000 this writer optimistically had assessed the state of Hong Kong Cantonese as follows:

“. . . Cantonese has achieved in Hong Kong a unique and very special status in comparison to any other Chinese dialects wherever they are spoken. I would go so far as to say that Cantonese is now enjoying its Golden Age in Hong Kong. Where else in China, or the world for that matter, can one witness Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed in Cantonese; read a newspaper article, novel, or adult comic book written in Cantonese; watch a movie in which the dialogue has been originally recorded in Cantonese; attend a university lecture delivered in Cantonese; listen to a radio play or international news program broadcast in Cantonese; or hear legislative councilors [somewhat comparable to elected representatives in a parliament] and the Chief Executive [who is the head of Hong Kong’s government] vigorously debate proposed laws in Cantonese? The answer is obvious, and most Cantonese speakers take all these things for granted because they perceive no threat to the language and feel there is nothing to get excited about. Their attitude reflects the healthy state of the language, but it also makes me wonder that if we now live in the Golden Age of Cantonese, how much longer can it continue?” (Bauer 2000:37; also quoted in Bauer 2016:147-148).

Whole-hearted support for Cantonese from a die-hard Canto-fanatic

At least one Hongkonger has written vividly about how her love for the Cantonese language makes her feel somewhat apprehensive about its future in Hong Kong. Luisa Tam who writes for the South China Morning Post has labeled herself “a die-hard Canto-fanatic” and assures us that Cantonese could never be replaced [by Pŭtōnghuà]. It is genuinely heartening to read her strongly-felt sentiments for Hong Kong’s Cantonese language that she has expressed so unabashedly: “I love this colourful southern Chinese dialect and am thankful that I got to learn it in my early childhood. . . Despite growing up amid the cacophony of languages and dialects [viz., Cantonese, Taiwanese Hokkien, Mandarin, and Japanese], it was always Cantonese that was the most appealing to my ears. [Cantonese is]. . . one of a kind – raw, native, unpretentious, descriptive, colourful, versatile, adaptable, resilient, and so much more. It is such qualities that have undoubtedly contributed to its longevity. Cantonese is still alive and kicking, and it remains relevant after more than 2,000 years. But now there is talk about replacing Cantonese with Mandarin as the medium of instruction in Hong Kong public schools, I can’t help but feel anger with a tinge of sorrow. . . And if one day this ridiculous scenario does play out and the government tries to make Mandarin the lingua franca, I say that we should let them try and see how far they can go. . . [Cantonese] tells it like it is. It’s such a lively dialect, it’s unstoppable, and it’s a language that is befitting of a dynamic city like Hong Kong. . .” (Tam 2018).

Language laws in Hong Kong and mainland China

From 1842 to 1997 Hong Kong was a British crown colony, and for most of this time only English was Hong Kong’s officially recognised language. In 1974 the Official Languages Ordinance declared that both English and Chinese or 中文 Zung1 man4 were Hong Kong’s official languages for “the purposes of communication between the Government or any public officer and members of the public” (Zhang and Yang 2004:145).

In 1997 with Hong Kong’s return to China’s sovereignty the Basic Law came into effect in Hong Kong; Chapter 1, Article 9 (Hong Kong Basic Law 2018) has stipulated that 中文 Zung1 man4 ‘Chinese’ and 英文 Jing1 man4 ‘English’ are Hong Kong’s official languages (this seems to include both their written and spoken forms, although there is no specific mention of particular speech varieties; the term中文 Zung1 man4 essentially includes any kind or form of the Chinese language (Bauer 2015:)). Presently, the Basic Law has provided the basis on which Hong Kong maintains its own separate linguistic identity from the rest of China and continues freely speaking and writing the Hong Kong Cantonese language (Bauer 2015:38). According to Yip (2009) who was writing for the Secretary of the Civil Service, the Hong Kong government’s language policy objective in the Civil Service is “. . . to develop a civil service that is biliterate (Chinese and English) and trilingual (Cantonese, English, and Pŭtōnghuà) so as to meet long term operational development needs.”

China’s national law on language and script which was promulgated in 2001 (Zhonghua 2001) and the Guangdong provincial law enacted in 2012 (Guangdongsheng 2012) have unequivocally mandated the pre-eminent position of Pŭtōnghuà, the standard written Chinese language, and the simplified Chinese characters and severely restrict the use of regional Chinese varieties and non-standard Chinese characters (such as the Cantonese characters that are used in Hong Kong’s written Cantonese, for examples see Bauer 2018), and the written and spoken forms of ethnic minority (i.e. non-Chinese) languages.

In regard to the Chinese government limiting the use of regional Chinese varieties and non-Chinese languages, Vines (2010:A11) has written as follows:

“Why are authoritarian regimes so obsessed with the suppression of local languages, or dialects . . .? . . . China has demonstrated an equal determination to curb or even destroy the linguistic diversity that exists in the nation. In [Guăngdōng]. home of Cantonese, the language battle is accelerating. The most recent spark [for public protests] was over a proposal to switch from Cantonese to [Pŭtōnghuà] in [Guăngdōng] television broadcasts, but the underlying issue has been there for much longer and is more profound”.

What’s NOT in a name: Why is Hong Kong Cantonese still being called 廣東話 Gwong2 dung1 waa6/2?

This writer has identified five facets or characteristics that make the Hong Kong Cantonese language special and even unique in comparison to mainland Cantonese (Bauer 2016:120-121), and these are summarised as follows:

Distinctively Hong Kong Chinese/Cantonese lexical items, e.g., you will not find  lip1 ‘lift, elevator’ (originally borrowed from British English) used in Canton’s Cantonese.

Phonetic variation in the colloquial sound system, the so-called 懶音 laan5 jam1 ‘lazy pronunciation’, that has resulted in the loss of a number of contrasts associated with the standard Cantonese pronunciation.

The conventionalisation of written Cantonese, i.e., the written counterpart of Cantonese speech that is widely used in a wide range of published materials.

Hundreds of English words have been borrowed into the Cantonese lexicon, as a result of intimate contact between the two languages that began back in the late 17th century,.

The long tradition of Cantonese lexicography in combination with Cantonese romanisation has promoted the systematic codification of the Cantonese lexicon and the accurate romanisation of its pronunciation.

Given how different Hong Kong Cantonese is in relation to the variety that can still be found in Guăngzhōu, this writer has often wondered why Cantonese-speaking Hongkongers (or any Hongkonger for that matter) still persist in calling their language 廣東話 Gwong2 dung1 waa6/2 “language of Guangdong”, or 廣州話 Gwong2 zau1 waa6/2 “language of Canton”. In the past when 廣州 Gwong2 zau1 “Canton”, the provincial capital of Gwong2 dung1, was recognized as the world’s Cantonese-speaking center, this nomenclature would have been justified. But nowadays, given the fact that the Cantonese language has become so marginalized there, why do Hongkongers think they must take Gwong2 zau1 as their reference? Unlike in Hong Kong Cantonese is no longer used in official domains or school classrooms on the mainland (in accordance with national and provincial laws on language and script as mentioned above). In short, there is sufficient reason for this ingrained habit of saying廣東話 Gwong2 dung1 waa6/2 to be abandoned, as it is unnecessary and outdated.

At any rate, I believe the language should be called by the more appropriate name of 香港粵語 hoeng1 gong2 jyut6 jyu5 “Hong Kong Cantonese”? Hongkongers need to wake up to the fact that Hong Kong has now become the Cantonese-speaking capital of the world (Bolton 2011:64)!

Hong Kong Cantonese has its own written form

If there is just one characteristic that makes the Hong Kong Cantonese language unique, special, and remarkably different among all other regional Chinese varieties, then that would be Hong Kong’s written Cantonese language which can be found widely used in publications of various kinds, including newspapers, magazines, comic books, personal letters, government public notices and posters, etc. (As for the use of written Cantonese in Guăngzhōu, I myself have looked around for it on previous visits there but could only find the odd, scattered example).

In Hong Kong we can recognize there are actually two kinds of Chinese literacy, viz., standard written Chinese and written Cantonese. Written Cantonese has been described as follows:

“. . . writing in Cantonese, viz., transcribing a text with standard and nonstandard Chinese characters, and even letters of the English alphabet, as if it had been spoken or was to be read by a Cantonese speaker. Today written Cantonese is a uniquely Hong Kong phenomenon: Nowhere else can one now observe on the same scale as in Hong Kong the widespread use of a form of written Chinese that has been so strongly influenced by the local Chinese variety and in so many different domains of written language” (Cheung and Bauer 2002:1-2).

According to this writer’s research, written Cantonese is systematically based on twelve conventions or principles which are identified, and analysed in Bauer (2018b); e.g., borrowing standard Chinese characters for their similar pronunciations to write Cantonese words and English loanwords; reading Chinese characters for their meanings and not their pronunciations; creation of Cantonese characters; revival of old Chinese characters; ad hoc romanisation of Cantonese words; use of single English letters to write Cantonese words and English loanwords, etc. (the reader is referred to the author’s journal publication for further details).  

From the linguist’s point of view, there is nothing unusual or strange about writing a language the way it is actually spoken; this practice has been expressed in Chinese as 我手寫我口 ngo5 sau2 se2 ngo5 hau2 ‘My hand writes my mouth’. Today written Cantonese can be recognized as having become especially well developed in Hong Kong. However, in Hong Kong’s educational context it is verboten for students to write the way they speak. Students are taught they must write standard written Chinese, even though its oral counterpart is a language they do not speak. Claiming that 中文 Zung1 man4 is the mother tongue of Hong Kong’s ethnic Chinese population not only minimizes and ignores the disjunct separating spoken Cantonese from the standard written Chinese language, but it also has the unfortunate effect of obfuscating the problems this gap causes both the Chinese majority and ethnic minority students in learning to read and write standard Chinese.

Languages in Hong Kong’s education system

The Hong Kong government’s language objective for Hongkongers has been succinctly stated as“兩文,三語” loeng5 man4, saam1 jyu5, viz., the written forms of standard Chinese and English, plus the spoken languages of Pŭtōnghuà, Cantonese, and English are to be learned by students. Up until 1997 individual secondary schools in Hong Kong decided for themselves whether to be Chinese Medium of Instruction (CMoI), i.e. teach in Cantonese and standard written Chinese, with English as a taught subject, on the one hand, or English MoI (EMoI), on the other. Most schools chose English (which in reality meant the so-called Cantonese-English “mixed-code” whereby the teachers taught their lessons in a mixture of Cantonese and English, typically with English-language textbooks); this was mainly due to parental demand for English, as pragmatic Hong Kong parents have long perceived that their children’s proficiency in English is the “ticket” into universities and to good jobs.

In the fall of 1997 Hong Kong’s Education Bureau issued its document Medium of Instruction Guidance for Secondary Schools which required that 75% of secondary schools (346 out of 460) use CMoI, i.e. Cantonese, while the other 25% (114) were to be allowed to continue to use EMoI. The justification for the switch over to Cantonese was that “ . . . mother tongue teaching is generally the most effective learning tool for students. . . We are therefore committed to promoting mother tongue teaching” (Hong Kong Education Bureau 2012). The Chinese equivalent of the above wording from the Chinese version of the same website is“香港的情況是以中文為母語 Hoeng1 gong2 dik1 cing4 fong3 si6 ji5 Zung1 man4 wai4 mou5 jyu5 literally, ‘The situation in Hong Kong is for Chinese language [Zung1 man4] to mean the mother language (tongue)’. This justification for using a child’s mother tongue as the medium of instruction quite clearly reflects the following statements that appeared in a 1951 UNESCO (United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization) report on this issue:

“It is axiomatic that the best medium for teaching a child is his mother tongue. Psychologically, it is the system of meaningful signs that in his mind works automatically for expression and understanding. Sociologically, it is a means of identification among the members of the community to which he belongs. Educationally, he learns more quickly through it than through an unfamiliar linguistic medium” (quoted in Fasold 1984:293).

Not surprisingly, as the high-handed change to CMoI was done with little community consultation, it was criticized by So: “. . . promotion of biliteracy and trilingualism among the students of Hong Kong is a bold and far-sighted move and sets the LiE [Language in Education] policy of the government on the right course. But the government has unwittingly undermined the success of this bold move by its adoption of the MoI-based tracking of the secondary schools [into majority CMI and minority EMI]. It is indeed intriguing to find the government indulging in a simplistic form of monolingual reductionism in education while at the same time making the fostering of bilingual abilities a major aim of its education policy” (So 2000:11-12). At the same time another harsh critic, Prof. Cheng Kai-ming, a former Pro-vice Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, a member of the Education Commission, and, presumably, an expert on language in education, roundly dismissed Cantonese mother tongue teaching as not only useless, but also harmful to students: “Cantonese is a dead end, it has no future . . . No other place in the world would use a dialect as the medium of instruction. It is killing our students” (Tacey 2000:9). His preference was for English to be used as a school’s medium of instruction instead of Cantonese.

In 2009 the Hong Kong government’s policy for languages in education was said to be the same as for the civil service, viz., “[t]o facilitate effective learning, the Government has been promoting the use of the mother tongue (Chinese [中文 Zung1 man4], in the context of Hong Kong) as the principal medium of instruction for local schools. With both Chinese and English as official languages in Hong Kong, the Government also invests heavily in training students to be biliterate (Chinese and English) and trilingual (Cantonese, [Pŭtōnghuà], and English)” (Hong Kong Education Bureau 2009).

Medium of instruction in Hong Kong schools: Cantonese OR Pŭtōnghuà?

At the outset I want to make clear that I do not oppose the teaching of Pŭtōnghuà to Hongkongers (or to anyone else, for that matter); however, I do question the heavy-handed way it has been being taught to the detriment of other Chinese varieties and languages. Furthermore, I think it is no exaggeration to recognise, as Liu (2017) has done, that the relationship between Cantonese and Pŭtōnghuà in Hong Kong has become politicized “. . . because, for many [Hongkongers], Putonghua has become an unwelcome reminder of the increasing “mainlandisation” of Hong Kong.” It is against this backdrop of tension between Cantonese and Pŭtōnghuà that Yau (2018) perceives the Hong Kong community has become fearful toward the rising profile of Pŭtōnghuà and its negative impact: The increasing emphasis on Putonghua at the expense of Cantonese among local schools is causing concern – and some resentment – among Hongkongers. While educators are split about the efficacy of adopting Putonghua as the medium of instruction, some residents fear that Hong Kong’s identity may be lost as the special administrative region is integrated into mainland systems.”

Just how well do Cantonese-speaking schoolchildren learn through Pŭtōnghuà as their medium of instruction? At least one study has found that Pŭtōnghuà as the medium of instruction for Cantonese-speaking schoolchildren is less effective than Cantonese. Tam (2011) conducted an in-depth study of one school which had switched from Cantonese to Pŭtōnghuà as MOI (medium of instruction). On the basis of her own observations and interviews with teachers, she reached this unsettling conclusion: “To some extent, [Cantonese-speaking] students are being sacrificed at the cost of using Pŭtōnghuà to teach Chinese, because PMI [Pŭtōnghuà Medium of Instruction] is less effective than Cantonese in teaching and learning” (Tam 2011:412). More recently, in 2016 government-commissioned research on the learning of the Chinese language through Pŭtōnghuà and Cantonese determined that students did not learn better through Pŭtōnghuà (Editors 2018b).

Even though Cantonese-speaking children learn better through their first language of Cantonese, nonetheless, it appears that Hong Kong’s Education Secretary Kevin Yeung Yun-hung would like to put the kibosh on Cantonese as the medium of instruction in Hong Kong’s classrooms and replace it with Pŭtōnghuà, as he believes the global trend clearly favours learning the Chinese language through Pŭtōnghuà and not through Cantonese. In an RTHK radio interview programme conducted on October 7, 2018 (RTHK 2018; Su 2018), he questioned the suitability and sustainability of Cantonese being used as the language of instruction for the long term. In addition, he suggested that Cantonese could not only be a disadvantage for Hongkongers, but also negatively impacting Hong Kong’s competitive edge. On a more positive note, he said he regards Cantonese as his mother tongue.

Teaching Pŭtōnghuà with propaganda in mainland schools – Can and will Hong Kong avoid that?

While the teaching of Pŭtōnghuà on the mainland has been highly successful, the way it is taught and the propaganda baggage it carries with it to do that have had the effect of displacing (i.e., killing off) regional and local Chinese varieties and ethnic minority languages, especially among young people. As this writer (Bauer 2016:150) has noted: “The process of supplanting Cantonese with Putonghua in children begins in primary school where the students learn from their teachers that speaking Putonghua is required in order to be a proper, civilized, and patriotic citizen of China; they are expressly told not to speak “dialects”, and are threatened with receiving demerits as a kind of punishment if they do”.

The teaching of Pŭtōnghuà in schools across China has been combined with propaganda that turns it into nothing less than the political indoctrination of young students who are required to repeat such slogans as the following:

愛國旗,唱國歌,説普通話! ài guóqí, chàng guógē, shuō Pŭtōnghuà ‘Love the national flag, Sing the national anthem, Speak Putonghua’;

説普通話,寫規範字,做個文明人! shuō Pŭtōnghuà, xiě guīfàn zì, zuò gè wénmíngrén ‘Speak Putonghua, Write standardized characters, Be a civilized person’;

不講方言,不講髒話,做個合格小公民! bù jiăng fāngyán, bù jiăng zāng huà, zuò gè hégé xiăo gōngmín ‘Don’t speak dialect, Don’t speak obscene (vulgar) language, Be a qualified little citizen’;

我是中國娃,愛説普通話! wŏ shì zhōngguó wā, ài shuō Pŭtōnghuà ‘I am a Chinese child, [I] love to speak Putonghua’ (Chinese Wikipedia 2014).

Can the teaching of Pŭtōnghuà ‘in Hong Kong schools be done without this kind brain-washing via sloganeering? In 2013 the author learned just how effective the promotion of Pŭtōnghuà has been among younger generations of mainland students when he taught an M.A. level sociolinguistics subject at the Chinese University of Hong Kong to a large group of students, the majority of whom were from mainland China. In class discussions on China’s sociolinguistic situation of regional and local Chinese varieties and non-Sinitic languages, the mainland students made it clear that they had needed to learn to speak, read, and write only two languages, namely, Pŭtōnghuà and English, and had no interest at all in learning any local or regional Chinese varieties, such as those spoken by their parents or grandparents.

It is the author’s opinion that schoolchildren in Hong Kong who are learning to speak Pŭtōnghuà should be encouraged to value and continue to speak other linguistic varieties that they know and not to think that speaking only Pŭtōnghuà is all that matters. Not quite twenty years ago this writer had suggested that Cantonese, Pŭtōnghuà, and other linguistic varieties could co-exist in Hong Kong in a congenial atmosphere if three steps were taken: “. . . if Hong Kong society makes clear to speakers of Cantonese, other Chinese dialects, and non-Chinese languages that their speech varieties also have inherent value and deserve our respect, then these speech varieties will continue to be spoken for many more years to come. In specific terms, what I propose is this: First, Cantonese (and other speech varieties) should not be treated or regarded as an obstruction in the pathway of Putonghua; second, school children should be taught that in the process of learning Putonghua they need not give up or forget their home dialects and languages; third, teachers should emphasize to their students that knowing two or more varieties of Chinese (and other languages) is an invaluable asset that will pay dividends throughout the speaker’s life. . . Cantonese can have a bright future in Hong Kong in which it coexists with and even flourishes alongside Putonghua – but only if the community actively pursues a policy of tolerant, live-and-let-live multilingualism which is based on the principle of mutual respect for all its different speech varieties” (Bauer 2000:56).

In Hong Kong the promotion of Pŭtōnghuà is now being carried out incrementally. If at some point down the road Hong Kong becomes predominantly Pŭtōnghuà -speaking, then that state of affairs will undoubtedly serve as a major milestone indicating for some people that Hong Kong has finally and successfully been absorbed into the mainland; with the replacement of Cantonese by Pŭtōnghuà, the old historical, sociolinguistic, and political separation between Hong Kong and the mainland will have finally been resolved.

What is Hongkongers’ mother tongue? Who decides?

As we have already noted above, in Hong Kong’s educational context, as well as its social and political contexts, Hong Kong’s mother tongue is said to be 中文 Zung1 man4 ‘Chinese language’. However, given that mother tongue teaching is such an important – and, as we will see, emotionally-charged – issue, just what does the terms ‘mother tongue’ and中文 Zung1 man4 mean?

According to Glossary of Sociolinguistics (Trudgill 2003), we find the following semantically similar and equivalent terms: Mother tongue see native language; Native language see first language; First language A language (or languages) which a speaker learns first, from infancy, as their native language or mother tongue. Compare primary language; Primary language A language which speakers use most often.

On the basis of these equivalent English terms, and if we carry them over to the Hong Kong context, then we can logically say that for many Hongkongers their mother tongue is Cantonese.

As for 中文 Zung1 man4, in its broadest sense it means ‘Chinese language’ (Wu 1979:903), but in fact this term is an all-encompassing, flexible, and fuzzily ambiguous category, since it includes classical Chinese, ancient Chinese, modern standard written Chinese, Pŭtōnghuà, and all the Chinese dialects in their spoken and written forms. Indeed, in the Hong Kong context it may be that because this word is so ambiguous is precisely why it is being used, as it helps the speaker skirt around certain sensitive issues that are associated with language. Given the lack of specificity, it would seem that the meaning of 中文 Zung1 man4 as mother tongue depends on the context and what the speaker wants it to mean.

However, as time has moved on, the issue of just what is Hongkongers’ mother tongue has become further complicated by the introduction of a second Chinese term for it with similar meaning to中文 zung1 man4, namely, 漢語 Hon3 jyu5 ‘Chinese language’ (Wu 1979:266). On May 3, 2018蘋果日報Ping4 gwo2 Jat6 bou3 Apple Daily newspaper’ published the following headline on its page A7 蘋果港聞Ping4 gwo2 Gong2 man4 ‘Apple Hong Kong news’: “教局引内地學者: 粵語非港人母語” [gaau3 guk6/2 jan5 noi6 dei6 hok6 ze2: Jyut6 jyu5 fei1 gong2 jan4 mou5 jyu5] which can be translated as “Education Bureau quotes mainland scholar: Cantonese language is not Hongkongers’ mother tongue.” The mainland scholar referred to here is 宋欣橋 [sung3 jan1 kiu4], also known as Y. K. Sung, who is currently a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Pŭtōnghuà/Mandarin education research unit and had previously been with the Chinese Ministry of Education and the State Working Committee on Language and Writing. It seems likely he is in Hong Kong in order to advance the mainland government’s language policy of promoting Pŭtōnghuà. In a paper Sung had written several years earlier (and posted by the Hong Kong Education Bureau on its website) he injudiciously muddled the generally accepted meaning of the term mother tongue by asserting that a “dialect” cannot be regarded as a mother tongue and so denied this status for Cantonese. According to Sung, since the majority of Hongkongers who speak Cantonese are ethnic Chinese, i.e., 漢族 Hon3 zuk6 ‘Chinese nationality’ (Wu 1979:266), so ipso facto their mother tongue is actually 漢語 Hon3 jyu5 “Chinese language” (Wu 1979:266); whatever this really means in the Hong Kong context has left some Hongkongers not only bewildered but also angry.

Interestingly enough, a South China Morning Post editorial (Editors 2018a) interpreted 漢語 Hon3 jyu5 Chinese language” to be equivalent to Mandarin and commented on this matter as follows:“It goes without saying that Cantonese is the mother tongue of Hong Kong Chinese. Intriguingly, an article on the Education Bureau website argues that it should be Mandarin instead. The issue in question is perhaps a topic of interest to language experts. But debate of such kind is uncalled for, especially when Cantonese and Mandarin are unnecessarily placed against each other in an increasingly politicised context. What matters most is that our official policy of biliterate – Chinese and English – and trilingual – English, Mandarin and Cantonese – shall continue.

The controversy arose when the article, written by a former official of the central government’s State Language Commission and uploaded to the bureau’s website along with 24 others some time ago, was singled out for criticism in an online forum recently. . .  This is not the first time that Cantonese has been seen as belittled by the authorities. The bureau came under fire four years ago with another article arguing that Cantonese was just a dialect rather than an official language. . . Cantonese is unquestionably what Hong Kong Chinese grow up with and use in their social life. In the business sphere, however, English remains essential, with Mandarin becoming increasingly important too. The three are not necessarily in conflict.”

Wu (2018) has also weighed in on the Mandarin-as-Hongkongers’-mother-tongue issue by asking, “Why has the “Cantonese is not a mother tongue” spectre been raised at this time?”; she suggests that in the present context doing so upset the Hongkongers’ feelings: “. . . Cantonese, though not unique to Hong Kong, is an unalienable part of Hongkongers’ identity. Actions that are seen as attacking or downgrading it elicit emotionally charged responses.”

What does mother tongue mean in mainland China?

That the meaning of mother tongue in Hong Kong and mainland China is not only different but also politically sensitive is explained by Zhang and Yang in the following two quoted texts:

“[i]t is clear that the policy of ‘mother tongue education’ using Cantonese is a practical and minimally disruptive transition [for Hong Kong], seeing that most people use it often and that most people do consider it their mother tongue. This contrasts, however, with the situation in most other parts of China with dialects, where Putonghua is instead used in schools as the mother tongue” (Zhang and Yang 2004:151).

“There is a significant difference between Guangdong and Hong Kong in terms of ‘mother tongue teaching’. Although Cantonese is the ‘mother tongue’ to most of the students in Guangdong, Cantonese is officially neglected in primary and secondary schools in Guangdong. Putonghua is, of course, the official medium of classroom instruction for all subjects” (Zhang and Yang 2004:154).

Language teaching and romanisation: Why isn’t any kind of Cantonese romanisation being taught in Hong Kong schools?

While Pŭtōnghuà has been regarded as the mother tongue of the Han majority population in China, primary school students there first learn how to pronounce the 漢字 Hon3 zi6 ‘Chinese characters’ (Wu 1979:266) with the aid of 漢語拼音 Hon3 jyu5 Ping3 jam1 ‘Chinese Phonetic Alphabet’ (Wu 1979:266) (i.e., Mandarin/Pŭtōnghuà romanisation) before they learn how to write characters in the classroom. On the other hand, in Hong Kong classrooms you will not find any kind of Cantonese romanisation being used to teach Cantonese pronunciations of the Chinese characters to Cantonese-speaking students even though the Hong Kong government’s policy on languages claims to be promoting 三語 saam1 jyu5 ‘three languages of Pŭtōnghuà, Cantonese, and English. Today there is available to everyone in Hong Kong the excellent Cantonese romanisation system known as粵語拼音 Jyut6 jyu5 Ping3 jam1 ‘Cantonese Phonetic Alphabet (Jyut Jyu Ping Jam)’ or粵拼 Jyut6 Ping3 ‘Jyut Ping’ (for short) which was developed by the Linguistic Society of Hong Kong in the early 1990’s (the reader is referred to Linguistic Society of Hong Kong 2002 for details on the LSHK’s handbook in which the Cantonese pronunciations of all the Chinese characters, including some Cantonese characters, have been transcribed in Jyut Ping). Up to now, it has been used on a relatively limited basis to teach Cantonese as a second language, for example, to ethnic minority students in a Hong Kong school. I believe it is a great pity that it has not become more widely adopted for teaching the Cantonese pronunciation, not only to ethnic minority students, but also to the majority Chinese students. I have asked academics, teachers, and students why Hong Kong primary schools do not use Cantonese romanisation to teach Cantonese pronunciation; my question typically elicits surprised looks, along with such replies as “That’s just not how it’s done here!” However, in my own teaching experience, university students have learned Jyut Ping very quickly (and even find romanising their pronunciations of the Chinese characters to be marvelous fun and not difficult). I think we would discover the same would be true for primary school students, most of whom have already learned the English alphabet in kindergarten; at any rate, they would be able to write down whatever they can say even if they do not know how to write the relevant Chinese characters, just as young children (and even older ones and adults struck by character amnesia, i.e. forgetting how to write a word or morphosyllable with the appropriate Chinese character) in mainland China do with Pīnyīn. Cantonese romanisation should have a place in Hong Kong’s education system. Not only is Jyut Ping the concrete tool with which to develop and promote systematically the standard Cantonese pronunciations of the Chinese characters, but it is also the bright beacon for illuminating the Cantonese pronunciations of Cantonese words and Chinese characters wherever they need to be written down, such as in daily newspapers, magazines, novels, personal letters, etc. Let us keep in mind some compelling and pertinent advice recorded long ago in Matthew 5:15 of the Good Book: ‘Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under a bushel, but on a lamp stand; and it gives light unto all that are in the house’ (Holy Bible 2018).

Telephone-survey: Is the Hong Kong Cantonese language endangered?

How do Cantonese-speakers themselves feel about the current state of their language? As a telephone-survey from 2015 revealed, some Hongkongers are concerned about the current state of Cantonese. When asked the question, How seriously endangered is Cantonese at present?, just under a quarter or 23.1% of the respondents replied Not at all; at the same time, however, a combined total of 77% of the respondents indicated the language was endangered, either a little (31.8%), moderately (30.1%), a lot (11.7%), or critically (3.4%)” (Bacon-Shone, Bolton, and Luke 2015:27).

Does the Hong Kong Cantonese language need to be preserved and protected?

What does it mean to “preserve” and “protect” a language? These two words are enclosed in double quote marks to show I feel somewhat dubious about what these words mean – let us assume they mean to keep that language from disappearing from or dying out in the community where it is being or has been spoken. That the number of people speaking Cantonese in Hong Kong constitutes the overwhelming majority among the different language groups clearly indicates that right now Cantonese is doing very well and does not seem to be in any danger. Nonetheless, within this community there is genuinely-felt concern about the future of Cantonese in Hong Kong, prompting calls for its protection and preservation: As Gallagher (2014:C2) has pointed out, “. . . Cantonese is an important part of the intangible cultural heritage of Hong Kong and vital for the preservation of its cultural identity. Hopefully, the survey [of the city’s intangible cultural heritage] will identify Cantonese as worthy of protection, not just as a vehicle for communication of other elements such as Cantonese opera, local festivals and rituals, but as an element in its own right.”

As it turns out, Cantonese has indeed been included as one of the items on Hong Kong’s first official list of 480 entries of intangible cultural heritage. However, it is ironic this special recognition has made some Cantonese-speakers fearful for the future survival of their language (Chow 2014:C2-3). Yu (2018) has raised the eerie question, “can Cantonese survive?”, and she has observed that “Cantonese . . . is an inseparable part of Hong Kong’s identity. And that sense of identity has been growing amid Hong Kong’s escalating tensions with mainland China.”

Will Hong Kong Cantonese end up in a museum some day?

If at some point people discover they need to “preserve” and “protect” Hong Kong Cantonese, what would be some concrete steps that could be taken to accomplish this? What about putting Cantonese into a museum? The idea may sound creepy, since we usually think of a museum as being the repository for artifacts that belong to the past, a place for exhibiting old things that are no longer living or still being in use; nonetheless, just such a proposal has been made by Gordon (2014). He has pointed out that while some people regard “ . . . the use of Putonghua [as] patriotic . . .”, others hold negative attitudes toward Cantonese as “. . . nothing but a ‘vulgar relic’, a ‘dialect’ best left to the ‘wet market’ . . .”, and “. . . a mispronounced, grammatically incorrect form of Chinese rather than a desirable medium of instruction”. So, in order to help the public learn more about the history of the Chinese language and better understand and appreciate its various regional varieties, such as Cantonese, he has suggested that a Museum of the Chinese Language be established with a Cantonese area set aside to “ . . . reference Cantonese-language culture (music, film, etc) and the Cantonese Diaspora, and help establish (or re-establish) Hong Kong as the hub for this aspect of Chinese culture, catalyse links with Cantonese communities abroad, and help develop a sense of Chinese diasporic history.”

Does Guăngzhōu Cantonese portend the fate of the Hong Kong Cantonese language?

What is the future state of Cantonese in Hong Kong? Frankly speaking, the author has a long-term assessment that is pessimistic. If we want to find a portent of the future fate of Hong Kong Cantonese, I believe all we need do is to look at what has happened to Guăngzhōu Cantonese which in my view is a harbinger of things to come in Hong Kong. In Guăngzhōu the language has gone into a sharp decline and become essentially marginalized, as it has ceased being spoken in official domains and the schools some years ago.

As we have already observed for Hong Kong, the Cantonese language is not yet in decline. Nonetheless, I sense that it on track to becoming an endangered language within the next few generations as schoolchildren switch over to speaking Pŭtōnghuà; and that means it could eventually even die out. These and similar issues seem to be preying on the minds of some Hongkongers. We can take the increasing number of newspaper articles in which the authors express their anxious concerns about the current state of the Cantonese language and its future in Hong Kong as a gauge indicating how the situation has been developing here.

Before languages disappear they first become endangered through the declining number of their speakers because children have ceased learning and speaking them in the usual ways. The multi-stage process through which languages ultimately become lost has been formally explicated as follows: “Language endangerment leading to the eventual extinction and disappearance of languages constitutes the gradual disappearance of the speakers of a language, usually beginning with children, continuing with young adults, middle-aged speakers, aged speakers, until only a few very old speakers are left with whose death the language becomes extinct. The main reason for this is the switching of the speakers to another, usually dominant, language under cultural pressure [emphasis added]. If a proportion of the children starts giving preference to another language and gradually forgets their own, their own language is potentially endangered; if the youngest speakers are young adults, the language is endangered; if they are middle-aged, the language is seriously endangered; and if there are only a few old speakers left, the language is moribund (or terminally endangered)” (Wurm 2003:16).

Although the Hong Kong government language policy officially promotes the so-called 兩文三語 loeng5 man4 saam1 jyu5 ‘biliteracy in standard Chinese and English plus trilingual proficiency in Pŭtōnghuà, Cantonese, and English’, nonetheless, it is the case that Cantonese receives no recognition as a spoken (or written) language as neither its pronunciation nor its grammar are explicitly taught as subjects in classrooms. It seems both strange and ironic to me that while Hong Kong schoolchildren learn to pronounce Pŭtōnghuà with the effective aid of 漢語拼音 Hànyŭ Pīnyīn, the official romanisation system for standard Chinese which was officially adopted by the Chinese government in 1958 (English Wikipedia 2018)), they have neither learned nor ever seen any kind of Cantonese romanisation, as stated above.

What does the future hold for Hong Kong Cantonese?

A museum may very well be the place where the Hong Kong Cantonese language could eventually end up. In 2015 the ominous-sounding question “The Death of Cantonese?” appeared on the appropriately-black cover of the local Hong Kong magazine Timeout as the title of its main article by Tam and Cummins (2015) who examined the impact that the increasing use of Pŭtōnghuà could have on the future of Cantonese in Hong Kong. In their article they wrote as follows: “Language is the tongue that gives a nation its voice. And Hong Kong’s voice has never been as intrinsically linked to its identity as it is right now. Cantonese isn’t just the city’s language; it’s one of the many yardsticks by which Hongkongers measure their cultural and political differences from the rest of the Mainland. . . Could Pŭtōnghuà really eclipse Cantonese as the Chinese language of choice in our city within a few generations, or is this all conjecture?” (Tam and Cummins 2015:20).

Conclusion: Twelve recommendations to support and promote the Hong Kong Cantonese language

Attention Cantonese-speakers! How important is your Cantonese language to you? If you value your Cantonese language, then you need to speak up to let everyone know that! If the Hong Kong Cantonese language is to continue being spoken by young children as their first language and the Hong Kong community’s predominant language for generations to come, then there can be no question that concerned people need to take steps to support and promote your language and at the same time shield and protect it from the Pŭtōnghuà “juggernaut”.

Given the political climate, however, one can easily anticipate this goal will be difficult to achieve; nonetheless, the author recommends that the following twelve measures be implemented to keep the Hong Kong Cantonese language strong and viable for many years ahead:

The Hong Kong government should show its respect for the Hong Kong Cantonese language by formally declaring that it is Hong Kong’s official spoken language.

The Hong Kong government should officially promote Cantonese in all domains where languages are spoken.

The Hong Kong government should create a body of Cantonese language experts to be tasked with officially standardising Hong Kong’s written Cantonese language along with the pronunciations of the Chinese characters and then promoting written Cantonese in all domains where written Chinese language is used.

The Education Bureau should require schools to teach Cantonese pronunciation and grammar as a subject to all Cantonese-speaking students in Hong Kong.

Cantonese-speaking schoolchildren who are learning Putonghua should be taught to clearly understand that learning Putonghua does not mean they must stop speaking Cantonese and abandon it. In this regard, indoctrinating young students with slogans that denigrate other linguistic varieties, such as “不講方言,不講髒話,做個合格小公民”bù jiăng fāngyán, bù jiăng zāng huà, zuò gè hégé xiăo gōngmin “Don’t speak dialects, Don’t speak vulgar language, Be a qualified little citizen”, and 文明人說普通話 wénmíngrén shuō Pŭutōnghuà “Civilized people speak Putonghua”, should have no place in and should not be a part of the Putonghua-learning curriculum in Hong Kong.

All Hong Kong students whose first language is not Cantonese should be taught to speak, read, and write Cantonese at some minimal but useful level.

All primary school students in Hong Kong, regardless of their first language, should be taught the Cantonese romanisation system known as Jyut Ping, the formal name is 粵語拼音 jyut6 jyu5 ping3 jam1.

Written Cantonese should be taught as a subject to Cantonese-speaking primary school students.

Hong Kong’s print media should officially adopt and promote Jyut Ping for transcribing Cantonese words (and eschew any ad hoc, slapdash, inaccurate transcriptions, such as those one finds being used in the South China Morning Post), and thus acknowledge the value of Jyut Ping as the lifeboat, anchor, and foundation for broadening the support, promotion, and recognition of the Hong Kong Cantonese language throughout Hong Kong, mainland China, and the world.

The Chinese names of Hong Kong’s public areas, buildings, landmarks, and other notable places should be romanised in Jyut Ping (with or without then tone numbers), e.g. Hei Kuk Centre and NOT Xiqu Centre for 戲曲中心 Hei3 kuk1 Zung1 sam1 “Opera Centre” (located in 西九文化區 Sai1 Gau2 Man4 faa3 Keoi1 “West Kowloon Cultural District”).

After the written form of the Cantonese language has been adequately standardised, then bilingual Cantonese-Putonghua and Cantonese-English glossaries and dictionaries should be compiled, published, and then freely distributed to all interested persons.

After the above measures have been implemented, then there should be no concern about the future of the Hong Kong Cantonese language, namely, its survival in the coming decades, and so it can and should be removed from the Hong Kong government’s list of items of intangible cultural heritage.

If even some of these measures were put in force, then they should imbue the Hong Kong Cantonese language with sufficient strength and stamina to compete successfully against Pŭtōnghuà in Hong Kong.

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