Arrogant attitude has no place in real world

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 March, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 March, 2000, 12:00am

One could not blame Hong Kong people for turning against English when faced with the letters of some of your readers. I refer, in particular, to the letter by 'Name And Address Supplied', headlined, 'Grave mistake to discard English' (South China Morning Post, February 23).

The writer complains that he is unable to read some advertisements which are only in Chinese and defends his right not to learn Chinese, despite having lived here many years, on the grounds that some Chinese living in English-speaking countries cannot speak English.

This is clearly absurd. One cannot justify one's own linguistic illiteracy by pointing at others guilty of the same error. And in any case, there are many more overseas Chinese who are able to speak the local language than there are foreigners who can speak or read Chinese in Hong Kong.

Of course, no one has to learn the language of the country in which they live. That is their prerogative. But then they should not complain they do not understand what is going on around them.

Why shouldn't advertisers use only Chinese in certain instances? They know whom they wish to target.

To insist that everything should be in English for the convenience of a non-assimilated minority is arrogant and ultimately one reason why colonialism was not successful.

English proficiency is important and it is true there is a lack of good English language education in Hong Kong. But this was as true before the handover as it is after it. Increasingly the problem is being recognised and attempts are being made to improve standards, albeit with mixed results.

But the reason for this drive to improve English is to maintain and improve Hong Kong's position in the international market place. It does not mean everything and everyone in Hong Kong should be bilingual. Chinese should and always will be the predominant language for Hong Kong people. Citing examples in India, where only a minority speak English, or Singapore, where English only exists as an acceptable common language between Malays, Tamils and Chinese, is irrelevant, as is the assertion that these countries have produced 'literary giants' in the English language. In the field of literature Hong Kong should and does concentrate on the Chinese language.

It would be as surprising and unnecessary to find English literary masterpieces coming out of Hong Kong as it would be to find them coming out of Greece or Spain.