PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 August, 2010, 12:00am

Written version of Cantonese is low-brow

David Tang Wing-cheung ('Offensive views on Cantonese condescending', August 10) and Virginia Yue ('Putonghua is the linguistic interloper', August 9) use the same tired argument that is always used to defend the use of Guangzhou dialect for formal purposes: that some poetry written in classical Chinese (not Guangzhou vernacular) rhymes when read in Guangzhou dialect.

Their use of this argument demonstrates the Canto-centrism in their thinking. Speakers of nearly every dialect south of the Yangtze River claim that Tang [dynasty] poetry sounds best when read in their own dialect. How ironic that speakers of the dialect notorious for violent prosody would defend it on the basis of pronunciation.

Most educated Hong Kong people can easily see that so-called 'written Cantonese' is only used for what should be politely called low-brow purposes, such as comic books and the adult sections of populist newspapers.

I have one question for Sir David and Ms Yue: What great classics of written Guangzhou dialect 'literature' are known throughout the world, and have been translated into dozens of languages? Absolutely none. The beauty and sophistication of modern written Chinese, which is based on Putonghua, is admired all over the world. Hundreds of great works from the Dream of the Red Chamber to those of Lao She, Hu Shi and other 20th century masters have been translated into every major language. Where is the Guangzhou dialect equivalent of Dream of the Red Chamber? The lack of any literary accomplishment besides rhyming 1,000-year-old poetry shows that Guangzhou dialect is a feudal relic.

By calling the origins of modern Chinese 'barbaric', Ms Yue shows the real origin of pro-Guangzhou dialect sentiment: prejudice against non-Cantonese people. Some Guangzhou and Hong Kong people talk about language rights, but the only language rights they worry about are their own. Guangzhou and Hong Kong cultural hegemony has made many dialects extinct. When I was a child, Guangdong province had a large variety of dialects, but if you visit traditionally Hakka or Hoklo areas now, you do not hear these dialects spoken by youngsters. They now speak Cantonese instead and cannot speak their mother tongue.

Guangzhou dialect is not the mother tongue of most immigrant children from the mainland, but Hong Kong's mother-tongue education policy forces these children to learn in it. Many of these children were taught in Putonghua before they came. Making them give up Putonghua and their mother-tongue for Cantonese is a linguistic atrocity. Meanwhile, post-colonial elites send their children to exclusive schools that teach in English and Putonghua.

If people really care about language rights, then dialect speakers should stop forcing others to speak their dialect. Putonghua is a common, neutral language for communication between different dialect groups. If people used it like this and continued to speak their dialects at home and among their dialect group, then dialects would not die out.

Clark Li, Tai Po

Residents can use other cards

We would like to thank Ron Baker for his comments regarding the use of Octopus cards in residential buildings managed by the MTR Corporation ('Octopus was not an option', August 12).

The MTR has installed a building access control system in 23 of the estates that it manages to provide residents with convenient and secure access to the premises. Residents are not limited to a personalised Octopus card to use the system, for which they have to provide personal data to obtain the card.

They also have the option of using an anonymous Octopus card, which can be obtained without providing any personal information. Furthermore, if residents choose not to use Octopus at all, they may access their building, clubhouse, swimming pool and shuttle bus by presenting a laminated resident card issued by the estate.

The Octopus building access control system is an individual system for each estate, limited only to providing building access for residents. No data provided to the management office for registration to use the building access system is transferred to any other organisation. If Mr Baker has any further inquiries, he can contact estate management staff who would be happy to provide assistance.

James Tsui, media relations manager, MTR Corporation

Just say no to shark's fin soup

It is a step forward in the fight to protect sharks when hotels and restaurants offer shark-free menus.

I know it is difficult to change people's habits, because when a host has shark's fin soup on a banquet menu, it is seen as a sign of wealth. I wonder why people today can still be so cruel to animals.

The practice of cutting the shark's fins and throwing the fish back into the sea should never be accepted.

We must turn away from shark's fin dishes. By continuing to consume them, we are contributing to the sharp decline in the number of sharks in the ocean.

It is up to individuals to take a stand and persuade friends and family members to follow suit.

Joey Ho Yan-yu, Tsing Yi

Officials can set good example

Hong Kong has one of the most convenient public transport systems in the world, so it should be easy for the government to discourage people from buying cars.

However, while encouraging people to live a low-carbon life, some officials travel every day in luxurious cars and never take any form of public transport. It sets a bad example.

If they took public transport, officials would be setting a good example and it would give them a chance to get in touch with citizens.

We need more down-to-earth senior civil servants.

Michael Leung Chung-hong, Sham Shui Po

Combined bins work in Taiwan

A survey by Greeners Action has shown that many Hongkongers do not use recycling bins.

I support the green group's suggestion of having combined bins 'with a container for rubbish and one for recycling' ('Green group calls for more recycling bins in public places', August 6).

This kind of bin is widely used in other cities. In Taiwan, most of the bins are of the combined design, with at least three containers, for ordinary refuse, plastic and metals. I think the reason many Hongkongers do not recycle is because they sometimes have difficulty locating the bins. It would be much easier with combined bins even though it may be costly to introduce the scheme.

In the meantime, a survey should be undertaken to determine the best location for recycling bins so they are visible and accessible to as many people as possible.

Anita Chan, Tsz Wan Shan

Eating on buses, MTR is selfish

I travel frequently on buses and the MTR. I often see fellow passengers having their breakfast or lunch on board even though regulations prohibit eating and drinking. Warning notices are clearly posted describing the penalties.

Despite this, passengers ignore the rules. They leave bits of discarded food and this attracts insects, which can make for a very unpleasant journey. I have noticed that often it is the parents who eat in front of their children. They are setting a very bad example and it shows a deterioration in civic education in Hong Kong.

People should think twice about how they conduct themselves in public and realise that their behaviour can be a nuisance to others. I would like to see people being less selfish in our society.

W. H. Bac, Ap Lei Chau

Japan was the aggressor

Why is it that in all the hue and cry over [the atomic bombs dropped on] Hiroshima and Nagasaki ('A mission to warn the world,' August 7), too many people overlook the fact that it came about because of Japan's drive to turn Asia into its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere?

Neither do they refer to the many atrocities committed by the Japanese during the second world war, which would have continued for much longer if the US had not dropped the atomic bombs.

Victims like my family and others around Asia, and especially China, must never forget those facts, even as they hope that nuclear weapons will not be used again in any war. Hence today's worry over North Korea and Iran, which seem headed the way of Japan and Germany in the past century.

L. M. S. Valerio, Tin Hau

Excellent taxis

Ross Smith laments that 'middle-aged male taxi drivers are not interested in learning English' ('Government should put GPS systems in all Hong Kong taxis', August 7).

I am surprised that Mr Smith, as an 11-year resident of Hong Kong, has not bothered to learn enough basic Cantonese to tell a taxi driver where he wants to go. Taxi drivers in Paris speak French, those in Tokyo speak Japanese and those in London speak English. Taxi drivers in Hong Kong tend to speak Cantonese, which is the mother tongue of the vast majority of people in Hong Kong.

Mr Smith also insinuates that there are issues with Hong Kong taxi drivers' honesty and directional knowledge. While there are always some bad eggs, having lived and worked in several cities, I find the overall cost, availability and efficacy of Hong Kong taxis hard to beat.

Steven Pang, Yuen Long