Cast aside 'foreign' language prejudices

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 July, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 July, 1994, 12:00am

I WRITE regarding racism in Hong Kong, as it relates to the use of the English language by a Chinese person.

I am Chinese and for the past 20 odd years, I have been educated mainly in English. I have worked as both a writer and a sub-editor on English-language newspapers. Therefore, in many ways, in my thinking and my behaviour, I exhibit the ways of a person bred in a Western culture.

I am proud of being Chinese, but, I am bilingual and on most occasions, I prefer to use English as my medium of communication. In using English I do not relinquish my Chinese identity.

This seems to elude many people with whom I communicate, who think that I worship Western culture. They are at a loss to understand why a Chinese person speaks to a fellow Chinese in a ''foreign'' language.

Has it never occurred to them that language is a vehicle of thought, and is only a medium of communication whereby a person conveys an idea, be it a wish, a request, or a command, to the person to whom he speaks? It does not represent a value judgment.

Therefore, in using a language or a medium of communication with which I feel at ease or comfortable, I have not violated any rules; I have not committed any ''crime''.

Most Chinese people in Hong Kong have such strange notions about Chinese speaking English, that they are not only shy to speak the language(hence the low standard of spoken and written English in Hong Kong), but they frown on, or at least look with disapproval, at those people using the language, obviously in an environment which is predominantly Chinese. This is not an attitude I find acceptable.

In fact, in my high school days, my teachers rightly encouraged us to use the language in every practicable situation, so as to enhance our language skills. I think I have come a long way since then, primarily because I heeded their advice, and because of my intense interest in communication and language.

Take a city like Singapore, which compares in many ways, with Hong Kong. It has a multi-cultural society. English flourishes there as a language people accept, although a large proportion of the population is Chinese. The standard of English in that island city is much higher than in Hong Kong, which continues to resist using English.

If Hong Kong is to maintain its status as an international city, especially after the transition of power in 1997, it should really cast aside its prejudices against a ''foreign'' language.

After all, there is the story of the Tower of Babel to remind us that at one time, we all spoke the same tongue.