• Mon
  • Sep 22, 2014
  • Updated: 7:40am

Cantonese speakers suffering from an inferiority complex

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 February, 2014, 4:22am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 February, 2014, 6:58am

I refer to Peter Gordon's article ("The development of Cantonese language is a story worth telling", February 15).

As a member of a major Cantonese speech group - the University of Hong Kong - I find the article's point on tracing and exhibiting the language's history bona fide, but disoriented. In other words, the ongoing degeneration of Hong Kong Cantonese, manifest at places none other than universities, indicates that it is the current practice of Cantonese, not its history, that begs for collective care.

In principle, I agree with the author's view: that such a debate concerning the status of the vernacular essentially concerns the local authenticity, possibly in relation to greater China. However, the alarming note is not that people are not well enough informed of the language's (or the dialect's, whichever one sides with) history, but that people abuse and neglect the language right now.

I reckon it is the low self-esteem of Cantonese speakers that lies at the heart of the issue. On the one hand, it is low self-esteem in the form of an inferiority complex. Here at HKU, when local students introduce themselves in Cantonese, they prefer to switch and utter foreign words such as "accounting and finance" with a proper English accent that breaks the flow of the Cantonese speech.

In fact, many freshers decide to adopt non-Chinese names, even ones so bizarre as Sunny, Ocean or Kiki. Now that we are at university, it seems, Cantonese and Chinese transliteration are regarded as inappropriate.

On the other hand, the issue is simply ignorance. Cantonese speakers don't seem to care how and why they speak their language. While they intuitively know their nine tones and the difference between suffixes "di" and "ge", with the same intuition they fail to realise one irony: that they never care to standardise and abide by fixed rules, especially when they would care about the right English pronunciation and orthography. This standardisation would provide solidity to Cantonese against abusive slang and facilitate the teaching of it to foreigners.

If language is "an element of culture in use every waking hour … providing ongoing reinforcement for their sense of identity", as the author claims, then it is precisely this ongoing practice that needs attention.

As long as this pattern of low self-esteem persists, and as long as Hongkongers continue to choose English to eloquently summarise their days on Facebook, then the museum proposed might have to introduce Cantonese as a legacy.

Joo Hun-han, Sheung Wan


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Wow!!! Rules and standardisation!!! This is what the communist want from their colonised subject. The beauty of Hong Kong Cantonese is its adaptations. It has it orginal roots from acient Chinese tones and graphical, visual, and symbolic protray of communication which few other languages process. These properties make the language a living colloquial medium. No language except Latin has a totally "fixed, agreed upon rules". That is why Latin is a dead language. This is why Cantonese is more versatile than Mandarin. Just one example, even English, we say, "You ARE a man." It uses "ARE" plural even "man" is singular. It does not say, "You IS a man." The rule for singular and plural is not fixed even though the "agreed" rule for the verb-to-be. The English "rules" on prepositions is not totally "fixed" or "agreed upon" either. The writer of this SCMP comment has not idea about the rules (or the lack of it) in lingustics. He mentioned that hs is a member of HKU. Hmm...
Who is the blooody idiot who wrote this article?...................hope this is their last one ever.
Embedding english terms in speech is nothing unique in HK but in most international cities. Like it or not, English is the business, academic language as it's the most common language people communicate across borders. As a native cantonese speaker from HKU and lived in many different cities, I do not sense any inferiority complex among our fellow Cantonese speakers, but rather the eagerness to communicate with people who dont speak cantonese. Am afraid your observation and analysis is rather off-based.
Dai Muff
If you do not know Putonghua speakers who are just as keen to interject English you must never talk to other Chinese. Yet no one is saying that proves Putonghua has an inferiority complex. English is strong because it absorbs words from other languages. This is something the language purists are always to dumb to understand.
I think you need to learn more about language(s) before making such pronouncements. The obvious lack of knowledge is shockingly clear in many of your comments, like this one regarding spelling conventions. Language is speech, and writing is merely a convention designed to represent it, however badly. To assert that Cantonese is not a "valid language that represents and unites its speakers" is patently ridiculous. Evidence: the many languages in the world which have no written form whatsoever. Language has existed far longer than writing. Do your homework, or risk further exposing your own ignorance.


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