Consider this: within a century, or perhaps half that time, 50 to 90 per cent of the world’s 6,500 languages will no longer be spoken.

Most of the languages under threat are spoken by relatively small numbers of people, often in communities without political, economic or social capital, and which are under pressure to shift to a major language such as English, Spanish, Putonghua or the dominant language of the region. More researchers than ever are engaged in documenting and revitalising languages, particularly those of communities in remote locales.

But consider this, too: as a consequence of modern migration, today’s urban areas offer extensive cultural and linguistic diversity, with many communities speaking minority or endangered languages. London boasts more than 300 heritage languages. In New York, more than half of all house­holds speak a language other than English.

But what of Asia’s world city? Scratch below the Cantonese-dominant surface and Hong Kong hosts myriad communities, each with its own heritage languages. Some date to early settlement by people from southern China and South Asia, others are more recent economic migrants, such as Filipino and Indonesian domestic helpers and African traders.

Numerous linguistic issues arise. These include a shift by second and later generations away from heritage languages such as Chiuchow or Hakka to Cantonese; the loss of trad­itional knowledge along with indigenous languages such as that of the boat-dwelling Tanka; and the challenges of children being educated in a second language, as is the case with many South Asian families.

But even while languages are being lost, new ones are being created – creole and new variations of English, and multicultural urban vernaculars – as a result of historical and contemporary contact between communities and, increasingly, on social media platforms.

This fortnightly column aims to explore all this. As a Singaporean sociolinguist based in Hong Kong, working in multilingualism, language contact, minority languages and forms of world English, I have found Hong Kong’s linguistic minorities striking, comprising a precious and often overlooked part of the social fabric. I have also relished ever-evolving Hong Kong English. In each column, I will take on a word or phrase used in Hong Kong or the region and explore its origins, and its significance in issues of society, policy, identity and power.

I hope to offer a more nuanced appreciation of and a greater confidence in embracing the languages, both heritage and new, that form our multicultural existence.