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  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 8:37pm
NewsHong Kong
EDUCATION

Education Bureau rapped over Cantonese 'not an official language' gaffe

Claim Cantonese 'not an official language' leaves public lost for words

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 February, 2014, 6:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 February, 2014, 3:52am
 

An article on the Education Bureau's website claiming "Cantonese is not an official language" has been removed after criticism.

The article was posted on the website's Language Learning Support section on January 24.

It aimed to promote the importance of bilingualism and trilingualism as the city "develops alongside the rapidly growing China" and "the daily usage of Mandarin [in Hong Kong] becomes common".

It said: "Although the Basic Law stipulates that Chinese and English are the two official languages in Hong Kong, nearly 97 per cent of the local population learn Cantonese (a Chinese dialect that is not an official language) as their commonly used daily language."

The article was removed yesterday. The webpage is now "being updated".

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said the bureau had "done wrong" because it was not its business to define what language was official. But he commended it for quickly removing the article and apologising.

People took to various online forums to express their anger. "Another issue after the national education saga?" wrote one user.

Horace Chin Wan-kan, assistant Chinese professor at Lingnan University, said the bureau had fuelled mainland-Hong Kong tensions.

"The bureau's move is to promote teaching Chinese in classrooms using Mandarin, which violates the bilingualism and trilingualism policy," Chin said.

"Defining Cantonese as not official doesn't make sense. We never say if British English is official, although many prefer the British accent and spelling."

A Facebook group "Hong Kong language learning" has appealed to people to e-mail the bureau to urge the government to admit "a blunder" and "apologise to the public".

Another bureau article posted yesterday said it had made "an inaccurate interpretation of Cantonese" in the feature and apologised for any misunderstanding.

The Basic Law says that as well as written Chinese, English may be used by the executive, legislature and judiciary. But there is no rule about verbal language, such as Cantonese.

Eric Cheung Tat-ming, principal law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, said the law related only to the written word in terms of "official languages".

"There have never been attempts to define what official languages mean in the oral context," Cheung said. "And in Hong Kong courts, as well as other official circumstances, the choice of the spoken language has been one based on commonality, so Cantonese is preferred."

To say Cantonese was not an official language therefore had "no legal justification".

It would have been safer to call Cantonese "a non-official language in the People's Republic of China", Cheung added.

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This article is now closed to comments

chuchu59
If this can be removed at the drop of a hat why was it there in the first place. Unless the officials were real stupid or insensitive or both this could have been easily avoided. I hate to say this but just too many of our civil servants are just not up to par these days.
ninacheung
A rule of thumb for distinguishing language and dialect: if two speakers of their respective vernaculars can basically understand each other, they are speaking two dialects of the same language. If they cannot, they are speaking two separate languages. Now try speaking Cantonese to a pure-bred Beijinger and you have your answer.
lamlm38
@superdx: why not declare Hongkong independence while u at it? This way the PRC can send in the tanks to save the 'pain'!
mo yung
One more reason why Hong Kong independence, or Canton independence for that matter, is so desirable.
sudo rm -f cy
Cantonese is a dialect of Yue. Shanghainese is a dialect of Wu. Yue, Wu, and Mandarin are all languages in the Chinese family.
superdx
That's a good idea!
londoner214
When I saw this news heading from the MSN Hong Kong website, I was cautious and would not believe this could be true, until I actually visited the website of the Education Bureau. The issue is not tri-lingualism. It was an attempt to demote Cantonese in the mainstream schools to a second class language, a politically motivated move, very evil indeed. To me, it is like a kind of racial cleansing. Undermining our future generations' competitive edge on the world stage is the hidden agenda. The parents should act now and demand the nut case (混蛋) 吳克儉 to step down, delay no more. You bugger off 吳克儉.
sydmel
Just wonder how many incompetent civil servants are working in the Education Bureau and how many ways they can destroy (or have undermined) the education system of Hong Kong.
CatInAFlap
A dialect is a language without an army. This proves it.
ramesses
Guys, wait till you see all HK Government announcements are made in Mandarin and only crippled Chinese scripts are acceptable . You ain't see nothing yet!

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