• Tue
  • Sep 23, 2014
  • Updated: 1:49pm
NewsHong Kong

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

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.
ridiculous statement - they are indeed different languages not dialects of the same language
Is that not the reason why China has the Potung Hwa or the common language ?
Ask a Cantonese speaker to converse in Shanghainese, Chiu Chau or Hokkien, Tangka or Hoklo
Geordie , cockney & scouse are dialects of English, they are not a different language
It's like saying Welsh is a dialect of English
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.
Official languages and their status and use 30/06/1997
(1) The English & Chinese languages are declared to be the official languages of Hong Kong for the purposes of communication between the Government or any public officer & members of the public & for COURT PROCEEDINGS. (Amended 51 of 1995 s. 2)
(2) The official languages possess equal status &, subject to the provisions of this Ordinance, enjoy equality of use for the purposes set out in subsection (1)
General guidelines
3.1 In January 1998, the then Chief Judge of the High Court, after consultation with the Chief Justice, issued guidelines for judges regarding the use of Chinese (2) in court proceedings. The guidelines seek to assist judges in the exercise of their discretion. They are for reference only, & thus are not binding. In deciding which official language is to be used for conducting hearings, the paramount consideration for the judge is the just & expeditious disposal of the cause or matter, having regard to all the circumstances of the case.
(2) It is the Judiciary's position that the official language of Chinese in its spoken form usually refers to Cantonese but also includes Putonghua.
BUT, the HKG lawbooks are written in Traditional characters not Simplified characters, hai m hai aah ?
There is violating the basic law in the cultural aspect
@superdx: why not declare Hongkong independence while u at it? This way the PRC can send in the tanks to save the 'pain'!
That's a good idea!
How can a language spoken by 97% of the populace not be official?
Time to amend basic law. Throw in universal suffrage while we're at it.
A dialect is a language without an army. This proves it.
The elimination of Cantonese language would be a great loss for the Chinese Culture




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