Why save Cantonese?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am


Students at the University of Hong Kong have spelled out the reasons they believe Cantonese should be saved amid predictions that the language is in danger of dying out. Here are some of their views in an essay assignment on the effects of the disappearance of the language set by Associate Professor of Linguistics Stephen Matthews:

'If Cantonese becomes extinct, some of our cultural heritage would follow suit. Cantonese opera would not be sustainable and beautiful lyrics such as 'falling flowers at night hiding the moon from sight' from the opera The Flower Princess would be lost forever. It would be a cultural disaster.'

Tsui Wa-han

'Unique Cantonese expressions such as 'a gloomy face', 'to connive' and 'free' would be lost. It is difficult to translate Cantonese into other languages without change in its intrinsic meaning. These variations among languages give colour to the world and avoid homogeneity. The language garden analogy by [Professor Ofelia] Garcia [of The City University of New York] suggests that it would be boring to see all flowers of the same colour in all gardens when travelling around the world; varieties of shapes, sizes and colours of flowers enrich our visual and aesthetic experience. Like ecological diversity, linguistic diversity contributes to an interesting and colourful world.'

Wu Kin-fai

'The death of Cantonese may cause the decline of the cultural identity of Hong Kong people. A region's language is used in ceremonies and myths and folklore. Once the language is lost, ceremonies, myths and other elements of our culture will also be lost. For example, pop songs in Cantonese like Under the Lion Rock, television programmes and even colloquial expressions like 'playing unfairly to one's own advantage' will be lost - as well as our sing-song intonation.'

Leung Chin-hung