It has been widely accepted that the professional standards of the local Chinese-language press are declining. The more passionate practitioners are indeed well aware of the problems and have pleaded guilty on various public occasions. However, some recent criticisms levelled at the fourth estate seem far-fetched and unwarranted. Protests against the use of vernacular Chinese for formal news-writing have become louder since the handover. Some critics insist that publishers in the SAR should adhere to the standard version of written Chinese known as bai hua, or the 'plain language' first introduced by the literal reformer Hu Shi in 1917. The latest assault against this so-called 'cultural sectarianism' in the SAR was carried in Ming Pao Daily last Friday. A guest commentator complained that many mainland and overseas Chinese had found it difficult to comprehend the local variety of Chinese as used by the press in Hong Kong. He went as far as suggesting that Hong Kongers were egotistical. Island nations such as Japan and Taiwan, he argued, had a similar symptom of arrogance. The critic concluded the only solution was for Hong Kong people to start thinking in Putonghua rather than Cantonese. Such a dogmatic view overlooks the reality that the use of language is dictated by geographic and socio-economic realities. Even among speakers who use Putonghua as their mother tongue, deviations from the 'common language' are inevitable. These are often correlated to age, sex, educational background, income and other demographic factors. In fact, vernacular Cantonese usage has sometimes made its way into mainstream Putonghua. About a decade ago when cellular phones were becoming popular in the local market, Hong Kongers dubbed the gadget 'big brother big'. Before the expression had more or less fallen into disuse in Cantonese, it was borrowed by speakers of the national language in other major cities in the country. Cases in which Putonghua features are adopted by Cantonese speakers abound. The figure one hundred million is denoted by the character yi in Chinese. For example, one billion is referred to as 10 yi in Cantonese. A Putonghua speaker, on the other hand, will normally add the word ge between the number and the unit yi. There are an increasing number of people born and bred in Hong Kong adopting the mainland way of specifying their yis. Many scholars have already given up the traditional, prescriptive approach to define how a language should or should not be used. A more liberal, descriptive model has emerged as the main stable of language studies. As early as the 1960s, Randolph Quirk and colleagues undertook an ambitious project known as the Survey of English Usage. They compiled the first large corpus of English-language data consisting of about one million words as they were used in real-life situations. That project laid the foundation of his authoritative work, A Comprehensive Grammar Of The English Language, which has been widely used as a textbook around the world. Instead of declaring what was grammatical, Quirk informed readers that certain percentages of English speakers had opted for one usage over another. Co-editor of the Oxford Companion To The English Language, Tom McArthur went a step further last year by embracing the pluralities in language. His latest work is entitled simply The English Languages. The use of Chinese with a Hong Kong flavour does not necessarily entail xenophobia against the rest of China. Language has a life of its own. Otherwise, Esperanto, the artificial language meant for global communication, would have long since become the genuine Putonghua of the world.