My Take

Politicians must stop abuse of English

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 May, 2014, 4:27am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 May, 2014, 4:27am

If any proof is needed for the decline of English standards in Hong Kong, just take a look at the latest performance of DAB lawmaker Christopher Chung Shu-kun.

I am sure MTR chief executive Jay Walder deserved all the criticism heaped on him in the legislature, but Chung could have done it with better language skills. After all, children and students may be listening. After starting his diatribe in Cantonese, the steward of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong abruptly switched to English.

"Shame! Shame on you!" he said. "You are dreaming on your office or you are not attended at your office. Answer me."

Without giving Walder a chance to respond, he concluded: "I don't think so law."

In Cantonese, we like to end a sentence with la or law for emphasis. In informal settings, we may also mix it with English words and sentences. But in the more august surroundings of the Legislative Council chamber, proper language usage - whether in Chinese or English - should be observed. Actually, Chung didn't quite say shame. It sounded more like: "Shave! Shave on you!"

Walder is almost bald. Was Chung demanding that he shave off everything? Who knows?

The legislator defended his English on radio yesterday, saying everyone speaks with an accent and even native speakers make grammatical mistakes. Not like him though. Someone helpfully sent him a message explaining what he should have said: "You've been daydreaming in your office! You've not been attentive to your work!" Quite!

Chung has no excuse for speaking English poorly. He earned his master's degree in Glasgow and an MBA in Wales. Yet there was not a hint of a Scottish or Welsh accent in his English, which sounded as if he never went overseas. You begin to suspect poor English is a requirement to be a DAB member. Just ask Gary "try my breast" Chan Hak-kan and Starry Lee Wai-king, who pronounced "infrastructure" during a reading of Letter to Hong Kong on RTHK as "yin fa struck cheung", making it sound like "fireworks hit the wall" in Cantonese.

I realise the DAB is a patriotic group. This does not mean we should abuse the English language.