Hong Kong must not sideline the English language
English is an amazing language but its intricacies can sometimes get the better of many of us whose mother tongue is Chinese. Take, for example, a court case in which a colleague had to describe the violent action of a defendant in her report. She wrote defendant A allegedly "fisted" victim B. Thankfully, that did not make it into print.
Most of us would have written A allegedly punched B. She was not entirely wrong, though. The victim was hit by a fist. But the subtlety of the English language means that he would have suffered considerably greater internal damage than just being hit in the face. Alas, fisting in English is considerably messier than punching, but how are many English learners to know?
Which brings me to the main point in this column. The standard of English is slipping in Hong Kong and it's alarming. One culprit is clearly the government, as we reported yesterday. The government is increasingly neglecting the use of English in communicating with the media and public while showing a clear preference for Chinese. Chief among the guilty parties is Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who is setting a bad example. In the 12 months to May, he made 61 speeches in Chinese, 28 in English but only six that were delivered either in both languages or had English translations.
In contrast, the city's first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, delivered 49 speeches either in both languages or in Chinese with English translations in 2004. Nine speeches were delivered in Chinese only and two speeches in English only. Tung tirelessly stressed our need to be trilingual to be competitive in the job market and for companies to compete on the world stage. With Leung, there's nary a word about trilingualism; for him, it's all Chinese, most if not all of the time.
And that's why his minions - Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, development chief Paul Chan Mo-po, home affairs minister Tsang Tak-sing, labour and welfare chief Matthew Cheung Kin-chung and financial services chief Professor Chan Ka-Keung - all blog primarily in Chinese.
How is Hong Kong to remain an international city and business hub if we ignore English? Our leaders need to set a good example for others to follow.