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Uniquely Hong Kong

Driving Cantonese out of Hong Kong would change the city’s culture

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 May, 2018, 3:52pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 May, 2018, 3:51pm

I refer to Mike Rowse’s opinion piece on depoliticising the mother tongue conversation (May 20). Unfortunately, it seems that he wants to have it both ways. He mentions that, in Guangdong, the government has extended the use of Mandarin as a medium of instruction in schools and has therefore decreased the use of Cantonese in the region. At the same time, he says Cantonese can “be a thriving language alongside” Mandarin here in Hong Kong. My question is, how? 

Language to most people is akin to culture and Hong Kong – with its Cantonese-speaking culture – is unique. As a teacher in local schools, I see the difficulties students face, not just in their studies, but in finding a way to identify themselves in the world. 

Cantonese is not taught in schools here. It is used as a medium of instruction, but that is not the same thing. Students are not explicitly taught Cantonese in the same ways that Mandarin and English are. For that reason, the language has already found itself being de-emphasised. 

While Cantonese, as Mr Rowse aptly mentioned, is not unique to Hong Kong, the way in which it is employed here is very much so. The slang and euphemisms that are employed in the Cantonese style of speaking are so central to the idea of being a Hongkonger that to replace it with Mandarin would be to wipe clean the slate and replace it with a purely mainland identity. 

Debate over Cantonese and the handover highlight Hongkongers’ feeling of political helplessness

If Mr Rowse cannot see that this option is the most preferable for the mainland government, then he hasn’t been paying attention. 

In my comparatively short 10 years here in Hong Kong, I have seen the swift changes already driven by corporations and money. Progress is erasing the more local landscape. Mandarin’s march to become the language of Hong Kong is the last step in changing the culture for ever. 

Ray Patton, Wong Tai Sin