Carrie Lam brushes aside ‘frivolous’ questions about Cantonese in Hong Kong

Student says chief executive should not blame the public for stirring up the issue about the use of Mandarin in schools

Joshua Lee |

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Chief Executive Carrie Lam dismissed a question on her mother tongue as “frivolous”.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor dismissed public concerns about the status of Cantonese in Hong Kong, saying that recent controversies were a “non-issue”.

This comes after a 2013 Education Bureau document, written by a former Chinese official, came to light. The document said Cantonese cannot be considered a person’s native language because it is only a dialect.

At a question-and-answer session in the Legislative Council last Thursday, social welfare sector lawmaker, Bottle Shiu Ka-chun, asked Lam if Cantonese was her mother tongue. Lam refused to answer, saying the question was “frivolous”.

“In the past the education sector had been politicised, and that’s why in the recent atmosphere some feel they need to stir things up,” Lam said. “It is a non-issue, because we speak Cantonese every day.”

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung echoed Lam’s comments. He said that further discussion of this issue was not necessary. On Wednesday, Yeung also denied that the government had plans to switch to using Mandarin to teach Chinese.

Despite the government’s comments, students told Young Post they were still concerned about the use of Mandarin in schools.

Pacino Leung, 17, from STFA Leung Kau Kui College, said it was “ridiculous” that Lam should blame the public for stirring up the issue.

“I think language is the carrier of a certain culture, and Cantonese carries the collective memories of Hongkongers,” he said. “If newly born kids do not know Cantonese, sometime later Hong Kong culture would be displaced.”

Marcus Kwan, 17, from Munsang College, said Cantonese is his mother tongue. Although his school uses Cantonese to teach Chinese language and Chinese history lessons, Marcus said he was very concerned about the use of Mandarin in local schools. “It’s [Cantonese] the very language we speak in Hong Kong ... it’s also our culture,” he said. “[This issue] is evidence of Chinese intervention in Hong Kong.”

Edited by M. J. Premaratne