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Language choice and code-switching among Hong Kong’s Hakka speakers


Sherman Lee
Published Online: 2015-04-14 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/glochi-2015-1003


This paper examines the language practices among speakers of Hakka in Hong Kong, a minority Chinese variety still found in the territory. These speakers were largely monolingual a few decades ago but are now primarily bilingual in Hakka and Cantonese as the community shifts towards the latter, the dominant societal language. To explore the process and dynamics of this language shift, the present study adopted an ethnographic approach for observing the actual bilingual behaviours of individuals and families in the community. The informant sample comprised 32 speakers aged between 9 and 82 from nine separate families across Hong Kong. Data was collected through a combination of participant observation, informal interviews and conversational exchanges in the informants’ homes. Examination of their patterns of language choice and language use shows that most of the speakers use Cantonese-dominant patterns, and are ‘shifters’ rather than ‘maintainers’ of the Hakka language; the shift is clearly generation and age-related. The paper also illustrates how bilingual speakers make use of code-switching between Hakka and Cantonese to achieve various discourse purposes in their everyday conversations, suggesting that even among the ‘language shifters’, Hakka remains an important linguistic resource.


這份文章旨在研究香港一個漢語方言少數族群──操客家話者的語用習慣。幾十年前的香港,大部分的客家人都只操單一語言,但隨著社會逐漸傾向廣東話主導,他們現在基本上已同時操客家和廣東話。本研究以民族誌研究方法為導向,透過探索這種語言轉變的過程和動態,深入觀察香港的客家話社區內確實的客廣雙語行為。參加這項研究的合共 32 人,年齡由 9 至 82 歲,來自 9 個家庭。數據來自研究者親身到他們的家庭進行語言交流、觀察和非正式訪問。分析他們的語言選擇和使用方式之後,顯示大部分操客家話者採用以廣東話為主導的模式溝通,屬於客家話的「轉移者」而非「維持者」,而這種變化與年齡和不同輩份有明顯關係。本文亦展示部分雙語者在日常生活中,為了滿足不同言談功能或目的,如何利用語碼轉換交替使用客家話和廣東話。這顯示對於即使是那些被視為「轉移者」的人,客家話仍然是重要的語言資源。

Keywords: Hakka; Hong Kong; language shift; code-switching; Cantonese

關鍵字: 客家; 香港; 語言轉移; 語碼轉換; 廣東話


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About the article

Sherman Lee

Sherman Lee is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Hong Kong Shue Yan University. She obtained her Ph.D. in Hong Kong for research examining language shift among the Hakka population, and her B.A. (Manchester) and M.Phil (Cambridge) from the UK in the fields of linguistics and computer speech. Her current research and teaching interests include sociolinguistics, bilingualism, discourse analysis, English for academic purposes, and research methodology.


Published Online: 2015-04-14

Published in Print: 2015-04-01

Citation Information: Global Chinese, Volume 1, Issue 1, Pages 57–83, ISSN (Online) 2199-4382, ISSN (Print) 2199-4374, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/glochi-2015-1003.

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