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The Hong Kong Cantonese language: Current features and future prospects

香港粵語: 現代特徵與未來前圖

Robert S. Bauer
Published Online: 2016-09-13 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/glochi-2016-0007


As the contemporary Chinese language has evolved into various distinguishable varieties across East and Southeast Asian speech communities, the term pluricentric (i. e. having multiple centers or standards) has appropriately been applied to it. Because the development of the Chinese variety as spoken and written in Hong Kong has been profoundly influenced by a unique congeries of social, economic, political, cultural, environmental, historical, and linguistic factors intrinsically linked to Hong Kong, it systematically differs from those varieties used in mainland China and on Taiwan. Hong Kong’s predominant, most widely-used speech variety is Cantonese: this is to say that 90 % of the ethnic Chinese population of about 6.5 million speak it as their usual, daily language. The Hong Kong Cantonese language has acquired an extraordinary status due to its distinctive vocabulary and indigenous Chinese characters, identifiably colloquial phonetic features, highly conventionalized written form, large inventory of English loanwords borrowed through phonetic transliteration, and tradition of lexicography combined with romanization. Although Cantonese predominates in Hong Kong, however, at the same time, a worrying trend is the increasing number of schools switching their medium of instruction from Cantonese to Putonghua, just one noticeable difference between now and 1997 when Hong Kong, a British Crown Colony since 1841, was returned to China’s sovereignty as a Special Administrative Region. The Hong Kong speech community’s attitudes toward Cantonese are contradictory: some people denigrate it as “a coarse, vulgar relic of China’s feudal past” that should be replaced by Putonghua, the national language, while others praise it for preserving ancient rimes and extol it for expressing social, political, and cultural differences that set Hong Kong apart from mainland China. That Cantonese continues to decline in Guangzhou may be a harbinger of things to come in Hong Kong. Ironically, the Hong Kong government’s recognition of the Cantonese language as intangible cultural heritage which would seem to be a good status for it to have, on the contrary, has made some people fear it could become extinct in the future.

現代漢語逐漸發展成各種可區別的語言變體, 遍及東亞、東南亞洲的語言社區, 以多中心語言一詞應於這種狀況最為恰當。香港的漢語變體在說話和書寫的發展中, 一直深受連繫了香港自身, 結集了社會、經濟、政治、文化、環境、歷史、語言性的獨特因素影響, 因此, 香港的漢語與中國大陸和臺灣的漢語變體之間, 有相當多系統性的差異。 在香港最普遍使用的語言變體是粵語: 就是說六百五十萬的漢族人口當中, 有九成通常、日常都說粵語。香港粵語獲得非凡地位, 是由於它具有與別不同的詞彙和本土漢字、可辨認的口語語音特徵、 高度約定俗成的書面語、大量通過音譯而來的英語借詞、詞典編纂結合拉丁化的傳統。粵語雖然在香港佔主導地位, 但是同時有令人憂慮的趨勢, 那是越來越多學校把教學語言從粵語轉為普通話; 現時回歸中國主權作為特別行政區的香港, 與 1997當年仍屬自1841 年開始成為英國殖民地的香港, 二者的明顯分別, 從中可見一斑。 香港語言社區對粵語態度矛盾: 有人貶低粵語為一種粗糙、庸俗的封建時代遺物, 應該以普通話, 即國語, 取而代之; 但亦有人稱許粵語保留古韻, 讚譽粵語表現出令香港有別於中國大陸的社會、政治、文化差異。粵語在廣州的日漸衰落, 可能是香港發生的許多事情的一個預示。諷刺的是, 香港政府承認粵語為非物質文化遺產, 似乎是給予粵語一個很好的地位, 反而令有些人憂慮粵語將會消亡。

Keywords: Cantonese language; Cantonese lexicography; colloquial register; English loanword; Hong Kong Chinese; phonetic features; morphosyllable; pluricentric language; Putonghua; standard language; written Cantonese


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About the article

Published Online: 2016-09-13

Published in Print: 2016-09-01

Citation Information: Global Chinese, Volume 2, Issue 2, Pages 115–161, ISSN (Online) 2199-4382, ISSN (Print) 2199-4374, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/glochi-2016-0007.

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