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T E R E N C E T. T. PA N G
Does Hong Kong have an English of its own or was it a prospect that failed to thrive?
IS THERE such a thing as a ‘language variety’, and, if there is, what criteria are there for establishing the existence of a particular variety in a particular place? Most approaches tend to focus on both the features exhibited by local users of the language and any standards imposed by experts and by tertiary institutions, paying less attention to such sociological considerations as diglossia, language attitudes, and speaker identities. Traditionally, ‘Hong Kong English’ has been regarded as non-existent (cf. Luke and Richards, 1982), or commentators have argued that there has been no motivation for the ‘indigenization’ of English in the territory (cf. Tay, 1991:327), or, more recently, that ‘English has a minimal social or cultural role to play in the lives of the vast majority of the territory’s Chinese community’ (Evans, 2000:191). However, in a recent issue of World Englishes (19:3) as well as in the volume Hong Kong English: Autonomy and creativity (Bolton, ed., 2002b) it has been argued that Hong Kong English does exist (cf. Bolton; Chan; Hung; Gisborne; Benson; and Bolton & Lim: all 2000). In addition, in McArthur’s Oxford Guide to World English (2002), certain features of ‘Hong Kong English’ are explicated in detail, making interesting reading. Kachru (1983) notes that certain conditions exist in the acculturation and localization of transplanted varieties of English. In the development of a non-native transplanted variety in particular, I would suggest that a distinction be made between localization and indigenization. By localization, I mean that a language variety develops its own characteristics in such aspects as phonology, syntax, lexis and grammar (cf. McArthur, 2002). By indigenization, I
mean the acceptance by the local community of the existence of a local variety of a language in wide use in day-to-day communication. Kachru also draws a distinction between ‘performance variety’ and ‘institutionalized variety’. The ﬁrst term refers to varieties used as foreign languages, as with Iranian English and Japanese English, in which the modiﬁers refer to geographical and national performance characteristics. The varieties are used in highly restricted contexts like those of tourism, commerce and other international transactions. Institutionalized varieties, on the other hand, are well established within a territory and used for many different social functions.
TERENCE T. T. PANG is an assistant professor in the English Department of Lingnan University, Hong Kong. He started out as a historian, but during his M.Phil. research at the History Department of the University of Hong Kong digressed into applied linguistics during his research into the compilation of local gazetteers of the Qing Dynasty in China. He also has an M.A. (Distinction) in TESL at the City University of Hong Kong and a Ph.D. from the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. His research interests are multi- and inter-disciplinary. His recent publications include a chapter in Ann John’s ‘Genre in the Classroom’, a research monograph, ‘The Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant debate: Social drama and hegemonic struggle’, published by the Asian Business History Centre, the University of Queensland, and an article on early colonial language education in Hong Kong in ‘Australian Language Matters’. His other interests include critical applied linguistics, self-access learning and language testing.
English Today 74, Vol. 19, No. 2 (April 2003). Printed in the United Kingdom © 2003 Cambridge University Press
In many cases, a transplanted variety of English, such as Singaporean or Indian English, is not only institutionalized but both localized and indigenized. In other cases, however, a variety may be localized, displaying characteristics of its own, like English spoken in Japan, but is not indigenized, the locals denying that there is such a variety as ‘Japanese English’. Here, the crucial factor is motivation. The community at large has to acknowledge that (many of) its members speak a distinctive variety of English which has departed from assumed Inner Circle ‘nativespeaker’ norms. Indigenization is impossible when a community denies the existence of a local variety of English and continues to seek exonormative reference and reassurance. In this regard, Kachru notes (1983:39):
A variety may exist, but unless it is recognized and accepted as a model it does not acquire a status. A large majority of the non-native speakers of institutionalised varieties of English use a local variety of English, but when told so, they are hesitant to accept the fact.
This is very much the case in Hong Kong. There are indeed well-documented features of Hong Kong English, but locals prefer to believe that they are not speaking a local variety and consider that some of the features of local usage are errors. Kachru comments: ‘In the development of non-native models two processes seem to work simultaneously: the attitudinal process, and the linguistic process’ (1983:39). The attitudinal process is crucial to indigenization while the linguistic process is crucial to localization. The absence of indigenization may not imply that the community possesses a general negative predisposition towards English. Instead, sometimes it is reverence for a native-speaker variety that hinders indigenization. In this paper I argue that English in Hong Kong has been localized to a large extent but is not (yet) indigenized. I will touch on the evidence for localization only brieﬂy as this has been thoroughly explored in recent literature (cf. Bolton, 2002a). My concern here is the reasons for the non-indigenization of English in Hong Kong.
the presence of distinctive phonological, grammatical, syntactic and lexical features is an undeniable fact, but to unwilling locals this is hardly a convincing argument, as these may be considered interlanguage features, both in the sense of errors and as displaying mothertongue (mostly Cantonese) inﬂuences that fall short of target-language norms. Indeed, Platt reported in 1982 that English spoken in Hong Kong was considered a learner’s language, varying according to an individual’s development rather than his or her place in a ‘lectal continuum’. While outside observers can readily point out distinctive features of a local variety of English, speakers of that variety may still deny its existence (or validity). While they are quick to point out that Singaporeans possess a distinctive accent, very few people in Hong Kong would openly acknowledge that Hong Kong people also speak with a distinctive local accent. I will now brieﬂy outline evidence for the localization and indigenization of English in Hong Kong, drawing upon two sources: Bolton (2002b) and Kachru (1983). On the one hand, Bolton adopts the criteria advanced by Butler (1997) for the existence of a variety of world English: 1 a standard and recognizable accent 2 a distinctive vocabulary to express key features of the physical and social environment 3 a distinctive history 4 creative writing, ‘written without apology’ 5 reference works, such as dictionaries, etc. On the other hand, Kachru (1983) has postulated that institutionalized varieties are characterized by: A the length of time in use B the extension of their use C the emotional attachment of L2 users to particular varieties D their functional importance E their sociolinguistic status Kachru draws a distinction between performance varieties and institutionalized varieties of English. The former refers to varieties used as foreign languages: for example, the identiﬁcation modiﬁers in Iranian English or Japanese English refer to geographical or national performance characteristics. Such varieties are used in highly restricted contexts like those of tourism, commerce and other international transactions. Institutionalized varieties, on the
Evidence for the existence of Hong Kong English
Various criteria have been advanced for the existence of a language variety. To the linguist,
HONG KONG ENGLISH: A STILLBORN VARIETY?
other hand, are those that are well established and used for many different social functions. Bolton’s strongest argument is that a Hong Kong accent exists, and a substantial number of respondents to a survey (cf. Bolton & Kwok, 1990) indicated a preference for the accent. Despite the rather small sample sizes of both that survey and a later study by Hung (2002), the existence of a distinctive Hong Kong accent is undeniable. Similarly convincing is the existence of distinctive items of Hong Kong vocabulary, which consists of such transliterations from Chinese as bak choy and such local terms as almond cream. Somewhat less convincing is the claim made for the existence of a local English literary scene. Most of the works cited by Bolton (2002b) and Bolton & Lim (2002) are for international rather than local consumption. Bolton & Lim note that ‘English language writers represented here… are cosmopolitan….’ (p. 305). They also note that Timothy Mo’s Monkey King ‘is a vividly imagined representation of Hong Kong social community in the 1950s’ and that Louise Ho and Agnes Lam’s poetry appeal to an international English language tradition’, features which may not greatly interest local people, especially the majority which favours Cantonese as the medium for artistic expression and literary creativity. Halliday (1998) notes that ‘Chinese is a language that has long been used as a medium of literature and technology [and] there is no need to move into another language just in order to become an educated citizen’ (p. 31). Unless therefore the literature is appropriated by the locals and acknowledged as part of their literary tradition, the existence of a few literary works pertaining to local cultural and social scenes does not validate the existence of a local variety of English, especially when the works are not written in the local language variety, abundantly displaying its syntactic, grammatical and lexical features. As far as the historical dimension is concerned, it all depends on whether it is a history of localization, of the imposition of native-speaker norms, or of pidginization or creolization. Localization in fact occurred early in language contact: even before Hong Kong was ceded to Britain, a pidgin had developed along the China coast. However, soon after the British took over, efforts were made to promote an exonormative standard. Thus, the Inspector of Schools’ Report for 1879 specif14
ically proposed the teaching of ‘good English’ to counterbalance the effects of pidgin (Bickley, 2002:216). As a result of such a goal, and despite a long history of using the language freely in local ways, people may not recognize the local variety as legitimate. Recent years have seen the re-emergence of a quasi-creole caused by extensive mixing of English lexis in a Cantonese base (Pennington, 1994). These forces have all been unfavourable to the localization of English in Hong Kong. There is still no standard reference work on Hong Kong English, but Bolton, Hung & Nelson are compiling a computer database of English in Hong Kong (cf. Bolton, 2002b). Local teachers, however, given their extremely strong exonormative preference, would probably discourage their students from using any reference works on Hong Kong English that might be based on a work of reference associated with this database (cf. Tsui & Bunton, 2002). Eager to advance the notion that Hong Kong English is a legitimate variety, Bolton (2002b) argues that Hong Kong is not a monolingual, but rather a multilingual society, citing the drastic expansion in the number of people who possessed some knowledge of the English language in the 1980s and 1990s, the common use of written English in ofﬁce work, and, according to a survey by Bacon-Shone and Bolton (1998), the common use of an English name, the use of English in writing cheques (many people having relatives in an Englishspeaking country), and the common use of code-mixing in various conversations. While not querying the sampling method, I would say that such data still does not point to the fact that English has become a common lingua franca in Hong Kong, as it has in Singapore. An indicator of localization, and to a certain extent of indigenization, is that subvarieties develop within a variety, i.e. there are a number of registers for different purposes in different contexts. However Luke & Richards (1982) remark: ‘There is no equivalent of the mesolectal or basilectal speech styles found, for example, in Singapore… since there is no equivalent range of English speech varieties in regular use by Hong Kong Chinese’ (pp. 55–6). However, as noted by Bolton & Lim (2002), the local humorist Nury Vittachi distinguishes two varieties of English in Hong Kong – ‘Chinglish’, being ‘a form of Standard English riddled with errors in need of eradication, and “Hong Kong English”, with its unique usages that mark the
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English of the place’ (p. 307). There is little subvariation and, like many, Vittachi also prefers an exonormative standard for Hong Kong. Factors crucial to indigenization are items B, C, D, and E on Kachru’s list. Emotional attachment is the number one factor. If a variety is not regarded as substandard and acquires a legitimate status, then it is certainly indigenized. Other indicators are that the local variety is used extensively, in both functional terms and frequency of use. If the people speak the variety more than any other language or as much as another language, then it has certainly acquired currency. If people use it not only for instrumental or regulative functions but also for integrative functions like phatic communion, then it is certainly accepted as a common variety. I will now turn to the status and functions of different languages in Hong Kong, in an attempt to show why English is not – yet – used extensively enough as a local language.
Unlike Singapore, where English has from very early days been an inter-ethnic lingua franca for a multi-racial society (cf. Chew, 1999), English in Hong Kong has ﬁrst been the language of the governing race, and therefore of law and administration, then the language of international trade and finance. Boyle (1997:176) argues that the colonial government did not need to impose English in Hong Kong, as ‘Hong Kong Chinese have always wanted English’. As early as 1865, a rapid attrition rate was recorded at the prime government school, Central School (now Queen’s College) as ‘there is such a demand for English-speaking Chinese that many of the boys leave as soon as they can perform the duties of compositors or copying clerks’ (Report on Education for the Year 1865). Stokes (1962) notes: ‘[A]n unfortunate result of the “cash value” of learning English was a rapid turnover of students, a frequent cause of complaint by the headmaster… . In 1870 twenty-nine of the thirty-six boys in Class 1… left before the end of the year’ (p.24). Pang (forthcoming) observes: “The social capital of the English language was readily grasped by the Chinese families. The parents, mostly traders, wanted their boys to learn English not for scholarship but ‘to carry on
HONG KONG ENGLISH: A STILLBORN VARIETY?
their business or start new ones’” (Cheng, no date, cited in Stokes, 1962:32). Today, believing that English standards are falling in local schools, the number of parents sending their children overseas for an English-speaking education has been rising. According to Commissioner of Education Fanny Law, the percentage of local Chinese students attending international schools in Hong Kong has also risen from 6.8% in 1997 to 11.1% in 2001. Hong Kong’s status as an international ﬁnancial centre reinforces the belief in the importance of speaking and writing English of an internationally acceptable standard. The sociolinguistic situation in Hong Kong decides that most young people tend to regard English as important on the one hand, but will not use it in daily life on the other (cf. Pennington, 1994). Many language surveys have indicated that English is regarded as a ‘high’ language, and Axler, Yang and Steven (1998) report a questionnaire survey conducted in 1993 that secondary students no longer felt their Chinese identity threatened by the use of English. Instead, they regarded English as the mark of an educated person, and believed that the use of English was one of the most crucial factors in Hong Kong’s prosperity and development. Paradoxically, it is exactly this positive value attached to the English language that hinders its indigenization. The local people have always also wanted to keep standards very high, refusing to admit the existence of features like a local accent or to treat certain local usages as normal or grammatical. Such an attitude is especially true for the gatekeepers of language standards, i.e. language teachers (cf. Tsui & Bunton, 2002). The instrumental and regulative functions played by English in Hong Kong, coupled with its high social status, means that the reference of the language remains exonormative (i.e., an external standard based on a native speaker variety like RP), not endonormative. The triglossic situation means that different languages perform different social, cultural and economic functions. English remains weak in terms of interpersonal functions. Unlike the situation in Singapore (where Chinese, Malays and Indians constitute substantial numbers in the population, necessitating a lingua franca), over 95% of Hong Kong people speak Cantonese, which is often sprinkled with words from English, Putonghua and other languages. It is used in most arenas, including classrooms
(about three-quarters of secondary schools), law courts, cinemas (most ﬁlms are Cantonese), karaoke bars (Canto-pop is more popular than English or Putonghua songs), and television (90% of viewers prefer the local Cantonese channels). Only 114 secondary schools in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HK SAR) have been allowed to use English as the medium of instruction while the rest, about 300, use Chinese for subjects other than the English language (Evans, 2000). Apart from random inter-ethnic communication like that involving expatriates, and between locals and their Filipino domestic helpers, the lingua franca in Hong Kong remains Cantonese, as evident in the conversation between local Chinese, South Asians, Thais, Indonesians and Nepalese. The Cantonese-speaking population actually ﬁnd it embarrassing to speak to one another in English (Pennington, 1994). However, Putonghua is emerging as the language of tourism, academic exchange with universities in China, and government: Hong Kong people have been writing Chinese in this variety for more than a century. The high status of English was both the result of former colonial policy and persistent demand for it as social capital by the local community. Lin (1996) argues that the pre1997 government’s policies in civil service recruitment and professional accreditation promoted the rise of English as a dominant linguistic resource with socioeconomic implications. In addition, Pennington (1994:87) observes that the status of English is that of an auxiliary or secondary language. She explains the phenomenon as follows:
Given the history of British dominion over Hong Kong and the fact that the Englishspeaking and Cantonese-speaking populations of Hong Kong are mostly quite separate communities in terms of work, play, and residence, the social distance between the English and the Cantonese speech communities and “the strict functional separation between English and Cantonese” (Lin, 1990, p. 5) are not surprising. Considering these facts, the status of English as an auxiliary or secondary language in Hong Kong has probably been the reality for some time (p. 87).
variety is most likely a slow and painstaking process. However, in recent years, English has assumed an additional interpersonal function: a lot of electronic messages in ICQ are in English. The localization of English in ICQ signals a form of appropriation of the language by the community. Unlike the usual code-mixing in conversations where the base is Cantonese, in ICQ messages English is the base mixed with Cantonese expressions and most notably with interjectory particles. However, whether this will contribute to the evolution of a local variety remains to be seen.
A certain linguistic purism permeates Hong Kong society: a preference for centrist standards (the ‘high’ British or American varieties), historical precedents (even archaic forms, as in the case of some Cantonese pronunciation), and resentment of any deviation from the norm. This purism is also characterized by a constant lamentation that standards are falling. Evans (2000) documents a series of representative texts all pointing to falling levels of English-language proﬁciency among local students and workers. Starting with Josiah Lau’s English for one minute on a Chinese television channel some ten years ago, TV programs and newspaper columns that seek to teach correct grammar, proper expressions and pronunciation in both English and Chinese have been very popular. The desire for grammar instruction is insatiable. One of my M.A. students recently attacked a Hong Kong textbook for its piecemeal approach to teaching grammar: “Students can never get the whole picture of English grammar. Students are always troubled by questions like ‘What is the difference between adjectives and adverbs?’, ‘How to use the tenses correctly?’ etc.” (Hsu, 2002). Tsui & Bunton (2002) note: “The exonormative attitudes of Hong Kong’s English teachers, in common with those of the government and the business community, still show a preference for Standard English in formal communication” (2002:75). The predominance of such attitudes has resulted in policies like the “English in the Workplace” campaign, which gives employees in the business sector the opportunity to sit for overseas examinations like those operated by UCLES (University of Cambridge
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The limited use of English, especially the spoken form, means that the emergence of a local
Local Examination Syndicate) and Pitman (cf. Tsui & Bunton). There is a high level of intolerance of nonstandard features, although the self-same features continue in everyday use. In a survey in a secondary school regarding the acceptance of certain expressions such as “I am a sales” (salesperson) and “May I have a cup of milk tea”, most respondents realize that these are non-standard forms, and the higher-form students (perhaps owing to the pressure to use standard forms in public examinations) are inclined not to use them (cf. Chu, 2002). This probably reﬂects the predominant attitude in Hong Kong: “Yes, the non-standard forms are commonly found, but I do not use them” – although they do, of course. I have argued in this paper that the mass of Hong Kong people will not easily accept that a distinctive Hong Kong English exists. The sociolinguistic situation in Hong Kong is increasingly triglossic (in terms of Cantonese, Putonghua, and English), each language serving distinct functions while a dominant ideology of linguistic purism causes people to seek for outside standards with regard to both English and Putonghua. I have also argued that for a language variety to subsist, localization is not enough. Indigenization is also necessary, but Hong Kong teachers will not rely on local norms in the classroom, even though reference works may be available in future. An attitude of ambivalence towards language and pragmatic norms is very obvious in the community. On the one hand, linguistic purism goes unchallenged. On the other, in actual practice, people do use languages in various creative ways. Hong Kong people do not prefer to appropriate the English language through the ‘normal’ channels of localization and indigenization. Instead, they appropriate English into Cantonese through code-mixing, code-switching, and the use of loanwords (cf. Pennington, 1996 & 1998, and Li, 2002). Although the linguistic culture of Hong Kong tends to be conservative, the community is dynamic, innovative and ﬂexible in many different ways. Thus, while they insist on speaking and writing Standard English (whatever that may mean), and resist the development of a local variety of English, they appropriate the English language by absorbing it into their own language through relexiﬁcation (as evident in the use of loan words), regrammatisation (as evident in code-mixing) and rediscoursalisaHONG KONG ENGLISH: A STILLBORN VARIETY?
tion (as evident in code-switching). Such language use is not only indicative of an inventive and dynamic culture, but also various pragmatic norms and conventions. English survives in Hong Kong mainly as an acrolect, not serving an integrationist function. However, a change is seeping in with technological applications. Email and ICQ English are both integrationist and basilectal, with a lot of local features. Such appropriation may eventually facilitate the indigenisation of English in Hong Kong. References
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Kong: Status and functions.’ In English World Wide, 3(1), pp. 47–64. Macquarie 2000. Grolier International Dictionary: World English in an Asian context. Sydney: Macquarie Dictionary Company Limited. McArthur, T. 2002. The Oxford Guide to World English. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press. Pang, T.T.T. (forthcoming). ‘Orientalism and English as social capital: Early colonial education policies in Hong Kong.’ In Australian Language Matters, 10. Pennington, M. 1994. Forces shaping a dual code society: An interpretive review of the literature on language use and language attitudes in Hong Kong. Research Report, 35. Hong Kong: Department of English, City University of Hong Kong. —. 1996. ‘Cross-language effects in biliteracy.’ In Language and Education, 10, pp. 254–272. —. 1998. Ed., Language in Hong Kong at century’s end. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. Platt, J.T. 1982. ‘English in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.’ In R. W. Bailey & M. Görlach, eds., English as a world language, pp. 384–414. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Stokes, G. 1962. Queen’s College, 1862–1962. Hong Kong: Queen’s College. Tay, M.W.J. 1991. ‘Southeast Asia and Hong Kong.’ In Cheshire, J., ed., English around the world: Sociolinguistic perspectives, pp. 319–32. Cambridge: University Press. Tsui, A.B.M., & D. Bunton. 2002. ‘The discourse and attitudes of English language teachers in Hong Kong.’ In Bolton, K., ed., 2002a.
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