Think about Hong Kong – and the image of Chinese dragons and signs in Chinese characters, the smells of dimsum and herbal medicine shops, and the experience of kungfu cinema, Cantonese soap operas and Cantopop may all come to mind. The official language policy of “biliteracy and trilingualism” – meaning English, Cantonese and Putonghua (Mandarin) – also serves to underline what may seem a Chinese-dominant context. But Hong Kong far from being homogeneous and mono-/bi-lingual. Numerous and varied ethnic groups, with their diversity of languages, co-exist in this ecology. This website is about and for these communities.

Linguistic minorities in Hong Kong

LinguisticMinorities.HK brings together information, resources and state-of-the-art research on the linguistic situations of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. These include the following communities, who moved or were moved from mainland China or other Asian countries as a result of historical events or periods such as China’s civil war, and British colonisation, as well as more contemporary economic migration: Chinese minorities like the traditional boat-dwellers known as Tanka, and the Weitou community in their New Territories walled villages, and other Chinese immigrant groups of the early 1900s like the Chiu Chau, Hakka, Hokkien, and Shanghainese; South Asians, including peoples from Nepal (many of whom are descendants of the Gurkhas from 1948), India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh; Southeast Asian groups, including the Thai community, many of whom are in the restaurant business, and the Filipino and Indonesian communities, of whom a large proportion comprise domestic workers; and newer immigrants of the African diaspora largely involved in trade. They are considered linguistic minorities in Hong Kong, not only because linguistic minority status[1] is granted to those people whose language background, determined by country of birth or home environment, includes languages other than Cantonese, English and Putonghua – and this group comprises some 5% of the Hong Kong population – but more crucially because, in one way or another, these communities face tensions or challenges as they negotiate their linguistic choices in the context of Hong Kong. This may manifest in the common phenomenon of language shift across generations, where the younger generations, born and/or raised in Hong Kong are Cantonese-dominant, and who no longer actively use the language of their grandparents and/or parents. In those communities considered and categorized as ‘Chinese’, apart from the language shift in families and communities, the issue of using Chinese in education is not viewed as a problem. In other communities, in contrast, such as in the South Asian communities, the challenge is not only the shift within the family and community, but also the use of Chinese/Cantonese vs mother-tongue education in schools. Language shift may also lead to language endangerment in the smaller communities, for instance for the Tanka language of the traditional boat-dwelling peoples. Or the challenge may simply be the everyday negotiations in their communicative practices involving their mother tongue(s) as positioned alongside other languages of global and local significance, such as Cantonese, Putonghua, and English, in a multilingual setting in the areas of linguistic diversity, multilingualism, language shift and endangerment, and language and globalization.

The significance of linguistic diversity

LinguisticMinorities.HK aims to raise awareness amongst the wider community of, more generally, the significance of linguistic and cultural diversity, and, more specifically, the various less-thought-about multilingual communities in Hong Kong, who face challenges in their communicative practices which involve their mother tongue(s) as positioned alongside other languages of global and local significance. Through awareness, a subsequent aim is then to cultivate an understanding of the complexities of contemporary social and political issues of language in the context of globalization – such as the positioning of languages of global significance and the fine balance struck with other local languages for sustainability in multilingual, cosmopolitan contexts of Asia – which allows for intelligent, significant and responsible contributions to society. This contributes, amongst other things, to fulfilling the sixth of HKU’s educational aims, involving the responsibility that each individual has to make informed and significant contributions to society, for sustainability and the advancement of the human condition.

Knowledge Exchange

The LinguisticMinorities.HK project is a Knowledge Exchange Impact Project, supported by the KE Funding Exercise 2012/13, University Grants Council, Hong Kong. Principal Investigator: Dr. Lisa Lim, School of English, The University of Hong Kong; Research Assistant: Theo Lee. The knowledge encompassed in this website encompasses (a) various national surveys and statistics, governmental and non-governmental, on ethnic minorities, language use, etc. (b) published research in the field; (c) research from fieldwork-based research projects on HK linguistic minorities conducted by students and faculty in courses and research projects in HKU. Amongst other things, it brings together all the complementary teaching and research that goes on in the Faculty of Arts of The University of Hong Kong, in the programmes of English Studies, Language and Communication, and Linguistics, thus creating a consolidated platform and showcase for the exceptional research and knowledge generated at HKU.

[1] A linguistic minority or language minority refers to a minority of the population who speaks a language other than the official language(s) or the language(s) the majority speaks in an area or territory. A separation is sometimes made between national and ethnic minority language groups. In the European context, minority languages are ‘‘languages that are traditionally used within a given territory of a state by nationals of that state who form a group numerically smaller than the rest of the state’s population and which is different from the official language(s) of that state’’. Thornberry et al (2004) Minority Rights In Europe: A Review of the Work and Standards of the Council of Europe. p. 141.

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