In Semester II, 2013/14 (January – May 2014), as part of the capstone course LCOM3001 Cultural dimensions of language and communication (Language and Communication programme, School of English, The University of Hong Kong), final-year students conducted interviews with members of the Hong Kong community, both from the majority Hong Kong Cantonese community and from linguistic minority communities, discussing issues of linguistic diversity, language shift and endangerment. Here are their voices.

 

On language, culture, community, and identity:

Sometimes I feel bad about not being able to teach my children Hakka, I feel like there is something missing in our bond, I think that we would be closer if they can speak Hakka…
~ Hong Kong female of Hakka origin, 50 years old, housewife, speaks Hakka and Cantonese

I have some friends who are mixed, but they have very little knowledge about their culture and can neither speak their mother’s language nor their father’s. Instead they speak Cantonese, because they went to Chinese school. They complain a bit feeling confused about their cultural identity.
~ Nepalese female, 19 years old, HK permanent resident, first-year Social Science student at HKU, native speaker of Nepali and English, can understand Cantonese

My parents know Cantonese very well too. That’s why sometimes we are so used to talking in Cantonese that we will switch automatically to Cantonese when talking to each other.
~ Indian female, 23 years old, Hong Kong-born, Hong Kong permanent resident, City University Hong Kong undergraduate, fluent in English, Hindi, and Cantonese

… One of the greatest problems faced by the linguistic minorities is the loss of cultures and practices. … a lot of traditions and practices of a community are stored in the original dialect, and when the dialect is not used anymore by the next generation those traditions and practices will be lost. So basically to me death of a language means death of that culture.
~ Hong Kong female of Hakka origin, 50 years old, housewife, speaks Hakka and Cantonese

Why do I have to regret [losing the ability in Chiuchau dialect]? I never have a chance to use it.
~ Hong Kong female of Chiuchau origin, 50 years old, native speaker of Cantonese, a little English, passive understanding of Chiuchau

 

On attitudes towards minorities in Hong Kong:

I have never thought that Chinese people speaking their local dialect such as Hakka are also regarded as linguistic minorities in Hong Kong.
~ Hong Kong female, 21 years old, psychology major at the University of Hong Kong

When you hear a young Chinese girl speaking local Chinese dialects such as Hakka or speaking Cantonese with a local dialect accent, very likely you will wonder whether this girl just arrived in Hong Kong from some poor and remote village in China. There is a stigma to these dialects.
~ Hong Kong female, 21 years old, psychology major at the University of Hong Kong

Sometimes they will talk with their peers in Cantonese about me, such as ‘chai mui’ or ‘Indian girl’, not knowing that I fully understand Cantonese.
~ Indian female, 23 years old, Hong Kong-born, Hong Kong permanent resident, City University Hong Kong undergraduate, fluent in English, Hindi, and Cantonese

[Ethnic minorities] can never be recognised as a local even if they are the third generation. Local Hong Kong people don’t respect their culture and language.
~ Hong Kong Cantonese female, 20 years old, half her childhood in Canada, undergraduate at a local HK university

 

On challenges in Hong Kong

The ethnic minorities have always struggled with the education system, especially since Chinese is still not taught as a second language. For Chinese language, we are always at disadvantage because it isn’t our first language so definitely we will struggle with it more when under competition with local Chinese people
~ Nepalese female, 19 years old, HK permanent resident, first-year Social Science student at HKU, native speaker of Nepali and English, can understand Cantonese

I was pressured to assimilate to the local Chinese academic level … I remember that when I came back to Hong Kong, during the summer time before school started, before third grade. My parents kept drilling me to do the first and second grade textbooks … make sure that my Chinese level improves instantly in a very short period. And also when I am associated with other students, there are some words that I don’t know how to write … or even sometimes for very complex things in the Chinese lesson I just don’t get it and that just makes me like the very particularly strange person in class…
~ American-born Hong Kong male, moved back to Hong Kong at age 8, native English speaker, minimal Cantonese, currently working at UC Berkeley

Even some of the ethnic minorities such as Pakistanis and Indians who are born and raised in Hong Kong – they are still struggling with learning proper Cantonese. … The point is that for the lower class ethnic minorities, until they master proficient Cantonese and Chinese, they are still very likely to be taking up manual labour jobs.
~ Indian female, 40s, settled in Hong Kong about 10 years ago

 

On resources such as the Linguisticminorities.HK website:

[78-year-old Chiuchau female in Hong Kong] expresses that she is glad for [the website’s] existence. She laments that it is sad that less and less people speak [the Chiuchau language], but it is good that someone is paying the effort to preserve the culture.

[50-year-old Hakka female in Hong Kong] appreciates LinguisticMinorities.HK a lot and she is glad there is a comprehensive website about linguistic minorities in Hong Kong. She thinks that the website can educate the public more about different linguistic groups in Hong Kong and hence raise awareness of the issue.

[50-year-old Hong Kong Cantonese-speaking female with Chiuchau origins] appreciates the database and projects contained, and agrees that it presents an outline of the language environment in Hong Kong. [She] also finds the issue worth discussing and she suggests it should be promoted to different generations to raise awareness. While younger generations are the passive culture receivers, from the view of minority language/dialect, older generations can take a more active role in preserving and developing it if they have more ideas about the issue. “As a matter of fact, you should share this issue with the elderly…”

[A 21-year-old Pakistani male raised in Hong Kong] believes that LinguisticMinorities.HK … helps h in getting to know more about his race and his counterparts in Hong Kong.

[20-year-old Indian female raised in Hong Kong] really appreciates the attempt to raise awareness of linguistic minorities, since there are really few websites in Hong Kong mentioning linguistic minorities, and LinguisticMinorities.HK is the first minorities-related website [she] browsed.

 

The interviews were conducted by the following students from LCOM3001, Semester II, 2013/14: Joey Au Wing Man, Rachel Chan Cheuk Lun, Sharon Chan Cheuk Yan, Michelle Chan Ka Hay, Chan Kin Sing, Elaine Chan Yi Ying, Beattie Cho, Fong Hui Yi, Fong Hui Ying, Irene Hau Chi Shan, Ruby Kan Cheuk Yan, Amy Kwok Yan Ying, Kwong Oi Yee, Mia Qi Qi, Chris Ma Ka Chun, Samson Wong Ki-Sum, Clio Wong Lai Hung, Queenie Wu Ki Yan, Lord Yeung.

 

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