Background and current situation of Hakka in Hong Kong

The name “Hakka” itself in Chinese means “visitors”, and indeed the language is considered somewhat foreign, judging from the fact that it is brought to Hong Kong after the original indigenous residents (being the “five families” who speaks Wei Tau Language”) by immigrants from Ka Ying State, which is an area in Guangxi provenice, China, that was suffering from over-population at that time. After the Chinese civil war in the 1950’s, many more Chinese people fled to Hong Kong, bringing in many other languages and dialects exemplified by Chiuchow, Shangainese, Hokkien and so on; the usage of Hakka in Hong Kong was hence diluted. With the announcement of Cantonese as one of the official languages, usage of Hakka gradually fades out. The sharp decrease of population speaking Hakka in Hong Kong from 15.1% in 1911 to only 1.1% in 2006 provides a good indication of the decline. The 2011 Hong Kong Census revealed that only around 80,000 people claimed to be able to speak Hakka, compared to the some 7 million population at that time.

NOTE: says Ka Ying state is an area in NE Guangdong while in fact it’s in Guangxi – in line with the findings of the other group.


The Hakka Language in Hong Kong


Many Hakka speakers in Hong Kong have Guangxi ancestry. The linguistic situation in the province is complicated: about one-third of the population speaks Cantonese; Southwest Mandarin is the second most widely spoken language, with 5 out of 36 million speakers in the region. About one-tenth of the population speaks Hakka.


Contemporary linguistic challenges

Researches suggested a strong linkage between choice of language and education. The “Trilingualism, Biliterary” policy in Hong Kong promoted the use of Cantonese, English and Mandarin as spoken languages; Chinese and English as major medium of written communication. The lack of institutional support for minority languages like Hakka contributed to its decline. Two intertwining factors contributing to the decline of the language are              small number of speakers and their demographics. While a smaller number of speakers certainly decrease the frequency of use of Hakka, the decreased geographical concentration of Hakka speaking families also exacerbates the situation of the language. Prevalent language policies also provided great socio-economic motivation for original Hakka speakers to acquire other languages instead. For instance, the use of Cantonese is practical for work and employment, and even socializing with the majority of Hong Kongers, hence integrating into the large, urban community.


Further resources


Chan Long Hin Constant, Yvonne Chow Hok Kwai, Vanessa Man Fung Nga and Shelia Ng Hei Men. 2013. A Hakka-speaking group in Hong Kong. LCOM3001 Cultural dimensions of language and communication project, School of English, The University of Hong Kong.

Kung Wai Han Hannah, Ken Mong Ka Yin, Vanus Tam Wai Ying, and Emmy Tang Wing Yan. 2013. LCOM3001 Cultural dimensions of language and communication project, School of English, The University of Hong Kong.

Jiang Mo Ting Molly, Liu Tsz Fung Ivan, Tsang Hau Tung Hayley, Yau Tsun Fung Edwin. Fading voices of Hakka in Hong Kong. 2015. CCGL 9024 The Life and Death of Languages project, Linguistics, School of Humanities, The University of Hong Kong.

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