Hong Kong English (and other Englishes)

Who wants ‘native
speaker English’ ?
Who wants ‘Hong
Kong English’ ?
Do we have a choice
at all?
A public discourse about English in Hong
Kong, founded on the metaphor of a decline
(‘the falling standards complaint’)
An academic discourse, which rejects the
public discourse and denies the validity of the
‘decline metaphor’
2% went to university (the rich families sent their children
to HKU; the middle-class families to CUHK)
 18% went on to work as clerks and secretaries in
government and business offices (extensively deal with
the public):
 The people serving you at the window may well have been
from the top 5% of their graduating class, highly educated,
with excellent English
20% go to university: they aspire towards executive
management jobs; the clerks and secretaries serving you
at the window downtown are no longer university
graduates; they may not even have come from the top
quarter of their graduating class
…Hong Kong people are not simply making
random errors in English. Rather, people are
making the same ‘errors’ (from the point of
view of Standard English) in regularly
recurring patterns, many of them traceable to
the influence of Cantonese. Given this
regularity of structure, it makes sense from a
linguist’s point of view to speak of Hong Kong
English as an emerging ‘language’.
…the ‘emergence of Hong Kong English’ and
the ‘decline of English standards in Hong
Kong’ are one and the same thing, looked at from
two different points of view. In some ways two
opposite points of view, because ‘emergence’
implies that English is in the process of
becoming a language of Hong Kong [...],
whereas ‘decline’ implies that Hong Kong is
losing English.
“In the context of English in Hong Kong, if history teaches us
anything it is that the ‘decline’ in externally-imposed standards
must occur if English is to survive in post-colonial Hong Kong (see
Harris, 1989). New ‘internal’ standards must replace them – and
that is precisely what has been happening with the emergence of a
distinctive form of English”. (Joseph)
“My predecessor as head of department gave an inaugural lecture
entitled ‘A language not our own’. Those words could fittingly
stand as an epigraph to mine. The language or languages a
community uses must be its own; and communities, like
individuals, have the ability to make a language their own. For
communities, like individuals, are not just language users: they
are language makers. New English or Old English, if Hong Kong
wants English, then Hong Kong must make English its own.
Otherwise it will surely lose it”. (Harris)
English in Hong Kong is presently on its way to
becoming ‘nativized’
A variety of competing linguistic norms co-exist
in Hong Kong: people’s linguistic attitudes do
not match up with linguistic behaviour
‘Linguistic schizophrenia’ (Kachru 1983): people
holding to external ideals of native speaker English,
but holding to local norms in practice
 When asked to reflect on it, speakers orient themselves
towards the norms of Standard British English, but
unconsciously they follow the norms of a local variety.
 Gramsci’s spontaneous grammar vs. normative grammar ?
Are the signs I use my own ?
Am I responsible for them?
Does language pre-exist language-use? Where does
the individual stand vis-à-vis the collectivity ?
When Harris says that ‘the Hong Kong community
must make English its own’, does he mean that
Hong Kong must speak ‘Hong Kong English’ ?

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