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Hong Kong English

Hong Kong English: Autonomy and Creativity

Edited by Kingsley Bolton
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 332
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  • Book Info
    Hong Kong English
    Book Description:

    The dominant view of many linguists and educators has been that Hong Kong English is a variety of the language that is derived from, and dependent on, the metropolitan norm of British English. It has been argued that English in Hong Kong was never 'nativized' as in other Asian societies, and that it has not deserved the recognition accorded to other varieties of Asian English. The contributions to this book challenge that view in a number of ways. In addressing sociolinguistic, structural, and literary issues, they provide an up-to-date survey of current use of Hong Kong English, and redress the question of its autonomy in terms of both distinctive linguistic features and the growing literary creativity of the variety. An original and highly informed discussion on the futures for Hong Kong English, and chapters providing additional resources for the study of the variety, are also included.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-160-6
    Subjects: Linguistics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Contributors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction Hong Kong English: Autonomy and creativity
    (pp. 1-26)
    Kingsley Bolton

    Hong Kong is an extraordinary society that has experienced a series of dramatic changes over the last fifty years in almost all aspects of its economic, social and political life.¹ Immediately after the Second World War, the population of Hong Kong exploded as a result of continuous waves of immigration from Guangdong province and other parts of China, with its population almost quadrupling from 1945 to 1951. Since then, its population has continued to increase at an average rate of one million people per decade, to 3.1 million in 1961, 4.1 million in 1971, 5.6 million in 1991 and to...

  5. Part I: Language in Context

    • 1 The sociolinguistics of Hong Kong and the space for Hong Kong English
      (pp. 29-56)
      Kingsley Bolton

      The starting point for this chapter is Kachru’s call for a paradigm shift and pluricentric approach to World Englishes. Today it is something of a cliche that English is a global language, no longer the property of Britain or the United States, and that, in McCrum’s words, ‘[t]here is not one English language anymore, but there are many English languages’ (McCrum, cited in Iyer 1993: 53). The effects of this paradigm shift have been felt in many societies where English has the status of a second language or ‘outer circle’ variety, including such Asian societies as India, Malaysia, Philippines, and...

    • 2 The discourse and attitudes of English language teachers in Hong Kong
      (pp. 57-78)
      Amy B. M. Tsui and David Bunton

      In Hong Kong, approximately 96% of the population is Chinese.¹ According to a sociolinguistic survey conducted in 1993, 81.6% of the population spoke Cantonese as their mother tongue and 91.9% could speak Cantonese. Only 1.3% were native speakers of English (see Bacon-Shone and Bolton, 1998: 73, 75). Since then, Cantonese has spread even wider. According to the 1996 By-Census, 88.7% of the population indicated that Cantonese is their usual spoken language, and 3.1% indicated English.

      For social communication between Cantonese speakers and speakers of other Chinese dialects, for example, immigrants from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) mainland, Cantonese is...

    • 3 Cantonese-English code-switching research in Hong Kong: A survey of recent research
      (pp. 79-100)
      David C. S. Li

      Research on Cantonese-English code-switching in Hong Kong may be dated back to the late 1970s.¹ Most of the earlier studies tended to focus on speech data (e.g., Gibbons, 1979, 1983, 1987), but beginning with Bauer (1988), attention was gradually shifted to include written data as well (e.g., Yau, 1993; Li, 1996, 1998, 1999a; Lee, 1999). With the exception of Yau’s (1997) study investigating the code-switching of bilingual legislative councillors and colonial government officials in the proceedings of Legislative Council debates, research has shown that code-switching in Hong Kong tends to be intrasentential – hence the preference for the term ‘code-mixing’ in...

    • 4 The English-language media in Hong Kong
      (pp. 101-116)
      Chan Yuen-ying

      The English-language news media in Hong Kong have always been minority media in circulation and audience. Normal market mechanisms do not explain why this minority of readers could wield such disproportionate influence until the mid-1980s, when Hong Kong began the transition to Chinese rule. This skewed influence is largely due to the fact that English was the only official language of Hong Kong until 1974. English was the language of the courts and government offices, and therefore the most important means for upward mobility. As Hong Kong old-timers would recall, the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s leading English newspaper,...

  6. Part II: Language Form

    • 5 Towards a phonology of Hong Kong English
      (pp. 119-140)
      Tony T. N. Hung

      In the present chapter, I shall not concern myself with the question of whether there exists a ‘variety’ of English called Hong Kong English (HKE). Being a variety or dialect of English (or of any other language) involves not only phonological features but a set of lexical, syntactic and discoursal features, as well as a certain degree of indiginization, as exemplified by such well-studied ‘new varieties’ of English (NVEs) as Singaporean, Indian and Lankan English. I do not know enough about these other aspects of HKE to be able to make any claims about its status as a NVE. But...

    • 6 Relative clauses in Hong Kong English
      (pp. 141-160)
      Nikolas Gisborne

      Kachru (1985) in an editorial statement in World Englishes discusses a range of factors that are relevant to the identification of world Englishes, and to identifying them as a research domain.¹ He identifies various functional and formal elements in the discussion of varieties of English. This chapter is primarily concerned with the formal properties of Hong Kong English, in particular the syntax of relative clauses. Trudgill and Hannah (1994) identify a range of formal elements at the levels of syntax and phonology which are relevant as criteria for establishing the identity of a distinct variety of English and this chapter...

    • 7 Hong Kong words: Variation and context
      (pp. 161-170)
      Phil Benson

      Much of the discussion on Hong Kong English over the last 20 years has revolved around the question of whether such a variety of English actually exists. The paradigm for this discussion was established by Luke and Richards (1982: 55): ‘There is no such thing then as “Hong Kong English”. There is neither the societal need nor opportunity for the development of a stable Cantonese variety of spoken English’. Many local scholars would continue to agree with this statement, while others have suggested that a distinctive variety of the kind described by Luke and Richards may be in the process...

  7. Part III: Dimensions of Creativity

    • 8 Hong Kong writing and writing Hong Kong
      (pp. 173-182)
      Louise Ho

      ‘Writing, commitment of the word to space, enlarges the potentiality of language almost beyond measure, restructures thought...’, writes the scholarcritic, Walter Ong (1982: 7). Being committed to space, language has its particular dynamics of time. Writing results from a studied, calculated, planned and controlled exercise of language which is then unravelled in the continuum of time by the reader. Written language is able to carry a burden of analytical thought, discursive argument, contemplation or even self-parody and ironic denial of its own statement; as Ong puts it, ‘it restructures consciousness’ (p. 78). Without writing, the mind would be tied to...

    • 9 Defining Hong Kong poetry in English: An answer from linguistics
      (pp. 183-198)
      Agnes Lam

      In many former British colonies, English usually continues to prosper because of its instrumental functions in commerce and international communication. In Hong Kong, a former colony returned to China on 1 July 1997, English has also continued to play such a role. Given the international outlook of the city, that is to be expected. What is remarkable is that, apart from the use of English at work or as one of the languages in education, particularly at the tertiary level, there also appears to have been more public use of English as a medium of literary expression in the last...

    • 10 Writing between Chinese and English
      (pp. 199-206)
      Leung Ping-kwan

      Growing up in Hong Kong, I have always written in Chinese. But there were exceptions. In the last years of my high-school studies, while I had already published poems in the literary supplements of the local newspapers, my Chinese was considered by my Chinese teacher, an old scholar graduated from Peking University, to be less than elegant. Each of my compositions was marked heavily by his red brush, and into my ‘modern’ style of experimental writing, the wisdom of old idioms was added. But I refused to incorporate them into my revisions, and therefore always ended up with a C...

    • 11 From Yinglish to sado-mastication
      (pp. 207-218)
      Nury Vittachi

      A friend of mine made a phone call in Hong Kong. The conversation went as follows:

      ‘Hello. Can I speak to the managing director?’


      ‘Hello. May I speak to the managing director, please?’

      ‘How to spell?’

      ‘Is the MANAGING DIRECTOR available, please?’

      ‘What is your name?’


      ‘Mr Hunter is not in.’


      There are several elements in this conversation that could attract comment from linguists. Clearly, the receptionist has a poor grasp of English. But by the end of the conversation, she appears to have a poor grasp of logic too, telling the caller that he is not...

    • 12 Writing the literature of non-denial
      (pp. 219-238)
      Xu Xi

      When Virginia Woolf penned A Room of One’s Own in the 1920s, she gave voice to the issue of women’s absence in the history of writing. In thinking about English language creative writing from Hong Kong today, it seems appropriate to recall her. A similar absence prevails in world Englishes, but I do not believe that seventy years from now, Hong Kong writers will fill this void with nearly as much enthusiasm as women writers have, thereby widening the scope of literature by their contribution. The reasons may be due to political and social dynamics, the force of history, even...

  8. Part IV: Resources

    • 13 Analysing Hong Kong English: Sample texts from the International Corpus of English
      (pp. 241-264)
      Kingsley Bolton and Gerald Nelson

      The International Corpus of English (ICE) project is an international research programme which involves the parallel collection of similar data in some 20 countries worldwide. The principal motivation for this database is to permit a comparative analysis of the English language used in various locations worldwide. The countries involved include, first, those where English is a dominant language in the society, i.e. an ‘inner circle’ Englishes, such as the varieties spoken and written in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Second, the project also surveys those societies where English is an official (or co-official) language,...

    • 14 Cultural imagination and English in Hong Kong
      (pp. 265-280)
      Shirley Geok-lin Lim

      The domain of the imagination finds expression through all kinds of media: paint, stone and marble, music, movement, and so forth; and, with the invention of new technologies, through photography, film, digital art and more. We can agree that imagination and the arts it produces are not limited to language. Even should we restrict our analysis to imagination in the language arts, the relationship between imagination and language arguably has not yet been fully plumbed; and, despite the many political controversies around the debate, neither has the relationship between a people’s identity and their language of use been clarified. Imagination...

    • 15 Researching Hong Kong English: Bibliographical sources
      (pp. 281-292)
      Kingsley Bolton

      In 1982, Luke and Richards noted the lack of detailed linguistic research in Hong Kong, commenting that: ‘[l]ittle detailed data ... is available on language usage, language shift, language networks or language learning within Hong Kong society’ (Luke and Richards, 1982: 58). Since that time, a great deal of work has been carried out on the sociolinguistics of Chinese and English in Hong Kong society.¹ There is now an active research culture in linguistics in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), and this is reflected in the substantial numbers of research publications published by Hong Kong scholars in international...

  9. Part V: Future Directions

    • 16 Futures for Hong Kong English
      (pp. 295-314)
      Kingsley Bolton and Shirley Geok-lin Lim

      This book contains a range of voices and perspectives on the issue of Hong Kong English, from linguists, educationalists, and creative writers.¹ Here, issues of ‘autonomy’ and ‘creativity’ overlap and at a number of levels. For linguists such as Benson, Gisborne, and Hung one major aspect of these issues is that of linguistic description, and the identification of distinctly local features of language at the levels of lexis, syntax, and phonology. These contributions are complemented by Li’s chapter, which provides a description of the ‘code-switching’ which occurs in parallel to the localized use of English; and Tsui and Bunton’s description...

  10. Index
    (pp. 315-324)