Sunday, 27 May 2012

Is Cantonese on the Decline?

Can you imagine Hong Kong without Cantonese?
Linguists in Hong Kong say Cantonese is dying in the city because more schools are teaching curriculum in Putonghua than the southern Chinese dialect.

More than 160 of the 1,025 government primary and secondary schools are using Putonghua in Chinese lessons after a government policy encouraged the switch in 2003. Before that Cantonese was used.

However, linguists say the increased use of Putonghua is accelerating the decline of Cantonese as more Putonghua is spoken.

Associate linguistics professor at the University of Hong Kong Stephen Matthews says a study by one of his Masters students showed that children taught Chinese in Putonghua spoke it in the playground. "She [the student] also did a survey of languages at home and found there was more Putonghua used in the children's home," he said.

"Cantonese might survive for 50 years or so, but after it may well be on its way out," he said. "It' is difficult to calculate the timing but in the medium to long term, Cantonese is an endangered language."

The impact could be huge, in that children would not be able to communicate with their grandparents or appreciate things like Cantonese opera. Matthews says what they are seeing now is similar to the studies they have done on the decline of the speaking Hakka and Chiu Chow dialects.

"It generally happens over three generations. It is sad when that happens," Matthews said.

Interestingly a few colleagues and I had this discussion a few days ago and now this news story has made me reflect on my own situation.

My mother is Hakka and I was never taught any words from the dialect when I was young; she hardly speaks it to anyone except her siblings.

She probably thought Hakka wouldn't be of much use to us children and felt it best that we learn Cantonese instead and also my father does not speak Hakka.

And apparently my mother's other siblings made the same judgement call, as none of my cousins on my mother's side can speak Hakka.

Is it their fault for not teaching us? Perhaps they were not thinking of the cultural implications, but trying to be pragmatic about the situation.

But now it's frightening to hear Cantonese could soon be a dead language thanks to the ever incompetent Hong Kong education system.

There obviously has been no long-term thinking involved -- only the goal of pleasing Beijing.

Meanwhile parents are only trying to do the best for their children, and in some cases insist on only speaking to them in English in the hopes they will become fluent.

But what about their mother tongue Cantonese?

Perhaps it's time for us to figure out what kind of city we want Hong Kong to be.

And if you ask most Hong Kong people, they will probably want to keep Cantonese -- this is the language of the city.

This again demonstrates we have a government that has no regard for what its people want...

1 comment:

  1. The Cantonese language is not in decline. It's still popular.