Hong Kong’s mother tongue is under threat. Cantonese may be centuries old but how much longer can it sustain the pressure from China to pick up Putonghua? By Arthur Tam and Anna Cummins. Additional reporting by Emily Cheng and Allen Jim
Our tongue. Our voice.
Language is the tongue that gives a nation its voice. And Hong Kong’s voice has never been as intrinsically linked to its identity as it is right now. Cantonese isn’t just the city’s language; it’s one of the many yardsticks by which Hongkongers measure their cultural and political differences from the rest of the Mainland.
We all know the abrasive political situation between the Central People’s Government and the SAR is complex, contentious and set to continue into the foreseeable future.This is particularly magnified in the light of the 18th anniversary of the handover, as well as the recent rejection of the pro-Beijing electoral reform package. But it was four years ago, in 2011, that Hong Kong’s voice took its first major, measurable shift in tone. According to the government’s census, Putonghua overtook English as the second most spoken language in the territory for the first time in 2011, with 48 percent of people claiming to speak the official language of mainland China, and 46 percent claiming to speak English. In the 2001 census, only a third of respondents could speak Putonghua.