Languages in Hong Kong are established by the Article 9 of its Basic Law, the constitutional document created under the British administration in 1990, before Hong Kong’s handover to the People’s Republic of China as a SAR (Special Administration Region) in 1997. Under Hong Kong Basic Law, both English and Cantonese Chinese enjoy co-official language status in the SAR, unlike the rest of mainland China, where Mandarin Chinese is the official dialect.
The People’s Republic of China has numerous variations of mutually unintelligible Spoken Chinese. Ever since its Imperial times, the Chinese Government has unsuccessfully, tried to make Mandarin the official dialect, or at the very least a Lingua Franca for all of China. However, this efforts have only resulted in the majority of the population keeping a native dialect for informal uses and use formal Mandarin for official activities.
On the other hand, Hong Kong authorities (as a British colony) first tried to impose the English language in 1883 and ended up accepting the Cantonese (the most-spoken dialect in the zone) as co-official language in 1974, after several petitions and demonstrations from its inhabitants. Nowadays, the majority of the population still maintains other types of dialects like Taishanese, Teochiu, Hakka and Waitau Wah. They use these for informal family environments in addition to the formal languages.
However, since China envolved into an Emerging Superpower Economy, Hong Kong has promoted financial relations that have encouraged the fluency in Mandarin Chinese, which is now seen as a powerful job skill and taught in schools along the closely related written version instructed there.
Ever since the handover, not only road signs, but also legal acts and education in Hong Kong are given inboth English and Cantonese Chinese. Mandarin Chinese however, is taught at school as a third language as well, since after the handover,the “biliterate and trilingual” policy was promoted. Under this policy, Hong Kong is encouraged to support the usage of the following idioms:
As far as the written language goes, Hong Kong has opted for the modern written Chinese, standard in all China, despite how different this one is from the spoken official dialect, Cantonese.
- Cantonese Chinese – Hong Kong’s facto official Chinese variety – spoken by the majority of its population, this dialect originated in Guangzhou city in the Guangdong province (Hong Kong’s neighboring area), and it is the main Chinese variety spoken in the SAR. It’s used in daily social communication, broadcasting, education and government administration.
- Mandarin Chinese – the de facto official language of mainland China since its imperial times –was not popularly spoken in Hong Kong during its British administration, which is why, before the handover in 1997, it did not have any preponderance over the rest of dialects spoken in the colony.Especially before China became an economic power.
- English – as one of Hong Kong’s official languages, almost everything written in the SAR is translated to this language. English is not only a major working language; it’s also a broadly used commercial, legal and educational medium. Despite this however, English is only mastered by 38% of the population, while the rest uses what is known as Hong Kong English – avariation of the English language with a particular Cantonese accent.
While Written standard Chinese is closely associated to Mandarin, written Cantonese has recently been introduced in the printed media in the form of quotations and entertainment & local sections, with popular success.
Among other languages studied in Hong Kong, we find French, German, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Indonesian, Thai and Arabic.