Hongkongers discuss the prevalence of Putonghua usage since 1997
When Hong Kong returned to the motherland in 1997, only a quarter of the population spoke any Putonghua. While Cantonese is the local dialect that is most commonly spoken in Hong Kong, the prevalence of Putonghua is steadily growing. Following two decades of communication and cooperation between the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong, the number of Putonghua speakers in Hong Kong has increased dramatically, and has almost doubled.
To what extent can the average Hong Kong resident speak
Putonghua? To glean insight into the prevalence of Putonghua among Hongkongers, the Global Times journeyed to Hong Kong to interview locals of different age groups about their understanding and usage of the language.
Most of our interviewees were born and raised in Hong Kong but speak Putonghua quite well. Kevin thinks young people aged between 22 and 25 speak best Putonghua. Jimmy Tsang, a Hongkonger, thinks that young locals born between the 1990s and 2000s are better at speaking Putonghua than other age groups there. Particularly, millennials are more likely to speak fluent Putonghua, having been exposed to it more than Cantonese at Hong Kong schools.
Similarly, Charles mentioned that his child speaks Putonghua much better than he himself can. When he was small, he did not have the chance to learn Putonghua because it was not as prevalent as it is now. Currently, many Hongkongers, especially teenagers, are receiving an education entirely in Putonghua at local schools.
According to our interviewees, there are three main sources for how Hongkongers are exposed to Putonghua. In terms of work, an interviewee surnamed Fu, who works in global infrastructure, claimed that many companies have carried out promotions in Putonghua. As for the special administrative region (SAR) government, they have launched courses for their officials and have provided language training.
Fu Huijun said that business trade between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland has also resulted in more access to Putonghua. But on the education side, she said that a majority of courses are now taught in Putonghua. In her opinion, as Putonghua is compulsory in many Hong Kong schools, students’ language skills have largely improved with each subsequent generation.
Meanwhile, the promotion of Putonghua is also possible within a family. “In a family, if one speaks Putonghua, even if their child was born in Hong Kong, they can now speak Putonghua; if the family members are originally from Hong Kong, then they will speak Cantonese instead,” said Tommy’s nanny.
“Hong Kong is a shopping paradise, so that there are travelers everywhere here,” said Tsang, who believes that speaking Putonghua makes it easy for him to facilitate trade with Chinese mainlanders.
But Charles added that an increasing number of Hongkongers have chosen to work in the Chinese mainland, so being a Putonghua speaker may lead to more job and business opportunities. “English and Putonghua are both important” now to Hongkongers, he said.
Fu, who is a new immigrant from the Chinese mainland, said that she prefers living in Hong Kong with the consideration of her family. She explained that she used to be “gangpiao” (a Hong Kong drifter). After seven years, she eventually gained an identity. Her husband is from England, so that mixture of East and West is perfect for both of them.
However, Fu Huijun mentioned that one of her college classmates, who relocated to Shanghai 20 years ago for work, and now has a good career and happy life there, is a good example of Hongkongers moving to the Chinese mainland. Indeed, with the fast-growing development of the Chinese mainland, Charles said he too would consider a job opportunity there.