Hongkongers dis­cuss the preva­lence of Putonghua us­age since 1997

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - CITY PANORAMA -

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.

More Putonghua

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.

Fa­cil­i­tat­ing trade

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.

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