Bilingualism in Hong Kong

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Hong Kong is an officially bilingual territory. Under the Article 9 of the Hong Kong Basic Law and the Official Languages Ordinance, "English and Chinese" are, of equal status, the official languages of the territory.[1] However, it is not specified which variety of "Chinese" is referred to. While Mandarin written in simplified Chinese characters is used as the standard language in mainland China, Cantonese in traditional Chinese characters is the de facto standard in Hong Kong.

Chinese as an official language[edit]

Cantonese, the language of Canton (now called Guangdong) and other parts of southern China became an official language of Hong Kong when the Chinese population of the colony grew (above). Hong Kong's population reached 6.99 million in 2006,[2] of which approximately 95% are of Chinese descent, the majority of which was Cantonese, Hakka, and Teochew.

English as an official language[edit]

Hong Kong became a crown colony of the United Kingdom in 1840, and was established as a free port to serve as an entrepôt of the British Empire. The government officials and businessmen from Britain spoke English. The British administration in Hong Kong continued to use English as an official language, but added Chinese (Cantonese) as another official language in 1974.

Following the 1997 transfer, English is still widely used in law and business, and it is still taught in kindergartens, primary schools, secondary schools, and universities. The British have also left their language on place names within Hong Kong, particularly on Hong Kong Island, where British rule had the largest impact.

Code-switching in Hong Kong[edit]

Code-switching, or the practice of using more than one language in conversation, is very common in Hong Kong. It usually involves a mix of Cantonese and English as a result of the bilingualism in Hong Kong.

Other languages in Hong Kong[edit]

Counter-clockwise: Cantonese Chinese, Hong Kong English, Mandarin, Korean, transliterated Japanese, and Tagalog

Hong Kong is home to a wide range of ethnicities, and substantial portions of Hongkongers are neither native English nor native Cantonese speakers. Japanese is the largest non-official language, with over 25,000 Japanese people in Hong Kong. Vietnamese refugees emigrated to Hong Kong[when?] and still speak Vietnamese as their first language.

There is a significant number of South Asians in Hong Kong. Signboards written in Hindi or Urdu are common in areas with South Asians, and languages such as Nepali, Sindhi and Punjabi are often heard on the streets of Hong Kong as well.[citation needed]

There are also two newspapers written in Nepali in Hong Kong, The Everest and the Sunrise Weekly Hong Kong. In 2004, the Home Affairs Bureau and Metro Plus AM 1044 jointly launched radio shows Hong Kong-Pak Tonight in Urdu and Harmo Sagarmatha in Nepali.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ "Hong Kong Statistics - Population and Vital Events", Census and Statistics Department. Retrieved 2007-02-02
  3. ^ "Urdu and Nepali radio programmes to launch". Hong Kong Information Services Department. 2004-11-19. Retrieved 2007-01-12. [dead link]