Code-switching in Hong Kong
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Code-switching is a type of linguistic behaviour that juxtaposes "passages of speech belonging to two different grammatical systems or sub-systems, within the same exchange”. Code-switching in Hong Kong mainly concerns two grammatical systems: Cantonese and English. According to Matrix Language Frame Model, Cantonese, as the “matrix language”, contributes bound morphemes, content and function words, whereas, English, the “embedded language”, contributes lexical, phrases or compound words.
Distinctions still exist, albeit subtle, among "Hong Kong English", "borrowing", "code-mixing" and "code-switching". The definition of Hong Kong English is controversial, as to whether it is a type of learner language or a new variety of English. Nevertheless, it belongs to the domain of English. “Borrowing” or “loanwords” refers to words taken from another languages after the process of phonological and morphological assimilation. Borrowed items are supposed to be so deeply entrenched into the base language that speakers are not always conscious of their foreign origin. “Code-mixing” and “code-switching”, on the other hand, incur less integration into the base language and speakers sometimes are aware of the coexistence of two systems. Various units can be involved in the process, from single words to longer elements such as phrases and clauses. Early works on this phenomenon in Hong Kong reserve “code-mixing” for intra-sentential alternation between Cantonese and English and “code-switching” for the inter-sentential alternation. Nevertheless, “code-mixing” has been gradually stigmatised, implying the incompetence of the bilingual speakers in either or both languages. As a result, "code-switching" tends to be employed as the umbrella term for both alternations, although the intra-sentential mode is predominant among Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong Chinese.
Code-switching, deemed as less formal than pure English or Cantonese, appears mostly in interaction between peers. Still, this phenomenon occurs in written media, including local magazines, popular entertainment books, columns in newspapers and advertisements, especially on technology or business administration related topics
- The history of British colonisation and the tradition of bilingualism since then exert significant influence on linguistic situations in Hong Kong. (See Bilingualism in Hong Kong for more)
- For individual Hong Kong people, even after the reunification to the People's Republican of China in 1997, the status of English remains both a cultural and symbolic capital. The fact that they code-switch, continue to use traditional Chinese characters (along with Taiwan, Macau, and the Chinese diaspora), and accord high "prestige value" to English, signals the gesture of maintaining a separate identity from the mainland China.
Linguistic Features of Code-Switching in Hong Kong
Phonetics/Phonology: Different segments of English words undergo phonological changes when mixed into Cantonese, affecting vowels, single initial and final consonants, initial and final consonant clusters. Stress of original codes is also subject to shift in some cases. (See more in Hong Kong English)
Syntax: The English elements engaged in the code-switching process are mostly of one or two words in length, and are usually content words that can fit into the surrounding Cantonese phrase fairly easily, like nouns, verbs, adjectives, and occasionally, adverbs. Examples are like 去canteen飲茶 (heoi3 ken6-tin1 jam2-caa4, ‘Let’s go to the canteen for lunch’), 好多嘢press你 (hou2 do1 yeh5 PRESS nei5, ‘A lot of things press you’), 我唔sure (ngo5 m4 su1-aa4, ‘I’m not sure’)
Meanwhile, structure words like determiners, conjunctions and auxiliary verbs almost never appear alone in the predominately Cantonese discourse, which explains the ungrammaticality of two節 (*TWO jit3, ‘two parts’). English lexical items, on the other hand, are frequently assimilated into Cantonese grammar. For instance, in 兩part (leung5 PART, ‘two parts’), “part” would lose its plural morpheme “s” as do its counterpart in Cantonese. In equip 咗 (EQUIP zo2, 'equipped'), “equip” is followed by a Cantonese perfective aspect marker. A more evident case of the syntactic assimilation would be where a negation marker is inserted into an English compound adjective or verb to form yes-no questions in Cantonese. The sentence of 佢可唔可愛啊 (keui5 ho2 m4 ho2-oi3 a1, ‘Is s/he lovely?’) is pure Cantonese while a sentence like 佢de唔desirable啊 (keui5 DE m4 DESIRABLE a1, ‘Is s/he desirable?’) is a typical example of the assimilation.
For English elements consisting of two words or more, they generally retain English grammar internally without disrupting the surrounding Cantonese grammar, like 唔駛再搵part time job啊 (m5 sai2 zoi3 wan2 paak1-taaim1-zob1 a4, ‘Don’t need to look for a part time job again’) (Examples are taken from the same source).
- The first major framework dichotomises motivations of code-switching in Hong Kong into "expedient mixing" and "orientational mixing". For expedient mixing, the speaker would turn to English (e.g., form) if the correspondent "low Cantonese" expression is not available and the existing "high Cantonese" expression (e.g., 表格 biu2 gaak3) sounds too formal. In the case of orientational mixing, despite the presence of both "high" and "low" expression (e.g., for "barbecue", there exists both 燒烤 siu1 haau1 in "high Cantonese" and 燒嘢食 siu2 je5 sik6 in "low Cantonese"), the speaker could still resort to English if the subject is perceived to be inherently more ‘Western’. (K.K. Luke 1998: 145-159) (Lee J. 2012:165) The following chart elaborates and summaries the distinction between English,"High Cantonese", "Low Cantonese" and Code-Switching:
- Another taxonomy identifies four specific motivations: euphemism, the principle of economy, specificity and bilingual punning. (The following examples come from the same source.)
euphemism: the English counterpart is preferred if the speaker finds the explicit Cantonese expression culturally embarrassing, like breasts of females or open expression of personal feelings. Therefore, in the example of 透bra格格 (tau3 BRA gaak3-gaak3, ‘a princess whose bra is visible’), "bra" replaces its Cantonese counterparts
the principle of economy: English is also preferred if it would require less linguistic effort in comparison with its Cantonese equivalent. Instead of code-switching and using "check-in" in expressions like 你check﹣in咗未啊？(nei5 CHECK-IN zo2 mei6 a1, ‘Have you checked in yet?’), people will have to use the pure Cantonese expression 辦理登記手續 (baan6 lei5 dang1 gei1 sau2 zuk6 ‘check in (on a plane)’ ), which contains six syllables.
specificity: proper names and technical terms are likely to appear in its original language,like "lock brake", "kick down", and "power shift" in auto magazines. English is either used to fill the lexical gap where generally accepted Chinese translation is unavailable, or to avoid confusion if one single English term has different versions of translation in Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Bilingual punning makes the use of similarity in pronunciation between English and Cantonese to attract attention, especially for advertisements. In particular, ‘fun’ is frequently used as it forms almost complete homophonous with the Cantonese characters like 分(fan1, ‘point’ or ‘to share’) and 粉 (fan1, ‘many and various’). Examples include the slang of "high tech 揩嘢，low tech 撈嘢 (HIGH TECH haail je5, LOW TECH lou1 je5, 'High Tech brings trouble while Low Tech is profitable’)" and a promotion slogan of "英文多Fun日 (jing1man4 do1 FUN jat6, ‘A day having great fun/high mark with English’)".
In the extended version this taxonomy, "quotation in the original code", "doubling of the same expression in two codes for emphasis" and "English interjections inserted into Cantonese" are also included.
- Gumperz, J (1982). Discourse strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University. p. 59.
- Li, C. S. (2000). "Cantonese-English code-switching research in Hong Kong: a Y2K review". World Englishes, 19 (3): 307.
- Setter, Jane (2012). Hong Kong English. Edinburgh University Press. p. 112.
- Setter, Jane (2010). Hong Kong English. Edinburgh University Press. p. 95.
- Gibbons, J (1987). Code-mixing and code choice: A Hong Kong case study. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. p. 57.
- Setter, Jane (2010). Hong Kong English. Edinburgh University Press. p. 95.
- Yau, Man-Siu (1993). "Functions of two codes in Hong Kong Chinese". World Englishes 12 (1): 27–29.
- Chan, Elaine (2002). "Beyond Pedagogy: language and identity in post-colonial Hong Kong". British Journal of Sociology of Education 23 (2): 271–285.
- Gibbons, J (1987). Code-mixing and code choice: A Hong Kong case study. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. pp. 44–56.
- Gibbons, J (1987). Code-mixing and code choice: A Hong Kong case study. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. pp. 57–60.
- Lee, John (November 2012). "A Corpus-Based Analysis of Mixed Code in Hong Kong Speech". Asian Language Processing (IALP), 2012 International Conference: 165–168.
- Lin, Angel M.Y. (1996). "Bilingualism or linguistic segregation? Symbolic domination, resistance and code switching in Hong Kong schools". Linguistics and Education 8 (1): 49–84.
- Li, David C.S. (2000). "Cantonese‐English code‐switching research in Hong Kong: a Y2K review". World Englishes 19 (3): 312–317.
- Patrick Chun Kau Chu. (2007). Rules and Constraints of the Code-mixing patterns in Hong Kong Cantonese. Paper presented at the First International Free Linguistics Conference, Sydney, Australia, October 6-7.
- Yau, Man-Siu (1993). "Functions of two codes in Hong Kong Chinese". World Englishes 12 (1): 30.
- Lee, John (November 2012). "A Corpus-Based Analysis of Mixed Code in Hong Kong Speech". Asian Language Processing (IALP), 2012 International Conference: 166–168.