Language is the main communication medium in human society, and it is also an important factor in people’s culture and identity. The linguistic right for members of a language community to speak and to acquire their mother tongue is a basic right.
In recent years, some new policies introduced by the Hong Kong Government have been accused of deliberately diluting the importance of Cantonese and causing a rebound in the society. There are those who uphold the importance of Cantonese and insist on defending their mother tongue and cultural distinctiveness. One of the most heated debates is the decade-long Using Putonghua as the Medium of Instruction for Teaching the Chinese Language Subject (PMIC) policy implemented in primary and secondary schools. A local Chinese Language teacher thinks that PMIC had indeed encouraged students to converse in Putonghua more confidently; however, as Putonghua is not the mother tongue of most students, it inevitably affects the effectiveness and atmosphere of learning. In light of this, he suggests the Government to clarify the role that Putonghua plays. (Click here to learn more about student’s point of views about PMIC)
At the same time, even though nearly 90% of Hong Kong’s population use Cantonese as their usual spoken language, we should not ignore the presence of the minority language communities around us. Does Hong Kong provide enough room for different language communities to achieve equal status, and for the society as a whole to truly embrace cultural diversity? A local ethnic minority teenager expressed that there is yet a proper Chinese curriculum for students who are not native Chinese speakers to effectively learn and master Chinese writing and speaking, hence, preventing them from seeking employment and further integration into society. In addition, people who are committed to conserving local dialects pointed out that the promotion of Cantonese teaching in the New Territories in the 1950s had led to the marginalisation of local dialects. The inheritance of local dialects relies on the joint efforts of the indigenous residents and the government to promote and revitalise them.
A linguistics scholar stated that Hong Kong has yet to become a truly multilingual society. It is closely related to the stereotypes the mainstream society imposes on different minority language groups. In order for diversified cultures to be embraced and recognised, it requires more understanding and respect for different language groups by the society.
Browse the full version of Human Rights Issue 26, and learn more about the views of the aforementioned interviewee, the use of languages by the Hong Kong population, and the relationship between linguistic rights and other human rights: https://issuu.com/aihk/docs/issue_26_final