Hong Kong is home to many varieties of Sinitic languages. While considered a Cantonese city, it is claimed that the first inhabitants in the territory were speakers of the Waitau dialect. The Weitou/Waitau dialect, traditionally spoken in (a subset of) the walled villages of the northern New Territories, are now, however, disappearing fast. This study explores the language attitudes prevalent among the wider Hong Kong community that have contributed to the shift to Cantonese, rendering this dialect critically endangered. We carry out a two-part matched-guise study exploring the attitudes towards the variety and with the results clearly underscoring how intricately connected language and identity are, from outside the community, but also from within. We interviewed speakers of Waitau dialect which revealed that the speakers believed equal socioeconomic opportunities could only be achieved when their children had no trace of the minority variety. We discuss the role of attitudes in the ongoing vitality of a speech variety including implications for minority languages elsewhere.
30 Oct 2021
The 54th International Conference on Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics