Language contact : sociolinguistic context and linguistic outcomes

Research output: Chapter in book / Conference proceedingChapter in an edited book (as author)Academic research


In this chapter, we will first outline the sociolinguistic context of language contact between Hong Kong Cantonese, Standard Written Chinese (SWC) and English. Then we will exemplify the typical language contact phenomena in terms of salient patterns of linguistic outcomes, namely:||•Lexical borrowing or transference from SWC and English into Hong Kong Cantonese;||•Translanguaging in speech: more commonly at the intra-sentential level (traditionally termed ‘code-mixing’) than the inter-sentential level (code-switching); and||•Translanguaging in writing: written Chinese may range from formal Hong Kong Written Chinese (HKWC), where SWC has been infused with classical Chinese (wenyan) and Cantonese elements, to informal colloquial written Cantonese, which is modeled on the norms of speech, including the free insertion of English words.||The various linguistic outcomes of language contact exemplified in this chapter, first in speech then in writing, seek to demonstrate that all the languages and language varieties within a plurilingual’s linguistic repertoire are treated as a composite pool of semiotic resources to make meaning. Our focus is on the transference of English open-class words into Cantonese, including the use of terms of address mixed with the salutary expressions ‘Sir’ and ‘Madam’ among members of the Hong Kong disciplinary forces, and ‘Sir’ and ‘Miss’ when referring to teachers in the education domain. By virtue of languages being closely bound up with specific sociocultural attributes, language choice invariably has the semiotic potential to symbolize or index speaker/writer identity. This is the basis for social motivation of translanguaging. In the absence of evidence of language choice being consciously motivated by a wish to signal and/or negotiate speaker/writer identity, translanguaging to English typically results from one or more of the following linguistic motivations: (a) to fill a lexical gap, (b) to avoid semantic incongruence, and (c) to use field-specific terms acquired through English-medium instruction, hence the medium-of-learning effect (MOLE).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMultilingual Hong Kong : languages, literacies and identities
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
Number of pages50
ISBN (Electronic)9783319441955
ISBN (Print)9783319441931
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Publication series

NameMultilingual Education
ISSN (Print)2213-3208


  • Translanguaging
  • Translingual practice
  • Code-switching
  • Code-mixing
  • Cantonese-English mixed code
  • Medium-of-learning effect
  • Bilingualism
  • Plurilingual interaction
  • Multilingual society
  • Negotiation of identity


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