The functions and status of english in Hong Kong: A post-1997 update

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92 Citations (Scopus)


This paper is an update of Luke and Richards' (1982) study on the functions and status of English in Hong Kong. The sociolinguistic matrix is described by outlining the distribution of the main functions of the two written languages standard written Chinese (SWC) and English, and the three spoken languages Cantonese, English and Putonghua, in four key domains: government, media, employment and education. Cantonese and English remain the most important spoken languages. The macro-sociolinguistic analysis "diglossia without bilingual-ism" has given way to polyglossia with increasing bilingualism. There are two written H varieties, SWC and English, the former is penetrating into some domains formerly dominated by the latter. Cantonese, typically interspersed with some English, is assigned L functions in both spoken and written mediums. There is some indication that Putonghua is getting increasingly important in post-colonial Hong Kong, but there are as yet no significant social functions assigned to it. Compared with the early 1980s, significant changes have taken place at all levels. Language-related changes are discussed in light of a critical review of recent local research in a number of areas: medium of instruction, language right, linguistic imperialism, Hong Kong accent, Hong Kong identity and language attitudes toward Chinese and English. In view of the tremendous social prestige and symbolic predominance of English, it is argued that "value-added" is a more suitable epithet than "auxiliary" to characterize the status of English in post-1997 Hong Kong.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-110
Number of pages44
JournalEnglish World-Wide
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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