Move over, English. In Hong Kong, Mandarin is fast emerging as a new lingua franca.
Fresh on the heels of a fracas between Hong Kongers and mainland Chinese ignited in part by controversies over language, Hong Kong’s latest official census report reveals Mandarin has eclipsed English as the language second most commonly spoken by residents of the special administrative region.
The proportion of Hong Kong residents who report they can speak Mandarin – referred to in mainland China as Putonghua, or “the common language” — clocks in at 48%, according to census figures released this week (pdf), narrowly surpassing the 46% of Hong Kongers who can speak English. In 2001, the last time Hong Kong conducted a census, only a third of Hong Kong residents reported being able to speak Mandarin.
China has worked to promote Mandarin in Hong Kong, particularly in schools, since the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997.
Language has played a role in a recent ramping up of mainland-Hong Kong tensions. Earlier this year, a videotaped subway spat between a Hong Konger and a group of mainland Chinese who mocked his Mandarin went viral, sparking an ugly war of words in which one Chinese professor described Hong Kongers as “dogs” and “thieves.”
Hong Kong residents — 96% of whom speak Cantonese, according to the census — may be speaking more Mandarin, but many appear to have conflicted emotions about it. A survey conducted by Hong Kong’s Center for Communication Research found that the number of Hong Kongers who describe themselves as feeling “proud” of Mandarin dropped to 29% in 2010, down from a high of 34% in 2006.
Nor is everyone convinced by the Hong Kong government’s census findings. On the subway, when he heard the news that Mandarin speakers had outstripped their English counterparts in Hong Kong, local resident Grover Hung responded skeptically. “I don’t think it’s true,” he said. “With lots of mainlanders coming, Putonghua is more useful. Maybe more people just like to say they can speak it.”
Mr. Hung said his 1-year-old son’s second language is English, not Mandarin. “His nanny is from the Philippines,” he explains.
The census results do not indicate how many of Hong Kong’s current Mandarin speakers are immigrants from mainland China. However, the proportion of Hong Kong’s population born in China, Macao or Taiwan has dropped slightly since 2001, down to 32% last year.
• 2:02 pm February 24, 2012
• 123 wrote:
Everything happens for a reason.
• 2:11 pm February 24, 2012
• cici wrote:
Hong Kong should be independent from China!
• which clown wrote wrote:
this article? have you clown been to HK, ever, Cantonese and Mandarin are common languages in HK where out of 8 M people roughly .5 m are English native/western speakers,
• Anonymous wrote:
Of course people are learning mandarin. If you want any kind of banking, service, or anything pays well, YOU NEED TO KNOW MANDARIN and ENGLISH. Banking sector is funded by Chinese companies going ipo or issuing bond.. Etc.
• 2:43 pm February 24, 2012
• Hidesato Sakakibara wrote:
I don’t see what the big deal is. Of course Mandarin is going to be more popular than English in Hong Kong! After all, Hong Kong is a part of China so this only makes sense. Mandarin is also much easier to learn than English for native Cantonese speakers. But English is the common language of the world and so I doubt that people are not learning English, I believe that Hong Kong will soon become a trilingual place.
• 2:46 pm February 24, 2012
• Deng Xiao Ping wrote: （吐槽：看此人ID。。。）
50 years, the clock is ticking ..
• 3:28 pm February 24, 2012
• Anonymous wrote:
Some languages disappearred as the history goes on. It is overwhelming.No need to argue about that.