An article on Hong Kong’s Education Bureau website saying that ‘Cantonese is not an official language’ has been taken down after netizens complained that it was insensitive.
The article was first posted on the website’s Language Learning Support page on January 24 and was removed yesterday after several riled up netizens expressed their anger, according to South China Morning Post.
It read: “Although the Basic Law stipulates that Chinese and English are the two official languages in Hong Kong, nearly 97 per cent of the local population learn Cantonese (a Chinese dialect that is not an official language) as their commonly used daily language.”
Horace Chin Wan-kan, an assistant Chinese professor at Lingnan University told the Post that the claim was further fueling tensions between the mainland and Hong Kong.
“The bureau’s move is to promote teaching Chinese in classrooms using Mandarin, which violates the bilingualism and trilingualism policy,” Chin said.
“Defining Cantonese as not official doesn’t make sense. We never say if British English is official, although many prefer the British accent and spelling,” he added.
Online users gathered on Facebook to protest the article, urging the government to admit to their mistake and “apologize to the public”. Yesterday, the bureau posted a new message to the website saying that it had made “an inaccurate interpretation of Cantonese”.
According to the Post:
The Basic Law says that as well as written Chinese, English may be used by the executive, legislature and judiciary. But there is no rule about verbal language, such as Cantonese.
Eric Cheung Tat-ming, principal law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, said the law related only to the written word in terms of “official languages”.
“There have never been attempts to define what official languages mean in the oral context,” Cheung said. “And in Hong Kong courts, as well as other official circumstances, the choice of the spoken language has been one based on commonality, so Cantonese is preferred.”
To say Cantonese was not an official language therefore had “no legal justification”.
Previously on Shanghaiist: Shanghai pilot program encourages kids to speak Shanghainese in school
[Image Credit: Rex Pe // Screen-cap via SCMP]