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        In February 2014, the Education Bureau in Hong Kong made an official statement that Cantonese is regarded as just dialect but not statutory language in China. This has stirred up opposition by Hong Kong citizens, who reckoned this statement as government’s hidden agenda in replacing Cantonese with Putonghua. As a matter of fact, Cantonese is Hongkongers’ mother-tongue. Back in 1996, the UNESCO has listed it as a statutory language, and one of the six commonly-used languages in the world, apart from Chinese Putonghua, English, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and French. The repulsion, anxiety and fear are the signs that Hong Kong citizens lack confidence on the mother-tongue.

        Mother-tongue is a key factor that affects our self-identity. Languages and cultures are connected to each other and the relationship between two is indispensable. Languages may only function as an objective factor for forming an ethnic group, but it is of paramount importance in identification process of such group. In some places in the world where there are no own languages, the inhabitants can still identify themselves as the group of people that belong there. For example, in Singapore where there are four official languages, Singaporean is still a broadly-perceived identity. Therefore, language is not the only factor for identity formulation. Other factors that should be taken into account, like cultures, lifestyles, connections with other inhabitants and responses to the society do play important roles.

Inspired by this news headline, I invited expatriates, each living in Hong Kong for more than five months, to express their thoughts and read them out in Cantonese. This experiment requires the expatriates to imagine themselves as a local, a Hongkong-born-and-raised individual, for the sake of communicating the notion of cultural competence. True self-identity should not be limited by language barriers, but be open to how an individual conceptualises and identifies ‘self’.

112 thoughts on “Identity

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