For over a decade, The World of Chinese has been offering modern Chinese-language instruction from street talk to social phenomena to character tales. With 129 officially recognized dialects (方言), though, we have barely scratched the surface of everything there is to learn.
On select Fridays, TWOC has been presenting basic lessons on the linguistic features of different Chinese regions. But since English continues to be the language of mainstream education in Hong Kong, last week’s Cantonese lesson isn’t nearly enough to help you speak like a native of this Special Administrative Region.
Many examples of Hong Kong English have been made famous on the mainland by the ex-British colony’s robust film industry: “Your spring pocket will be barbecued!” goes a quote from 1999’s Conmen in Vegas (“spring pocket” being local slang for testicles).
Today, Hong Kong English still largely follows standard British pronunciation, but is mixed with Cantonese influences, creating a unique vocabulary, pronunciation, grammatical structure, and intonation that mainland Chinese and speakers of other English dialects find hard to emulate. Notable examples include the phrase “people mountain, people sea,” directly translated from the Chinese “人山人海,” meaning a huge crowd, and sentence-final particles such as “la,” “wor,” and “lor.”
The Department of Linguistics and Modern Language Studies from the Education University of Hong Kong categorizes the features of Hong Kong English in terms of “Vowels and Diphthongs,” “Consonants,” “Syllable structure change,” and “Suprasegmental features.”Below are a few characteristics of this English dialect:
Vowels and Diphthongs
1. Shortening of diphthongs
Example: close — cose;
profession — pofession
2.Prolonging the length of the vowel in words beginning with one
Example: effect — eeffect
omit — ohmit
3.Insertion of vowels at the end of words
Example: miss — missi
tips — tipsi
1.Substituting /f/ for /th/
Example: three — fee
thank — fank
2.Substituting “s” for “sh”
Example: Shop — sop
Introduction — introduson
3. Absence of contrasts between voiced and voiceless sounds
Example bad — bat
fork — for
chop — cho
4.Substituting “w” for “r”
Example: Refuse — weefuse
Rotation — wohtation
“Newcomers to Hong Kong may not understand or adjust to the Hong Kong-accented English,” says Hammy Jiang, a Hong Kong law student and blogger. Last month, Jiang’s WeChat article “How to speak English like a Hong Konger” received 21,000 views, which he finds impressive compared to the 500 hits he normally gets on a blog post about law school—a testament to people’s fascination with this dialect (full disclosure: Jiang is a personal friend of an author of this post).
Jiang has given TWOC permission to republish a recording of Hong Kong English from his blog:
Good morning, everyone, I’m going to introduce myself first. My name is Simon. I come from Hong Kong. I am your professor of criminal law, and I will be teaching you many interesting topics of this area. Generally, the assessment of the coursework contains three portions: An assignment, a presentation, and the final exam. You must be very cautious to comply with the university’s regulations, say, no cheating and no plagiarism. OK, let’s start the class now.