Monday, September 29, 2008

Code-switching in Hong Kong

Code-switching, or the practice of using more than one language in conversation, is very common in Hong Kong. It usually involves a mix of and as a result of the bilingualism in Hong Kong. For example, may say "聽日一齊去食lunch吖﹖" when inviting someone for a meal.

Having been under , Hong Kong's spoken Cantonese is still heavily influenced by English, particularly the lexicon which contains numerous English words. Code-switching has become a sociolinguistics phenomenon that is deeply rooted in the everyday lives of Hong Kong people.

Code-switching in Hong Kong is mostly intra-sentential - switching within a sentence or clause. The syntax of thee sentence follows Chinese grammatical rules, but substitutes English words and phrases for their Chinese equivalents. For example, being an analytic language, Chinese uses instead of verb inflection. In the last example below, the verb ''book'' is not changed when being code-switchd.

Reasons for code-switching in Hong Kong

There are several possible reasons for Hong Kong people to code-switch in their everyday lives.

# It is communicatively efficient by using the least number of words possible to express oneself, especially as many English words are in common usage and thus widely understood. In other words, it is a shortcut to communication.
# It avoids embarrassment. Chinese culture is rather demure and places less emphasis on expressing one's feelings openly in public. Thus, it may be more comfortable to use English instead of Chinese in some cases. For example, saying ''I love you'' in English is more common than "我愛你" in Chinese. Other examples include sensitive words such as ''underwear'', ''toilet'', ''gay'' or expressions of personal feelings such as ''I'm proud of you'' or ''I appreciate it''.
# As code-switching is more prominent in Hong Kong than in other Cantonese-speaking regions in China , code-switching is most probably adopted as a linguistic of Hong Kong. The fact that Hongkongers code-switch, continue to use traditional Chinese characters , and accord high "prestige value" to English, is to distinguish themselves from the rest of mainland China. It is a nod to the lingering values of the pre-1997.


*"Instead of 星期一, 不如星期四."

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