Hong Kong and Taiwan–Language


The Basic Law of Hong Kong grants Hong Kong two official languages: “Chinese and English.” Explaining the continued presence of English in Hong Kong is easy; English was the sole official language of Hong Kong from 1843 to 1974. The “Chinese” component is more complex. Since the handover, Hong Kong has declared itself “biliterate and trilingual” — in addition to English, Cantonese is the de facto spoken language, but Standard Mandarin is in the picture too. Since the days of Imperial China, successive Chinese governments have promoted Standard Mandarin as Hong Kong’s primary language, but to no avail. Most people in Hong Kong who speak Mandarin more readily use Cantonese or other languages as they go through the day. Proponents of Mandarin were much more successful in Taiwan. Since the 1940s Mandarin has been the only official language of Taiwan’s schools, and much of the population uses it as their primary language. On the other hand, up to 70% of the Taiwanese also speak a language commonly known as “Taiwanese,” which is actually Hokkien. When you’re in Taiwan which should you speak?
According to Wikipedia’s entry on Hokkien:

— in formal settings? Most speak Mandarin
— in informal settings? Most speak Taiwanese

— in urban areas? Most speak Mandarin
— in rural areas? Most speak Taiwanese

— speaking with a young person? Try Mandarin
— speaking with an older person? Try Taiwanese
— speaking with a much older person who came of age during Japan’s pre 1940 rule of Taiwan? Try Japanese

— watching a game show or documentary? Get out your Mandarin dictionary
— watching a soap opera or variety show? Yay Taiwanese!

In class we’re going to say hello and goodbye in Taiwanese/Hokkien:

Hello: Li ho
Goodbye: Pêng-an

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