Comparing English Worldwide: The International Corpus of English

By Sidney Greenbaum | Go to book overview

14
The International Corpus of English in Hong Kong

PHILIP BOLT and KINGSLEY BOLTON


1. INTRODUCTION

The sociolinguistic realities of English in Hong Kong are unlike those of any other society in Asia, not least of all because Hong Kong is Britain's only surviving territorial colony of any economic or strategic significance. Although an estimated 97 per cent of the population is Chinese, and Cantonese is the principal local language, English has been an official language of government and law since 1841, and throughout the present century it has been accorded semi-official status as the major language in many secondary schools, colleges, and universities. In addition, English is also considered the dominant language of business in the larger companies.

Hong Kong is currently experiencing a period of transition in which the decolonialization of institutions from Britain is being given increasing priority. Partly as a result of this and of other economic and social forces, English and Chinese now have an increasingly complex coexistence in government, public administration, law, education, the, business sector and the mass media. On 1 July 1997 Hong Kong will become a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China. It is likely that after this date the de facto and de jure status of English will be changed, changed, that either Cantonese or Putonghua (Mandarin) will assume a greater proportion of some of the roles previously held by English. 1

Considering the historical presence of English (of a quasi 'ESL' variety) and its public and official status, our motivations for undertaking the ICE work in Hong Kong were twofold. First, we were motivated by the opportunity to identify and analyse characteristics in the English used in the local setting across a broad range of contexts and text types. As such, it was anticipated that the ICE project would provide an excellent opportunity to carry out comparisons between the local data and data both from native-language countries on the one hand and from other ESL countries on the other. Secondly, our involvement in the ICE project was also motivated by the intention to consider the sociolinguistic background and context of English in use in Hong Kong, particularly as the local language situation has

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