Chapman Chen, Local Press, Reports
Kung Fu master Wong Fei-hung’s hometown is facing the risk of losing its language. In response to the Foshan municipal government’s recent order to prohibit the use of Cantonese in public places, Local Press has interviewed Miss Lau and Mr. C, both citizens of Canton (Guangdong). Miss Lau says that for years, the Chinese Communist Party has been flooding Canton with people from the North and forcing the schools there to adopt Putonghua as the medium of instruction instead of Cantonese. As a result, the pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary of Cantonese in Canton are badly interfered with. “Canton is already occupied by the enemy. Hong Kong is the last piece of pure Cantonese land left. Hongkongers must learn from Canton’s lesson and stand firm!” Miss Lau advises Hong Kong citizens. Meanwhile, Mr. C says, “Whether the Cantonese language will become extinct depends on whether local citizens realize that immigrants from the North are colonizers, rather than compatriots!” Now in most primary schools in Hong Kong, and quite a few secondary schools there, Putonghua is already used in place of Cantonese to teach the Chinese subject. The linguist, Professor Robert Bauer predicts that a few years after Putonghua becomes the medium of instruction in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Cantonese may die out.
Exchange Transfusion of Canton
Starting from 30th June this year, the medium of reporting of the Guangdong TV news channel was suddenly changed from Cantonese into Putonghua, and its Cantonese news anchors replaced. On 11st July, Mao Yong Tian, Head of the Education Bureau of Fo Shan City, Canton Province, issued an order to forbid the use of Cantonese in Fo Shan, with the excuse of “building one of the civilized cities of the country.” Tang Can Rong, Deputy Secretary of Fo Shan Municipal Government, also said, “As now half of the population of Fo Shan comes from elsewhere, only standardization of oral and written languages can facilitate mutual communication.” Starting from October, government departments, schools, news media, trades that serve the public, shall all use Putonghua and simplified Chinese characters, including even menus of restaurants and advertisement leaflets.
Miss Lau, a clerk in Canton, took part in the 2010 pro-Cantonese demonstration against the exclusive use of Putonghua in Canton television programs. According to Miss Lau, “The Chinese Communist Party transfused numerous Northern immigrants into Canton, who are attracted by the rich economy of this province. New immigrants from the grassroot class work as cheap labor in Canton, such as restaurant waiter and construction site worker. Intellectuals from the North work as medical practitioners and engineers there. And many Cantonese males have married women from the North, and most of their children speak Putonghua. Most of the principals of local tertiary, secondary, and primary schools and even kindergartens are Northerners. Out of selfish motives, they mostly recruit teachers from their own home towns,” Miss Lau remarks indignantly. “As a consequence,” she goes on to say, “teaching the Chinese subject and other subjects in Putonghua has become the main stream. Starting from 2000, this policy has been implemented extensively. Graduates from universities and teachers’ training institutes have to pass a Putonghua exam before they are qualified as a teacher. Now in all corners of Guangzhou, the barbarian language of Putonghua can be heard.”
“The pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary of Cantonese in Canton are gravely polluted by Putonghua. For instance, “gwang1gwang1 lit6 lit6轟轟烈烈 explosively and vigorously” becomes “hung1 hung1 lit6 lit6空空烈烈 emptily and vigorously”, “seoi6 si6瑞士 Switzerland” becomes “jeoi6 si6銳士sharp scholar”. “佢行得快過你He walked faster than you” is displaced by “佢行得比你快He walked, compared with you, fast.” “syut3 gwai6雪櫃(snow-cabinet/refrigerator” is displaced by “bing1 soeng1冰箱ice-box/refrigerator”; “saang1 gwo2生果 [life] fruit” displaced by “seoi2 gwo2水果[watery] fruit”,” Miss Lau laments.
On the other hand, Miss Lau was surprised when she learnt from the reporter that the Putonghua-Chinese textbooks in Hong Kong specifies that “syu4 zai2薯仔 small potato be replaced by “tou2 dau6土豆earth beans”; that there are writers in Hong Kong who write “zaa1 mun4咱們 (Northern slang phrase for we)”in place of “ngo2 mun4我地(Cantonese phrase for we)”. “Even people from Canton won’t say such low patois,” comments Miss Lau.
Contents of Interview Given to Cable TV Not Broadcast
“Canton is already occupied by the enemy. Hong Kong is the last piece of pure Cantonese land left. Hongkongers must learn from Canton’s lesson and stand firm!” Miss Lau advises Hong Kong citizens.
In 2010, while the citizens of Canton were protesting against the exclusive use of Putonghua in TV programs, Miss Lau was interviewed by HK Cable TV, but the contents were never broadcast. Local Press has sent a letter to Cable TV in order to confirm this, but has never received any reply from them up till this report comes out. According to Miss Lau, she then said bluntly to Cable TV, “As throughout history, Canton has produced a number of revolutionaries like Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the Communist authorities dread Cantonese. In order to prevent Cantonese officials from growing strong and insubordinate in Canton, The CCP has usually appointed officials from Northern provinces to be the governor of Canton instead of allowing Cantonese people to rule Canton. And Northern officials rarely give a damn to conservation of Cantonese language and culture, monuments and relics. In order to facilitate their ruling, they always promote Putonghua at the expense of Cantonese. In a word, Cantonese culture is incompatible with Chinese Communist culture; and Canton, as a rich economy, has to turn over enormous amounts of taxes to the Central Government every year. So independence will do Cantonese people much good.”
Complying in Appearance, Acting the Contrary
The reporter of Local Press has also interviewed Mr. C , a citizen of Canton. Mr. C is an active Cantonese conservationist. He refuses to have his real name made public. It turns out that earlier this year, a certain Hong Kong television interviewed him in relation to the conservation of Cantonese. Mr C. had warned them against disclosing his name and they had agreed. But still his name was announced in the program when it came out. Mr. C claims that some of his friends engaged in Cantonese conservation have been invited to “tea” by public security officers.
Concerning the Fo Shan Government’s order to exterminate Cantonese, Mr. C says, “We have to wait and see. Actually, the CCP always want to root out Cantonese. The Northern rulers and the locals are always fighting a seesaw battle with each other. Unlike Hong Kong, Canton is not a place with rule of law. The people of Canton often comply in appearance with the policy of promoting Putonghua and exterminating Cantonese but act in contrary. The whole thing depends on how many Northerners the CCP can maneuver to flood Canton with. For instance, the Education Bureau has stipulated that the medium of instruction at school be Putonghua, but many local teachers still teach in Cantonese when they are not being watched.”
Mr. C would rather the authorities explicitly ban Cantonese for this will wake up the people to struggle, for example, the 2001 campaign for conservation of Cantonese.
“Northerners are Colonizers rather than Compatriots”
On the other hand, Mr. C points out, “for fear that large-scale protests may cause suppression, our current struggle-strategy is to pay close attention to the interests of the language in every domain. For example, as soon as we find out that announcements are made only in Putonghua at a metro station, we will take expedient actions. Another instance. When Northern immigrants moved to Canton to be taxi drivers or waiters in the past, their attitude used to be very arrogant. However, after protests made by the locals and reporting by local media, the situation has improved.”
Mr. C also indicates that the Putonghua line of thinking has caused certain TV presenters to pronounce “fou6埠 port” as bou6, “zoeng6 bat6 pong5象拔蚌geoduck” as “zoeng6 bat6 paang5象拔棒”, and to say “laizi例子example” instead of “lai例 example”, i.e., replacing monosyllabic phrases with disyllabic ones. Meanwhile, Mr. C advises Hong Kong people to avoid Northern phrases like “dei6 kau1 yau4地溝油underground gutter oil” and say “haang1 keoi4坑渠油 sewage oil” instead; to say “fen1si2 fan屎fans” rather than “fan5si1粉絲”, a Northern translation of “fans”. Nonetheless, in his conversation with the reporter, Mr. C himself uses Northern slang like “naa5 paa3哪怕even if”. When the reporter points out to him that the idiomatic Cantonese counterparts are “zik1 si2即使”，“zau6 syun3就算”，“zeon2 gun2儘管”, Mr. C smiles wryly and says, “When one grows up soaked in the barbarian language, it is difficult for one not to become unconsciously infected.”
Talking about whether the Cantonese language will die out, Mr. C stresses, “It very much depends on whether the locals will wake up to the fact that Canton is a colony, that Northern immigrants are colonizers rather than compatriots!”
Cantonese may Become Extinct in the Second Half of this Century
Professor Robert Bauer is a Hong Kong citizen, originally from the United States. He is a linguist specialized in phonology and sociolinguistics of Cantonese. In 2002, he predicts that a few years after Putonghua becomes the medium of instruction of the Chinese subject in Hong Kong schools, the tradition of Hong Kong students learning written Chinese by way of Cantonese will be lost. Cantonese publications will shrink, young Hongkongers will become ashamed of Cantonese, and they will only use the language at home with illiterate elders, just like current Canton. In the second half of this century, Cantonese may even become extinct.