Summary: Education Secretary Kevin Yeung’s questioning of Cantonese’s suitability as the teaching language in the city on October 8 runs against Article 2 of the 1992 UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, The 1996 Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, and The 2011 Girona Manifesto on Linguistic Rights. His excuse that Cantonese is not the mother tongue of all Hongkongers contradicts the fact that HK Cantonese is still the mother tongue of 90% of the HK population, that it has been a de facto official oral speech in HK for 170 years, and that it is still spoken by 0.1 billion people in the world.
On 8 October, in a RTHK radio program, Education Secretary Kevin Yeung questioned whether Cantonese will be suitable as a teaching language in the city in the long-run and suggested that it may be a good idea for Hongkongers to start using more Putonghua in their daily lives. He went on to claim that no one in the world who learns Chinese does so in Cantonese except for the 7 million people in HK, and the trend clearly favors Putonghua.
Contravention of UN Declaration on Human Rights
Kevin Yeung’s saying contravenes Article 2 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (adopted on 18 December 1992) , which states that “Persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities have the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, and to use their own language, in private and in public, freely and without interference or any form of discrimination.”
Kevin’s remarks also contradict The Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights adopted at the conclusion of the World Conference on Linguistic Rights held 6–9 June 1996 in Barcelona, Spain:-
Article 26 All language communities are entitled to an education which will enable their members to acquire a full command of their own language, including the different abilities relating to all the usual spheres of use.
Girona Manifesto on Linguistic Rights
Kevin Yeung’s stance regarding HK Cantonese, moreover, runs against The Girona Manifesto on Linguistic Rights developed by International PEN in 2011, which states that “Every linguistic community has the right for its language to be used as an official language in its territory”, and ” School instruction must contribute to the prestige of the language spoken by the linguistic community of the territory.”
Cantonese is still spoken by 1 billion people in the world
Yeung claims that the range of application of Cantonese is insignificant. But the fact remains that Cantonese is still spoken by 1 billion people in the world, not just the 7 million people of HK, just that HK Cantonese uniquely and organically combines Pak Yuet (an anceint Southern China indigenous language), classical Chinese, modern Chinese, and Western loan words. It is still the mother tongue of 90 % of the HK population despite China’s flooding Hong Kong with 150 immigrants every day. Iceland has a population of only 3 hundred thousand, but the Icelandic people do not have to adopt English as their teaching language in order to learn English, which is almost the global lingua franca now.
HK Cantonese as a de facto official oral language in HK
More importantly, for 170 years, HK Cantonese has been one of the two de facto official oral languages in HK (the other being English) in all official situations there, e.g., courts, the Legislative and Executive Councils, schools, radio and television programs, hospitals, and all government departments.