Hong Kong English is the English language as it is used in Hong Kong. The variant is either a learner interlanguage or emergent variant, primarily a result of Hong Kong's British overseas territory history and the influence of native Hong Kong Cantonese speakers.


English is one of the official languages in Hong Kong, and is used widely in the Government, academic circles, business and the courts. All road and government signs are bilingual. Those who spoke English or were taught English were considered the elite and upperclassmen. Since the Handover, English in Hong Kong remains primarily a second language, in contrast to Singapore where English has been shifting toward being a first language. The falling English proficiency of local English language teachers has come under criticism. The proportion of the Hong Kong population who report using English (that is, all forms) as their "usual spoken language" increased from 2.8% in 2006 to 4.3% in 2016, while 51.1%, 63.5% and 65.6% respectively, reported being able to speak, write and read the language.


The existence of Hong Kong English, as a distinct variety of the English language, is still a matter of debate among many scholars.

Evidence suggesting variant established

In the literature examining the existence of Hong Kong English as a distinct variety, scholars have sought evidence of expression of the variant which may be classified according to the following criteria: * Standard and recognisable accent; research has demonstrated the existence of, and local preference for, a local Hong Kong English accent * Distinctive vocabulary; local media, such as newspapers, clearly show a shared common vocabulary used among English speakers in Hong Kong * History; a continuous link can be drawn between Hong Kong English and early pidgin forms used to communicate between traders in Canton before the establishment of Hong Kong as a colony. * Literature using the variant; there is a growing corpus of literature produced in English which is meant for local consumption, such as the work of Nury Vittachi. * Reference works; reference texts describing Hong Kong English are beginning to emerge, such as ''A Dictionary of Hong Kong English: Words from the Fragrant Harbor'' Using these criteria, scholars have said that Hong Kong English possesses the attributes of a distinct variety. Hong Kong English is also featured as a separate entity in the Oxford Guide to World English, under the sub-heading of "East Asia". Hong Kong English is also included as a separate variety of English within the International Corpus of English, with a dedicated local research team collecting data to describe the usage of English in Hong Kong.

Evidence suggesting variant not established

It has also been argued that there is no such thing as Hong Kong English and the predominance of recent works discuss Hong Kong phonology in terms of erroneous deviation from varieties such as British and American English. In one co-authored work describing a study conducted of five Hong Kong speakers of English, it was concluded, controversially, as they conceded, that HKE was at most an emergent variety and perhaps no more than a "learner interlanguage". In the Dynamic Model of Postcolonial Englishes, it has been classified as in the third phase, that of Nativisation, but more recently it has been shown that many young people are happy to identify themselves as speakers of Hong Kong English, so it may be regarded as progressing into the fourth phase, that of Endonormative Stabilisation. Furthermore, by the criteria identified in the above section, scholars have noted that there is very little literature produced in English which is meant for local consumption.

Intelligibility and recognition

It has been demonstrated that English spoken in Hong Kong is highly intelligible to listeners from elsewhere, which helps explain why an increasing number of people are happy to be identified as speakers of this variety. However, it has been noted that language use is highly politicised and compartmentalised in Hong Kong, where the two official languages are seen as having different and distinct uses. Indeed, it has been argued that even English language teachers in Hong Kong would refuse to acknowledge the local variant of English within a classroom setting, opting instead for more "standard" variations. It has been argued that the lack of recognition of Hong Kong English as a variety on par with other Asian varieties, such as Indian English or Singaporean English, is due to a lack of research.


As a result of the colonial legacy, the pronunciation of Hong Kong English was assumed to be originally based on British English,Hung, T. N. (2012). Hong Kong English. In E. L. Low & Azirah Hashim (Eds.), ''English in Southeast Asia: Features, policy and language in use'' (pp. 113–133). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. However, nowadays, there are new features of pronunciation derived from American English, and the influence of American English has emerged.Chan, J. Y. H. (2013). Contextual variation in Hong Kong English. ''World Englishes'', 32, 54–74. Furthermore, there seem to be some innovative developments that are unique to Hong Kong English, such as a split in the realisation of /v/ as or Hung, T. N. (2007). Innovation in second language phonology. In T. Hoffmann & L. Siebers (Eds.), ''World Englishes: Problems, properties and prospects'' (pp. 227–237). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Some of the more salient features are listed below.


* tends to be so ''this'' is is * /ə/ tends to be so ''whether'' is .Deterding, D., Wong J., & Kirkpatrick, A. (2008). The pronunciation of Hong Kong English. ''English World-Wide'', 29, 148–149. * /v/ may be or , so ''event'' may have while ''even'' has It seems that occurs at the start of a stressed syllable while occurs at the start of an unstressed syllable. * There is alternation between and and the same speaker may alternate with words such as ''light'' and ''night'', and both ''loud'' and ''number'' may have either or at the start. * Words with the ending sound of /s/ add long vowel / i:/ , such as Joyce ʒɔɪspronunciation becomes Joysee ʒɔɪsi:* In final consonant clusters, just as with many other varieties of English, there is a tendency for simplification, so the plosive at the end of words such as ''think'' and ''camp'' is often omitted. Deletion of coronal plosives /t/ and /d/ from word-final clusters has been reported to occur in about 76% of tokens, though this frequency is a little less if the function words ''and'' and ''just'' are excluded from the analysis. * L-vocalisation is common, so dark /l/ in the coda of a syllable is often pronounced as , and ''fill'' may be while ''tell'' is , just as in London English (Cockney). After back rounded vowels /l/ is often omitted, so ''school'' is and ''wall'' is . * Like many accents in Britain, Hong Kong English is non-rhotic, so is only pronounced before a vowel. However, with the growing influence of American English and Canadian English, many young people in Hong Kong now pronounce the in the coda of a syllable. * There is often little distinction between the non-close front vowels, and , so ''bat'' and ''bet'' may be pronounced the same (with . * Long and short vowels are generally merged, particularly involving the close vowels and (so ''heat'' and ''hit'' are both pronounced with a short tense ) as well as and (so ''pull'' and ''pool'' are the same). * Vowel reduction is often avoided in function words, so a full vowel occurs in words such as ''and'' and ''to'' as well as the first syllable of content words such as ''accept'' and ''patrol''.


* Multi-syllable words are often differently stressed. For example, while the word "latte" is pronounced in most variants of the English language, it is usually pronounced in Hong Kong English, with the second syllable stressed instead of the first. * Omission of entire "r-" syllables in longer words; "difference" becomes , and "temperature" becomes . * Words beginning with unstressed syllables "con" are generally pronounced its stressed form with a lower pitch, e.g. "connection", "consent", "condition". Words beginning with stressed syllable "com-" e.g. "competition", "common" and "compromise" are pronounced . * The schwa tends to be pronounced as in final closed syllables; "ticket" is pronounced , and "carpet" is pronounced . * The suffix -age is generally pronounced ; "message" is pronounced , "package" is pronounced etc. * There is less vowel reduction in unstressed syllables, and some variation in the placement of stress. For example, ''chocolate'' may be pronounced , as distinct from in other varieties of English. * Compared to other varieties of English, there is less difference between stressed and unstressed syllables. In most varieties of English, unstressed syllables are reduced, taking less time. This difference is smaller in Hong Kong English.


*In Cantonese, there is no structure of diphthong+consonant. As a result, becomes , becomes , becomes , becomes , becomes , becomes , becomes , becomes etc. * For the case , or , the ending consonant is generally omitted, resulting in . * Many Chinese will speak a foreign language with the same characteristic monosyllabic staccato of spoken Chinese, with varying degrees of the natural liaisons between syllables that natives employ. In a similar vein, they often pronounce syllables as if words were transliterated into Cantonese: "Cameron" is pronounced as kʰɛmmalɔnbased on its transliteration; "basic" is pronounced as pei̯se̝k̚ * Exaggeration of certain final consonants, for example to and sounds of the past-tense form of verbs to . * Differences or omission in ending sounds, as the ending consonants are always voiceless and unreleased (glottalised) in Cantonese with the exceptions of , and , similar to Basel German * Pronouncing the silent , sounds in words like "Green-wich", "Bon-ham", "Chat-ham", "Beck-ham" are often reflected in the transliteration of the words, for example, Beckham is transliterated (pronounced ). * Merging the contrast of voiceless/voiced consonants with aspirated/unaspirated if any contrast exists in Cantonese. This is because English voiceless consonants are most often aspirated, whereas the voiced ones are always unaspirated. The stop becomes and becomes ; becomes and becomes ; becomes and becomes ; becomes and becomes (except when preceded by s, where the English consonants are unaspirated). * Merging voiceless/voiced consonants into voiceless if there is no contrast in aspirated/unaspirated in Cantonese. Both and become ; both and become ; both and become ; the only exception might be that and are never confused, due to difficulty in pronouncing and : many pronounce as , and as . * Confusion between homographs (words with the same spelling but different meanings), e.g. the noun "resume" (c.v.) and the verb "resume" (to continue). * The word "lift"(American English elevator) is pronounced as "lip"

American/British spelling and word usage

* Both British and American spellings are in common use, although the British variant predominates in official circles, and remains to be the officially taught form in education. * When referring to the same thing, British vocabulary is more commonly used, for example: ''rubbish bin'' instead of ''garbage/trash can''; ''lift'' instead of ''elevator''; ''mobile phone'' instead of ''cell phone''; ''estate agent'' instead of ''real estate broker''.

Hong Kong vocabulary/expressions

Some words and phrases widely understood in Hong Kong are rare or unheard of elsewhere. These often derive from Chinese, Anglo-Indian, or Portuguese/Macanese. * A 'chop' is a seal or stamp, e.g. a "Company chop" is the seal or stamp of a corporation (It actually originates from colonial Indian English.) It is now used in some other Commonwealth countries as a non-official term * A ''Tai-Pan'' (or 'taipan'; ) is a term used in the early 20th century for a business executive of a large corporation. * An ''amah'' () is a term used in the early 20th century for a live-in servant (from Macanese/Portuguese- ''ama'' nurse); now supplanted by "omestic/nowiki> helper" * A 'shroff' is a cashier in a hospital, a government office or a car park (parking garage). * "Godown" is a warehouse From the Malay "gudang". *''Nullah'' is a concrete-lined canal or a reinforced creek bed used to contain run-off. ''Nullah'' entered the English language from Hindi. The word nullah is used almost exclusively in Hong Kong. * ''Jetso'' ("") is sometimes used to mean ''discount'' or ''special offer''. * 'Add oil', direct translation of the Chinese (), an exclamatory entreaty of encouragement. * ''Lai see'' a transliteration of the Cantonese term (), also referred to as "red envelopes", or "red packets", or by the Mandarin term (), for red envelopes bearing auspicious Chinese phrases or characters containing money and handed out as gifts, particularly during the Lunar New Year festival.

See also

* Chinese Pidgin English * Phonemic differentiation * Regional accents of English * Chinglish * Singlish * Macanese Portuguese * Code-switching in Hong Kong * Education in Hong Kong * Hong Kong Cantonese * Languages of Hong Kong


External links

*Caryn Yeo, (23 Feb 2009)
"Hong Kong's English, Cantonese conundrum"
''The Straits Times''
"The cat got your mother tongue? – The Brits make a linguistic comeback"
''The Economist'' (12 June 2008) {{English dialects by continent English Category:Dialects of English Category:City colloquials