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Hong Kong Language – What to Know?

Hong Kong is one of the world’s most densely populated cities and a significant global financial center known for its thriving economy and diverse demographics. Although the cosmopolitan city is a part of China, the Hong Kong language spoken in the area is not limited to Chinese. How many languages are spoken in Hong Kong? Keep scrolling to find out!

History of Language in Hong Kong

Before we dive into the language spoken in Hong Kong, we have to look a bit into the language development in the area. As an essential part of our everyday life, language is interconnected with demographic, cultural, social, and economic factors. The vicissitudes of the languages used in Hong Kong can vividly demonstrate how a sparsely populated fishing village transformed itself into a world-class commercial port and financial center in less than 150 years. 

The Most Spoken Langauge - Cantonese

The indigenous residents in Hong Kong majorly had spoken Cantonese and Cantonese dialects, such as Weitou Dialect, Tanka, Dapeng Dialect, Toishanese, Hakka, Hokkien,  for many years. Cantonese remains the most spoken language in Hong Kong, with 91% of the population being native speakers. 

How Did English Become Official in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong became a British colony in 1841 when China’s Qing Dynasty ceded part of the territory of Xin’an County (Bao’an County) at the end of the First Opium War. The colony extended further a few times. The whole territory of Hong Kong was settled till the UK obtained a 99-year lease of the New Territories, in which Britain agreed to transfer Hong Kong back to China in 1997. English was exclusively used as the official language during the prolonged British Hong Kong era. 

Although highly-educated Hong Kongers were fluent in English and Cantonese, most of the population still spoke Cantonese as their first language. Many mixed Cantonese and English in their oral communication. Such a phenomenon is called code-switching. Code-switching between English and Cantonese is still common in today’s Hong Kong. 

Additionally, Imperial Japan occupied Hong Kong from 1941 to 1945 in World War II, during which the Japanese prevailed in Hong Kong.

Other Important Languages Spoken in Hong Kong

In the last century, Hong Kong has established its status as a significant hub for international trade and has attracted expatriates from all over the world to study and work here. As a melting pot of different ethnicities, Hong Kong is also home to various foreign languages, including Japanese, French, German, Tagalog, Indonesian, Thai, and many others. These workers (mostly maids) from southeastern Asia have gravitated to the high pay offered by employers in Hong Kong and domestic workers from other countries have flocked to work there, contributing to expanding the speech minorities in Hong Kong to Nepaliese, Pakistani, and Indian, etc. 

After Hong Kong’s return to the PRC, the prevalence of Mandarin increased. The older generation still refuses to learn or speak Mandarin, believing that they can do with Cantonese and English.

What Language is Spoken in Hong Kong?

One can never understand the demographic diversity in Hong Kong without its linguistic landscape in mind. With a general understanding of the history of language in Hong Kong, you would know the answer to “what language do they speak in Hong Kong?” – It is an interesting assortment! 

Languages Spoken in Hong Kong

Chinese Languages

European Languages

Cantonese

English, French, German

Hakka

Asian Languages

Taishanese

Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Indonesian,

Thai, Vietnamese, Hindi, Pakistani

Hokkien

Shanghainese

Middle Eastern Languages

Mandarin

Arabic

Official Language of Hong Kong

In the British Hong Kong period from 1883 to 1974, English was exclusively the official language of Hong Kong used by its government and businesses. It wasn’t until the Hong Kongers demonstrated and petitioned over and over for equal status for Chinese that the language finally became official in Hong Kong in 1974. According to the Hong Kong Basic Law, Chinese Traditional(Cantonese) and English will enjoy a co-official status in Hong Kong after the handover. From enactments and signages to menus, most of the text/speech appears bilingually. 

Translating Hong Kong Languages

When it comes to translating the language spoken in Hong Kong, it’s important to use local translators who are native to Chinese traditional and Cantonese and fluent in the source language. They can handle the cultural and linguistic intricacies between two languages while retaining the context. Don’t settle for a Mandarin translator when you fail to connect to an English to Hong Kong language translator! Because Mandarin speakers are accustomed to Chinese simplified and the vocabulary of Cantonese is distinct from that of Mandarin. 

If you need Hong Kong language translation into English or any other language, contact Wordspath! We are an experienced language service company within proximity of Hong Kong. We have an extensive network of native Hong Kong language translators from and to English and many other languages. 

To Wrap Up

Hong Kong is a land of different languages and ethnicities. As a city that embraces cultural diversity, every langauge can gain a foothold in Hong Kong. From the most spoken language – Cantonese, to the less common spoken ones like Pakistani and Nepalese, in Hong Kong language of any kind is treated equally with respect.

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