Watch Your Language (WARNING: contains expletives)

An edited (but never censored) version was published 6th October 2011 in HK Magazine 

So while I was at a scintillating dinner party over wine and cheese and generic jazz from a compilation CD, a white American male who’s spent some time in Beijing proceeded to tell us all that there’s really no point in learning Cantonese. According to him, in about two generations everyone in Hong Kong will be speaking Putonghua. Alright, say it with me now: [sau1 deh1 la1 fan2 tseung2 ngong6 geui1 ga4]. That’s more or less “Are you stupid? BITCH, PLEASE. SHUT THE HELL UP” in Cantonese.

As an absolute master of polished tact and objectivity, I waited for him to voice his (clearly misinformed) reasons before executing public BPSTFU mode, but I suspected he simply spewed his bullshit polemic in order to appear more interesting at a party. Our Merciful Managing Editor, knowing me as the cunning and anal linguist—as well as a total bitch in the office when it comes to language issues—(“Make damn sure all accent marks in ‘naïve décolleté’ are on the blueprint!!!”) gave a heads-up to his fellow American: “Um, Johannes here speaks like, eight or nine languages.”

But Mr. My-Two-Cents just wouldn’t shut it.

His argument: “Cantonese isn’t used in any media.” Uh whaaa? I suppose you don’t read the gossip mags that cover every newsstand because you’re Canto-ILLITERATE.

The [pok1 gaai1] proceeded to back-pedal: “Not used in any official media.” Huh. You don’t watch Cantonese news on TVB nor ATV, eh?

Then [lan2 yeung2] proceeded to back-pedal all the way to the Mainland: “There’s no Cantonese media in China.” Guess you failed to follow that fascinating show on Cantonese etymology on Foshan TV. I suppose he didn’t realize that a WHOLE PROVINCE in China actually has TV stations with Cantonese programming, like Pearl River Channel on Guangdong TV, Guangzhou TV (GZTV) and the Satellite Channel of Southern Television Guangdong (TVS).

And obviously he didn’t know of that brouhaha last summer in GZ—basically the largest rally against language policy in PRC history—when a crowd of about 10,000 outraged Cantonese gathered to protest after the central government suggested GZTV to increase their Mandarin broadcasts for the Asian Games 2010. Citing “historic causes and present demands” as reasons to maintain Cantonese and Putonghua bilingualism, GZTV ultimately rejected the proposal. Fail.

Don’t you just love it when some gwailo—who’s taken some Putonghua classes in Beijing and read a few crappy online articles—will believe himself a China expert and give you his two cents on the intricate and complex linguistic situation in China, where regional languages are intimately tied with ethnic identity and a cultural heritage that stretches back thousands of years? I don’t expect a monolingual, who failed to do his homework, especially a North American, who grew up in a strictly monolingual environment, to even understand things. There’s no need to engage with an unfit challenger thrashing about in the debate arena.

But really, it’s not Cantonese-speakers who have to worry about ceding to Standard Chinese in about two generations—it’s you Anglophones. Start learning your tones in Putonghua now, bitch.


aaaaand here’s another HK Mag column i penned in when some troll wrote back: FEED THE TROLL.

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