Language Policy, Practice and Diglossia in Colonial and Post – Colonial Hong Kong

Liyan Hu


The language policy in Hong Kong undergoes both colonization and decolonization at present. In colonial days, the language policy was diglossic or superposed bilingualism. English was treated as ‘high’ language, while Cantonese and Putongh (formerly known as Mandarin were of the ‘low’ status. One of the major changes after the resumption of sovereignty in 1997 is the ‘bi-literacy and trilingualism’ language policy, to balance the status of English, Cantonese (a commonly spoken local language in Hong Kong) and Putonghua (the national spoken language in mainland China); this is in accordance with the ‘mother tongue’ education policy. This paper examines the language policy with certain politically-driven practices in education, the workplace as well as daily common and official life in pre-colonial and post-colonial Hong Kong; to view the intentions of the colonial government and the motives of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Government, as well as to examine the response of Hong Kong society to the language issues during the transition of political power.


language policy, diglossia, hegemony, medium of instruction, political transition, globalization and decolonization

This article is supported by research project of IPS, FSV, UK: MSM 0021620841- Development of the Czech Society in the EU: Challenges and Risks.

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