Hong Kong English


Many of you may already know there is a term called “Singlish” or “Singaporean English” (English spoken by Singapore people). Have you heard of “Hongkish”? Well you shouldn’t since this is a term created by me. I do not want this term to be popular or well known. Please allow me to explain why.

Unfortunately, there appear to be a form or style of English that is only understood by people who live in Hong Kong and in most cases who speaks Cantonese. I am coining the term “Hongkish” to refer to this style of the English language.

Hongkish is definitely not proper English and it should not be promoted or encouraged for its use, especially for the younger generations of Hongkees (a popular term to refer to Hong Kong people).

An example of Hongkish is:

Use dipped lights

Can you guess where I see this phrase? Or what this phrase mean? The proper phrase should be “Please use low beam”.

Another example would be:

Live life to the full

What does this mean? The phrase that I know is:

Live life to the fullest

I had never heard of “Live life to the full”. This was created by an international brand as dialog in one of its TVC.

Some times I wonder if this is the difference between North American culture (what I am used to) and British culture (what much of Hong Kong is influenced by). So I validated my suspicions by asking others about these phrases and they agree that they also do not know what these phrases mean. Of course I checked with Hongkees who grew up in Hong Kong, British and Australian people who grew up in the respective regions.

Aside from creating phrases that are difficult to understand, some times due to the direct translation from Cantonese these Hongkish phrases often have a rule connotation.

For example, a sign I saw in the street car reads “Do not with driver speak while the tram motion during” in Chinese, which in Chinese is quite polite and is in a form of a strong suggestion to ridders. The English version of this sign reads “Do not speak to driver when tram is running”. One would agree that the English version of the sign is not the best, but since it is a poor, direct translation of the Chinese sign, hence the result. If I were to create the English version of this sign it would read:

Please do not speak to the driver while the tram is in motion

For some reason the appearance of Hongkish was not relevant; at least to me, until after 1997, when the control of Hong Kong is returned back to China. I am sure this conclusion must be a mistake. Since I cannot imagine that proper English spoken and written by Hongkees can turn bad over night.

For the sake of the future of Hongkees I hope that the government would make an effort to correct these public signage as soon as possible. Especially when they already have a campaign to encourage more Hongkees to learn proper English.

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