熱血時報 | War of words: What’s in a name?

War of words: What’s in a name?

War of words: What’s in a name?

“He mobilised the English language and sent it to battle.” These were the words former U.S. President Kennedy gave in honour of former British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, for his contribution to the Allies during World War II, as he galvanised the British into the war effort against Nazi Germany in spite of the repeated losses the Allies in Western Europe suffered in the hands of the Nazis. According to Churchill’s granddaughter, Celia Sandys, “it has been said that Hitler could persuade you that he could do anything, but that Churchill could persuade you that YOU could do anything”. It was this characteristic of Churchill that turned the tide for Britain against the overwhelming German Blitzkrieg. Churchill wrestled the British from the throes of despair to where there were glimmers of hope, like stars in a dark, moonless night. In the words of Gary Oldman who played Churchill in the movie “Darkest Hour,” Britain had its head in the tiger’s mouth, but by Churchill’s words alone he pried open that tiger’s mouth and rescued not just the British but the entire free world from it. On Churchill, the maxim “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was disproved, as the cliché goes “the pen is mightier than the sword”. Yet even though words can be employed to defend and protect, they can also be used to enslave and destroy. Adolf Hitler supposedly said, “The first step to eliminate a nation is to disintegrate its language, which embodied its culture that started from schools” (this quote was used extensively one time by the Hong Kong Resistance since 2012 but nothing is evident that Hitler actually said this). Thus naturally we can see that any aggressive power seeking to oppress another nation often makes the first strike by subjugating the opponent’s language. In George Orwell’s 1984, Newspeak was the language used in his fictitious totalitarian world, a language of oxymoron and untruths employed to suppress the people’s conscious thoughts and critical cognitive abilities.

Is it any wonder then, that we see the Chinese regime and their SAR lackeys trying to control the languages of the Hong Kong people? In recent days, this quest for control was played out in the fiasco over the Hong Kong Baptist University’s blatantly discriminatory graduation requirements for local Hong Kong students, as they have to satisfactorily pass an extra Mandarin Chinese language proficiency test in order to be eligible for graduation. Students from China or elsewhere, however, are automatically exempt, nor do the Mainland Chinese students have to pass a Cantonese language proficiency test in order to graduate. When students from the university are rightfully angry at the differential treatment and seek to take the responsible university department to task, the pro-China authorities shift the focus onto their strong tone of voice and choice of words in order to discredit their demands, even doxing personal details of the individual students involved and branding them as “resistance elements” and “Hong Kong independence advocates”. Essentially, any efforts to defend the Cantonese language and Traditional Written Script’s primary role in Hong Kong society, and to resist any Chinese attempt to install Mandarin Chinese and the associated “Crippled Script” (also known as Simplified Chinese) as the default and principal language in Hong Kong, are always met with Chinese condemnation and oppression.

When the pursuit for linguistic genocide against Cantonese (the Chinese regime once had tried to suppress Cantonese speakers in Guangzhou and Guangxi Province) has been met with strong resistance from Hong Kong’s adults – chiefly from young adults – the Chinese powers and their lackeys have changed their focus of ethnic cleansing by forcing kindergarteners and primary school students to only study and use Mandarin Chinese in their literature and language classes. The official rationale behind it is that there is often a discrepancy between the written and colloquial form of the Sino Languages (due to the First Emperor of Qin’s unification of the written words), but the powers-that-be have been promoting the lie that 1. Mandarin Chinese does not have that discrepancy but Cantonese does – even though putting spoken Cantonese into words is just as literally appropriate and similar to the written words used as late as the Sung Sino-Empire and as early as the Qin Dynasty, and 2. that using Mandarin Chinese as the medium of instruction and learning will negate that linguistic dissonance and promote the “proper” written language, although the Mandarin Chinese used in class often contains colloquialism used by the northern Chinese and not by those from the south or in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, by the time they are in high school and no longer forced to use Mandarin Chinese as the “lingua operandi” during their literature and language classes, students are often at a loss for words in Cantonese and need to revert to using Mandarin Chinese instead. Many Hong Kong localists have noticed that children, with both parents that were locally born and are Cantonese-speaking, are conversing in Mandarin Chinese with friends not just in school but outside of school as well. There has also been coverage by the mainstream media reporting that certain children in Hong Kong are now unable to name an everyday object (e.g. body parts such as “neck” or “knee”) using Cantonese and can only do so in Mandarin Chinese.

The Hong Kong establishment has tried to reason away the issue by arguing that students’ Cantonese language proficiency can be improved by learning it at home through everyday communications with parents. Yet, as someone living in Australia where English is the lingua primus, I have noticed that even though children of first-generation immigrants actively learn and use their mother tongue with their parents at home, they eventually become less able and fluent in their mother tongue, often resorting to use English instead because it is used more often in school. For most second-generation immigrants, all fluency in their mother tongue is lost and English becomes their mother tongue. This is why some young Hong Kongers, as well as the young Cantonese people in Guangdong Province, are already forgetting their Cantonese and lacking in fluency.

The Chinese regime, however, has designated Cantonese as a mere “dialect”, a variant or linguistic deviation of Mandarin Chinese, and has called for the cleansing of all “dialects” as a show of unity. Schools in China adopt the official policy that speaking such “dialects” is wrong and “not inclusive” of non-Cantonese people. Students have been told that speaking Cantonese is rude and that the Cantonese language is for the uneducated. The labelling of Cantonese, or the Yue Language, as a dialect of Mandarin Chinese is erroneous. Even though they share a common ancestor in the old and classical Chinese language and are classified as forms of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages, Cantonese and Mandarin are as different as Spanish and French, even though both Spanish and French are both Romance languages originating from Roman Latin. Cantonese came from a mix of classical Chinese and the languages of the native peoples in the region now called Guangdong and Guangxi, whereas Mandarin is a bastardisation of the same old, classical Chinese through the conquest of nomadic nations from the north such as the Huns, Mongols and the Jurchen (a.k.a. Manchus). This is somewhat similar to the Romance Languages (e.g. French, Spanish, and Italian) which are variations of Roman Latin that evolved after the fall of the Roman Empire. Yet, since the fall of the Sung Dynasty from the Mongol conquest, Cantonese and Mandarin have been independently developing along their own linguistic evolutionary paths. To say that Cantonese is a mere dialect of Mandarin is blatantly ignoring history, and to say that Cantonese doesn’t deserve to exist because Chinese consider it a “dialect” is akin to linguistic genocide and ethnic cleansing.

But one may ask, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name will smell as sweet. Does it really matter what language we use? Isn’t language simply about communication? Why can’t you adopt Mandarin and forget Cantonese? Is it some sort of linguistic or cultural chauvinism to be so adamant on having Cantonese as the lingua primus?”

A language is not simply a medium of communication; it also pertains to the identity of those who use it. It is born from a community of people sharing a common way of perceiving the world around them, and constructing a system of phonemes, morphemes and semantics that can translate their thoughts into something concrete, observable and able to be passed on to the next generation in that community. This common perception of the world also creates a unique way this community does things and defines what they come to value, which then form the basis of culture. A community’s language and its culture have a symbiotic relationship with each other, in which the culture formulates the language used, while at the same time, the language formed is a carrier of that community’s culture. A community’s language and culture then shape its members’ identity; to deny the language of a community is to extinguish its culture and exterminate its identity.

By trying to control the language Hong Kong society employs as the lingua prima, Chinese are seeking to take control of Hong Kong people’s identity. By placing punitive pressure on Cantonese-speaking Hong Kongers for using Cantonese, Chinese and their lackeys in the SAR regime are covertly and passively trying to force the future generations to abandon their Cantonese tongue and adopt Mandarin purely out of convenience. In doing so, the Chinese are attempting to deny Hong Kongers the separate identity their own language gives them, to assimilate Hong Kongers into the Chinese fold, and to force Hong Kongers to forget their own identity. It is a form of bloodless genocide and ethnic cleansing. For those of us who are resisting this plan by China, it is a war of words.