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English or languish
Probing the ramifications of Hong Kong's language policy

Quality Assessment
Section Three
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Language as medium

The fate of cross-cultural communication in Hong Kong and East Asia


Language is the key to understanding culture, and through culture we understand the values systems with which we judge ourselves and others.
It is also through culture that we are judged by others. The lingua francas of our world have come and gone with the winds of prosperity; the languages of our world's great nations have endured all.

hong kong's neighbors (real incentives and poor excuses) | index

Discussion and Explanation

Tool of conveyance or social medium

It is no secret that language and culture are closely related. What is disputed is the degree to which these two foundation stones of human social organisation can and should be separated.1

A polluted river or harbor that no longer sustains aquatic wildlife may serve well as a means to tranfer goods and people from one geographical location to another, but it is not a pleasant location for establishing a residential community. In contrast, an inland lake or river, whose biological environment is carefully protected, serves not only as an important source of transportation, but also sustains a thriving community of fisherman, farmers, vacationers, and natural fauna and flora.

Technical papers, user manuals, invoice statements, business contracts, and many college textbooks are all examples of written language employed as a means of informational conveyance. Those who employ language in this way
tend to speak, read, and write a form of English that is dedicated to their task and dictated by their institution. Many have difficulty understanding common English speech, cannot speak without raising their voice to build confidence, omit important structural elements that are necessary to flow and understanding, are unable to understand without relentless repetition, and have little or no command over stylistic nuance crucial to the maintenance of close knit social relationships. With the exception of often excellent command of the English alphabet, these same speakers usually write in much the same way they talk.

This is not to say that all of the above mentioned uses of language are not important to maintaining strong community relations. Technical papers, user manuals, and college textbooks provide us with important information vital to the functioning of a modern society. Invoice statements, business contracts, and a wide variety of other documents used in law, commerce, and industry are important tools for creating bonds of trust among complete strangers. Unfortunately, all of these contain information that varies markedly in quality, and the bonds of trust created by them depend on third parties for their maintenance.

Language quality is an important indicator of both source and substance.


On the nature of social capital2

The notion of social capital is hardly new, as it is largely a secularized restatement of what religious leaders and their followers have known all along -- namely, there is much more to human social organization than the top-down frameworks of industrial enterprize, political parties, and the temples, mosques, synagogues, and churches of our world's religions great and small. In effect, the organizational magic wrought by our communties' entrepreneurs, political leaders, social philosophers, and school, religious and family heads can never be less than their own acknowledgment, and mutual acceptance, of the commonly held values that all of us share. Those who would feign this acknowledgment and acceptance are discovered and punished, either directly by those whose values they have betrayed, or indirectly by the havoc created when these false leaders arrogantly seek to build illegitimate personal empires. Although our leaders can impart personal value, and thereby generate new social value, if they do not build on the commonly held value already in place, the result is either disastrous or trite. Even social revolutions that shock popularly held beliefs and bring down the political and economic structures upon which they are based, always leave a residue of commonly held value that endures until a new set of institutions can be erected that combines that residue with new ideas and creates thereby a new social fabric.

Money, probably the most commonly shared value in the world today, differs from social capital in so far as it can be
be given, taken, stolen, hoarded, paid out, collected, and redistributed. Although something desired by most and requisite to all -- either directly or indirectly; it is exclusive in nature and asymmetrically distributed. It can be hoarded by some, but lavishly expended by others. Many suffer enormously to obtain just a little, while others amass it with relative ease. Its value to those who hold and wield it is determined by its relative scarcity -- not its ubiquity. It can never be worth more than our faith in those who control its supply. Though it is something that everyone can have, our ability to obtain it is often constrained. The general idea is to get back more than we put in. Deception, hard work, ruse, and self-sacrifice all get mixed into the same bucket, poured into different molds, and set to dry. Whereupon the finished product is wrapped with further industry and artifice, and put up for sale. Having amassed a large amount of money in this way and understood well the power they hold over others who have little, these arduous and cunning eagles of entrepreneurial fame compete with their peers to amass even more. Some who play the game well, give back what they have taken, but always in a way that suits them and contributes to their own fame. Who these people are and how they get to where they are may be known by everyone or only by a few. Though sometimes appointed, they are mostly elected -- not through political process but through money votes cast by hundreds, thousands, and millions of consumers who purchase their goods and services. These popular elections are open, free and legitimizing. Between these people and their respective consumer electorates are a long series of market exchanges, many of which have taken place between complete strangers. What makes the system work is everyone's dependence on it, and the widespread, but often deceptive belief that everyone can play it.

Notwithstanding, neither this belief in markets, nor a widespread faith in those who control the issue of money are sufficient to make markets function and satisfy the whole of human want and need. On the one hand, markets are often impersonal in nature. Moreover, the thought and behavior associated with the notion of
getting back more than what you put in contributes little to the public domain. In short, some of the participants in the game must never play, but rather run with the players in an effort to enforce the rules and keep the peace. On the other hand, more economic activity occurs inside firms, where much is traded, but little is bought and sold, than outside of them where most everything is exchanged for money. Thus, in-house routines and on-the-job discipline are both omnipresent and necessary, but can never be stronger than the ability of those who maintain them to get along.

Setting aside both markets and firms consider now
the myriad of other social institutions set up to insure a steady supply of new market participants, care for those who are no longer able to participate, and heal the wounds of those who might someday return. Though much of our leisure is spent in the market place consuming the labor of others, do we not also spend a good deal of this time away from markets? Of course, the market place permeates nearly all aspects of life, because wherever there are things someone has purchased them, and wherever there are people someone's income is sustaining them. This said, the market is important, but there is much more to human social interaction than the exchange of money across a digital counter.

In effect, social capital in this context refers to the ability of people to get along in the absence of authority and their ability to respond to and execute authority when it is present. It is in this regard that language as medium is essential.


Message with a coherent medium

Pick up any general use, monolingual dictionary in any language, and depending on the page to which you open and later turn, you will find a large number of words with multiple meanings and use. On some pages you will find more words with multiple meanings and use than words with unique definitions. Certain words are likely to fill large portions of a single page, some words may consume an entire page or more.

Now read a poem, listen to a comedian, watch a play, read a novel, or reflect on a person's conversation that you most enjoy. What you will probably discover in all of these are multiple meanings of single words and phrases employed to convey overlapping, conflicting, integrative, and meaningful expressions of circumstance, relationship, and setting. When the narration begins we are skeptic, and only gradually do we come to realize what is so blatantly obvious by the time it is finished. The narrator achieves this effect by appealing to our subconscious through the use of words that on the surface bare only one meaning, but touch us at many points beneath, where the multiple meanings of these words lie dormant, alive, and in waiting. In so doing they gradually awake in us a feeling of trust that suddenly explodes into full understanding, when all of the meanings converge. More importantly, we are made to feel that what they have so cunningly revealed is our own discovery, and we walk away with a fuller picture of who we are, what we are about, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Of course, it is not this use of vocabulary alone that captures and delights us. These authors also employ popular symbols, allegory, and historical events drawn from a shared pool of knowledge called culture. These carefully planned, accidental, and spontaneous works of art penetrate deep into our psyche, because they touch us in so many ways at once. They awaken our past, shuttle us in and out of our present, and make us yearn for a future that may or may not be. They resolve old contradictions and unveil new ones, they unsettle the dregs of our past and pass them through a filter of new reflection. They haunt us by turning innocence into guilt, and shame into slander. They are masters of language and culture, and have the ability, if we dare permit them, to change the way we think. They do not have to know us personally; they have only to know well our language and our culture, understand the human condition, and share with us a common interest. We are captured, made spellbound, and yearn for more. It is a pleasure for which there can be no substitute.

The literature of a language reflects the history, culture, and thinking of those in whose language these are reflected. It is a celebration of language as social medium. A quick look at the very top and bottom of graph 6 demonstrates clearly Hong Kong's inability and/or lack of interest in coping with the problem of language as a social medium.


Message in the absence of a coherent medium

Now get on the telephone with just about any nonnative speaker of English, who has not spent a long time abroad in an English speaking country, or significant time at home in daily communication with other native speakers of the English language. No longer can one speak of  enchantment. Conversational attributes, such as grammatical finesse, nuance of meaning, social grace, or even political correctness are simply missing. 
Without these and even subtler speech-related cues the nature of the human relationship and a clear understanding of the physical and social circumstances in which the conversation takes place must all be taken out of the box before they can be understood. One need not be concerned about the color or pattern of the social wrapping, the tie or cut of the professional ribbon, or the quality of the linguistic stuffing. This is because there is no wrapping, there is no ribbon, and there is no stuffing. If a presentational format is present, then it is identical to the one just heard thousands of times before. One can ask the person, if he or she is not behaving like an ass, or just call him or her one outright. It barely detracts from the conversation's intended goal -- namely, obtaining or providing an informational bit that one would rather obtain or provide by pressing a button, but one simply does not know where to press and must ask to find out. These are not children learning to speak, rather they are full-grown adults who believe they have learned and are fully equipped to handle any matter that comes their way. They enter into conversations as if they were wearing jeans to an opera, revving a chain-saw in a surgical operating room, or listening to polka music at a Noh play. One would rather eat kimchi with chocolate, drink Coca Cola Lite and red wine out of the same glass, eat cold dim sum, speak French with Saddam Hussein, or listen to Mozart with headphones, while an air hammer blasts through the concrete wall of a neighboring residence, than have to speak with many of these speakers for a second time. Still it must be done, because you must do what you must in order to survive. In short, there is little pleasurable in such conversations that is not found in finally obtaining what you need and getting off the telephone as quickly as possible.


Seventy-six Trombones

Of course, most native speakers will probably concede that
, if you have enough time, do not remind repeating yourself many times over, demonstrate sufficient patience, and provide your conversation partner or yourself the opportunity to call back when rough turns to rugged, most of what you need can eventually be obtained. In order to make all of this function to your satisfaction, however, your margins must be sufficiently high, and your next best options extraordinarily priced, as they often are. Language and cultural barriers are seldom smoothly crossed both cheaply and reliably. Much of international trade has to do with overcoming and exploiting these enormously high barriers to transaction.

If you are a dedicated language instructor, as many native English speakers living in East Asia appear to be, you might take pity on your conversation partner, attempt to rephrase what you believe he is trying to say in proper English, and move on to the next linguistic car wreck. Alternatively, you might just stop and ask yourself why his English is so poor in the first place, and why you are not speaking to him in his native language. You might then realize that your own effort to improve his English, although noble, worthy, and even possible, is generally misguided, largely futile, and grossly inefficient. You could then invite him and others of his countrymen, with whom you are compelled to converse from time to time, to visit your country, return there yourself, and teach them the same things you have sought to teach them on the telephone, but in a cultural, linguistic, and social setting that provides positive reinforcement to what they have learned under your guidance in the classroom. Of course, if you are not the dedicated teaching type, and you are in his country only for the quick buck, overseas experience, and personal adventure, you might just prefer to let him flounder, finish your call, and return to the classroom. There you can encourage others to become like him by telling them how important it is that they learn to speak English, improve cross-cultural understanding, and promote peace throughout the world. Once your wallet is filled, you can then travel to your hearts content, return to your own country, and claim that you have contributed significantly to better understanding across the world, because you have traveled their country, and taught them about your own.

Never mind that you understood very little of what you saw that was not found in multi-lingual tourist brochures designed to entertain rather than educate you. Never mind that the bilingual tourist guides, who were present at each new tourist attraction wanted to impress you only with the positive side of their own history, culture, and society. Never mind that everything else you learned was related to you in informational bits and pieces that you only half understood, because neither you nor those with whom you spoke knew the other's language well enough to provide thorough explanations. Never mind that your impressions of the country were largely determined for you by others eager to learn your language -- those, who use their own country as a dumping ground for all of your misadventures, so as to encourage you to speak with them. Never mind that what you taught in the classroom was mainly a vehicle for reinforcing grammatical patterns that would later be used by industry to steal technology, generate overly restrictive patents, and complicate trade negotiations. Never mind that what you taught would later be used by local government and industry to entice, mislead, obfuscate, and misinform others such as yourself to perpetuate a system of education that holds you and everything you teach at arms length. Never mind these obvious contradictions, as you were well paid to make them, and have many entertaining stories to tell that will make you popular on not a few occasions after you have returned, as you most surely will.


An image for adults
A two-layered cake with icing and a linguistic partition

Globalists are people who roam the world looking for investment opportunities, potential new markets, and exotic playgrounds. They have graduated from a university and probably hold an M.B.A., if not a doctoral degree, obtained in their native land, where they are considered well-educated people. Each speaks English as his first or second language with good fluency, and each uses English as his primary mode of communication while abroad. Thus, their knowledge of others' cultures is based primarily on what they see and the explanations provided them by other native or bilingual speakers of English. Globalists can be either men or women, and the standards with which they judge the world are firmly implanted in the value systems of their own native cultures and those of other globalists with whom they roam. Our world's press corps often ride shotgun with them on the same air busses.

From their hotel rooms they look out over brown, brackish harbors bustling with container-filled merchant ships, and dream of the white sandy beaches and clear, blue water of their summer homes and favorite vacation resorts. The husbands of those who replace their linen shovel toxic waste products into sewage pipes that drain into the harbors viewed from these globetrotters' hotel windows. As they shovel they dream of their children, who might one day graduate from the universities founded by the globalists' hosts, who often own and manage the firms whose toxic waste products are shoveled into the sewage. Many of these hosts also own the hotels in which their guests reside, as well as the container-filled merchant ships seen from their guests' hotel rooms. The hotel maids and their husbands are very pragmatic people. They understand, for example, that neither fish nor plant can live in the harbors they pollute, and that their small, negative contribution to their harbor can only make a difference when everybody stops. Realizing how easily they can be replaced and concerned about the education of their children, they do as they are told, remain quiet, pray for the fish, and keep shoveling. Meanwhile their children learn in school about the evils of pollution often unaware of the details of their father's employment. These same children are the students of the language teachers described above, who are hired by local government officials whose district, regional, and national bosses attend meetings with the globalists and their entrepreneurial hosts. These high-ranking government officials also see the polluted harbors from their high-rise office buildings next to the hotels, but invariably live on hillsides overlooking other shorelines distant from the harbors where they work. They commute from their homes in air-conditioned cars that they park in garages beneath their office buildings and under shelters attached to their homes. Where they live, the sea is greenish-blue, and fishing and sail boats are visible on the horizon. From the bay windows of their hillside villas overlooking grayish-white beaches, few swimmers are visible, however. The villa owners and their children swim in private pools.

The hotel guests' maids speak enough English to fill requests made by their global guests. Their husbands know the English names of what they are dumping into the sewage pipes, but not in their own language. So everyone just refers to the waste as garbage and makes sure that it gets taken out. The maids, their husbands, and their children live together in decorated concrete bunkers called estates that glitter in the night, but tower over the countryside like phallic tombstones of institutionalized poverty during the day. These so-called estates are often owned by the same people who own the hotels where their globetrotting guests reside. These estates are located somewhat distant from the polluted harbor, and far away from the hilly slopes that overlook the sail boats and grayish-white beaches where the hotel, factory, and ship owners reside. Closer to the estates are factories that fill the air with waste products different from those that fill the sewage pipes draining into the harbor. Unlike their solid counterparts these gaseous pollutants are invisible -- well at least until one climbs the backside of the hill where the high-placed government officials live side-by-side with the hotel, factory, and ship owners. From the top of the hill a thick yellowish-brown band covering the entire countryside can be seen. Most children do not have time to climb the hill, because they are too busy learning English in school. At street level looking straight up reveals what appears to be a brilliant blue sky.
Neither does looking straight down from a soaring plane reveal this hideous band. The stench of raw sewage is everywhere apparent, but one hardly notices it, as one is born into it. Thus, the only obvious, external evidence of something truly wrong is the frequency with which one finds large and small boutiques dedicated to skin care and drug counters boasting large varieties of over-the-counter respiratory remedies. As the sale of skin care and throat lozenges contributes to gross domestic product, increases tax revenue, and secures membership in the OECD, the brownish-yellow bands remain. People do not bother to complain to their physicians any more, they simply go to the many shopping centers where the boutiques and drug counters are found. Thus, many chronic respiratory and skin ailments are never reported as medical statistics.

The hotel guests are frequently invited to parties, luncheons, dinners, and buffets thrown by government officials and hotel, factory, and ship owners desirous of obtaining new technology, more capital, and the latest insider information. Journalists and photographers are often present. The keynote speakers are the invited hotel guests and/or high-placed government officials and industry leaders. Their speeches are always in English. Depending on the door-charge and guest list, many attend these gathering to improve their English speaking skills. Those with native English skills tend to dominate the conversation when English is spoken; most speak with those whom they share a common native tongue. When these same keynote speakers appear in local communities at election time they set aside their English and speak in the local dialect. In effect, they are bilingual. During their visits they say they care about community, the environment, and everyone's quality of life, but they are most certainly thinking about their spacious villas on the other side of the hill facing the ocean. In effect, they no longer want to be bothered by the social and environmental dilemmas they have striven so hard to escape. Many of them have never even had to escape them, as they were born and raised on the other side of the hill. As the guardians of local language and culture, they enjoy participating in local festivities, as they obtain the best seating as honored guests. When asked to speak they show great deference toward their native culture and commend those who have sought to preserve it. Simultaneously, they offer warnings about the constant threat of global competition and the need to maintain and improve current levels of technological training and scientific advancement. They also point to ancient times and speak cautiously of their colonial past. Few understand the blatant contradictions this rhetoric invokes, but unity of language, race, and culture decorated with smiling faces, elevated with drums, and made beautiful with song, makes all appear well and good.

Many of the children who live near the factories want to learn English very badly, because they want to become like the government officials who say they care about them. Many others sense that their fathers are hiding the truth about what they dump into the sewage, know that their mothers are servants to those who occupy the hotels, and have difficulty understanding the English they hear on television, read in books, and listen to on the radio. With the exception of physics, chemistry, and biology the English they read in class is largely irrelevant to their own lives and communities. Yes, they like to ride the trains and buses and promenade with their friends in the shopping malls during vacations and on weekends, but they also much prefer the way things were before the construction workers came with their loud, relentless, heavy machinery,  took away their ball fields and replaced the nearby woods with concrete pylons and more phallic tombstones.
Putting a man on the moon is cool, but drowning out noisy neighbors in crowded concrete blockhouses with new CDs is far more pragmatic. Few rarely understand completely what is sung, but what is understood often makes far more sense than what one is compelled to read in English at school. Everyone likes to think of him- or herself as being bilingual, but most know that it's a lie, and gave up saying hello to foreign-looking strangers when they graduated from primary school. Speaking English in class is often a joke, anyway, because their own teachers are rarely very good at it. On those few occasions when they meet someone, who does not know their language, they look to the best English-speaker in their group and let him or her do the talking. Maybe he or she will someday pass the test that looms before them, and they will have a good friend on the other side of the hill when they grow up.

When an election comes, many simply yawn, as is done in many parts of the world today. Some take an active interest. The debate is generally conducted in the language of the local community, but most everything anyone has read about government and political process was in English. Thus, the needed vocabulary is missing in one's native language. Cross-coding is very popular. Still, the concepts remain abstract and alien, because they are rarely practiced in school and the work place. Besides, government, as a subject, is not a requisite for getting into the university, and chemistry, physics, and biology, whose applications are readily endorsed and highly paid by those living on the other side of the hill, are. Local journalists write about democracy, but their readership would rather know what is happening at the local race track, as horses, jockeys, and trophies are something they can more readily understand and participate in. The English language press caters to those residing in the villas on the seaside of the hill and in the hotels that overlook the brown, brackish harbors.  As foreign residents are considered guests, they are suppose to keep quiet and praise their hosts, anyway. Responsibility towards humanity and our planet stops at the customs gate, when disembarking from one's plane. Messing in the internal politics of one's host government is generally frowned upon and bad for business. This is because most globetrotters are fairly ignorant of the local situation, and because they bring with them ideas and information that host governments and entrepreneurs prefer to keep hidden until it is convenient for them to reveal it. In the end, globetrotters are welcome so long as they praise without condescension, bring capital with few strings, and introduce the most advanced technology. Praise is cheap, but national pride is easily wounded; capital with few strings is poorly traceable and can be used to any end; and technological acquisition -- well, that's the name of the game: greater manipulation. Globalists, like the husbands of those who replace their linen, are also very practical people. They know that what they do not bring someone else will, so it is better to keep quiet, make money, and run. This cycle appears infinite.

Globetrotters, who like what they see and decide to stay, often wear masks similar to those worn by their governmental and entrepreneurial hosts. When in public they praise their hosts, seek to lure others like them into their fold, and expand their local colonies. They form the entrepreneurial outposts exploited by foreign governments, entrepreneurial globetrotters, and the world press to keep them informed. They are a complex lot consisting of social scientists, religious zealots, political and commercial spies, academic and commercial opportunists, adventurists, humanists, and host country apologists among others. Each views his host country differently than the other, but nearly everyone shares a common view largely colored by that of his own national colony and the foreign community of which each, by default,
is also a part. Nearly everyone has a stake in his host country that is larger than what he would have in his native homeland, if he were to return -- most do, but only when it is time to retire. In private discussions with globetrotting journalists these more permanent overseas dwellers reveal much, but never enough to bring about complete understanding. In conversation with government officials they tell only what they require to insure their government's protection when they need it.  As a colony they pay tribute to their host nation, provide a landing pad for interested newcomers, and pave the way for their hosts to flee to their native homelands. Certainly many of these neo-colonists share an intimate relationship with their local hosts, but their vested interests in their host country can rarely be more secure than the relationship between the governments of their host country and the ones whose passports they carry. Thus, they are forever obligated to tread a diplomatic line that insures that some things are said and others are not. Many of these people are truly bilingual, many speak as if they just got off a plane. For these latter English is often an important tool to get around outside their colony.

Local political science and economics scholars dedicated to their work rarely tackle local issues that do not cater to the seaside crowd, as this would mean shedding their frocks and exposing what transpires underneath. Moreover they could easily be compelled to lower their sails and sell their boats, if they were found exploring too deeply, or exposing too openly, what they find in the depths they are permitted to explore. So these latter write about democracy and free enterprise in much the same way democracy and economics are taught in school -- alien concepts that may or may not be applicable to their own situation. That most would only take the time to find out! These scholars are hired with public money and are therefore public servants. Their loyalty is to the hand that feeds them. They sign their names with faithfully rather than sincerely and demonstrate little hypocrisy in so doing. They ride in cars to and from work that travel the same seaside drives leading to the homes of high-placed government officials and the hotel, factory, and ship owners. Simply they have no chauffeurs. On campus their passion is the French revolution, Asian development, finance and banking, the macroeconomy, and currency trading. Many have direct connections to the local stock market. Those who write about the local political situation are found mostly in government, where their activity is easily monitored, and their reports rarely become a part of the public domain. Freedom of the press is rarely blatantly suspended; rather, it is frequently monitored and quietly constrained. One must maintain a proper image for one's foreign hotel guests, and those who populate the bunker estates on the other side of the hill. More permanent residents know to be quiet, and in general they are.

hong kong's neighbors (real incentives and poor excuses) | index

An image for kids with EMB endorsement
Hong Kong's Education City

So let us visit East Asia's World City as Hong Kong's educationalists would have young Hong Kongers imagine it.

Hong Kong's Education City is an online portal that provides Hong Kong primary and secondary students with information that, if properly utilized, can help them obtain passage through Hong Kong's educational system. It also provides information to teachers, principals, parents, and any one else with an interest in the system. As we are concerned with the role of English as a medium of communication and framework for building community, we will focus our attention primarily on two very small, but important parts of the whole city called English Campus and City Headquarters. Before examining the campus and headquarters in detail, however, let us take a brief look at the city as a whole.3

Welcome to Hong Kong's Education City!
Your tour guide is EARTH.

  • The City Proper - If you have not opened to the city yet, please do so now, and leave the page open, as I will refer to it often.

    In the lower right-hand corner of the city's colorful panorama is the signature of Hong Kong's Education and Manpower Bureau. Thus, this city has been approved by those responsible for Hong Kong's system of education. The five-pedal flower is Hong Kong's territorial emblem. It appears on Hong Kong's regional banner, in courtrooms, and other public offices. This is the real thing!

    The most outstanding colors of this panorama are blue and green. They probably symbolize an unpolluted, natural, ocean environment. Both colors come in two shades: light and dark. Dark green appears wherever there are buildings, and people are likely to be present. The water that separates the land masses is darker than the water that probably leads to the ocean at the bottom. The blue is better blended than the green, perhaps reflecting changing water depth as one moves from Hong Kong's deep water ports to its ocean beaches. The two shades of green may represent Hong Kong's very wet and very dry seasons. The English campus appears drier than other areas, but it has its own water supply.

    In the foreground there is no building without some sort of electronic device atop it, and the sole plane in the entire panorama is flying in what appears an eastwardly direction away from the city. In Hong Kong flying east means flying toward the West.

    One is hard put to find a factory. There are no smoke stacks.

    The only bridge in this urban panorama points in the direction of the English Campus, but there is an important disconnect, as the two land masses that contain the English Campus and the bridge's terminal point are separated by a narrow channel of water. At either end of the bridge are the Small Campus for primary students and a center for special education. The headquarters of the city is the tall building located top center in the panorama. It is the only very tall building that is barren at the top.

    Most important for the purpose of our analysis, however, is the English Campus. If it had no name, one could easily mistake it for a park or recreational playground with pool facilities. Let's pay a visit ...

Clicking anywhere on the City's image will take you automatically to the English Campus
  • English Campus - If you have not opened to the English Campus already by clicking on the city's image, please do so now. You can also open to it directly in a new window. Please leave it open, as I will refer to it often.

    Once again, blue and green are the dominant colors. This time, however, a new cosmic dimension has been added. An aura of bluish-white light hovers over the campus suggesting how it might appear from space at night. This cosmic, if not magical, scenery is accentuated by what appears to be a communications satellite in the top left corner.
    The rainbow-like, monochrome, jet streams that arch over head and contain valuable information links also contribute to this cosmic motif. The emphasis on technology in general, and information technology in particular, is unmistakable. The astronaut dangling from the satellite may be an empathetic gesture directed at secondary students preparing for their school entrance examinations.

    The campus itself appears more like a recreational paradise than a place of work and study. In the middle are two pools and a basketball court. One of the pools contains a fountain, an important symbol of opulence and knowledge; and the other is bordered by what appears to be pool-side lounge chairs. The three, small, red and white triangles below the campus buildings look like outdoor tents -- outdoor camping is a special feature of Hong Kong university student-life. Taken as a whole this image is as close to a virtual paradise as a Hong Kong secondary student aspiring to enter a Hong Kong university can come.

    The campus attendant is a female with brown hair and a red necktie. Her blouse is white and her skirt is two shades of gray. As an omnibus of symbolic icons one might think of her as a sexually liberated, morally pure, intelligent woman with an important tie to the Chinese mainland, and a minority-rights ax to grind.4 In any case she puts a human face on an otherwise technological playground for the cosmic, virtually bound. Have we reached anything close to an English language community yet?

  • Corporate Pop-up Window - When I first opened to the English Campus website, there was also a pop-up window with a corporate sponsor.5 Can you guess who it was? With hundreds of millions of East Asian parents pushing their children to obtain entry into a far smaller number of East Asian universities, one can easily imagine the incentive on the part of English language publishing houses around the world to support universal English language (UEL) requirements across East Asia.

    In order to obtain a clear picture of what would happen to private sector English language profits, if the UEL requirement were suddenly to disappear, please visit the HKLNA-Project's webpage entitled English or language - a severe case of market distortion. If you have a good foundation in economics already, you may want to open directly to the section on Private Sector Profits and compare the green and yellow areas in graphs 5 and 6, respectively.

  • English Centre - Among the many informational links contained in the monochrome cosmic arcs over the English Campus, one name in particular stands out -- the English Centre. If you have not opened to the center already by clicking on the English Campus image, please do so now. You can also open to it directly in a new window. Please leave it open, as I will refer to it often.

    By all characteristics except one, the female persona that greets us in the centre, is the same who greeted us when we opened to the English Campus homepage. Notably her shoulder is decorated with a red shoulder board indicating rank of some sort. Seated at her desk with the back of her writing pen held against her head beneath her ear she appears to be thinking of what to write. Perhaps she is a student after all.6

    The dominant colors in the centre are various shades of brown and yellow. These are warm and cheerful colors that create a feeling of intimacy and a healthy atmosphere for study. In the very middle of the bookshelf and at the center of the image is a splash of dark green. Some of the books in this area are stacked in a prone position indicating recent use.

    The shadow on the wall behind the student/attendant suggests indoor lighting and contributes to the mystery of inquiry and the featured listening options -- namely, Halloween, Frankenstein, and American Horror.7 The conspicuous absence of Sherlock Holmes and other classic 19th British mystery writers is difficult to explain. Perhaps what is in the air is not so much English, as the United States current war on terror.8

    Also, featured on the centre's bulletin board is Open House Debating. Because of the seeming lack of grammatical precision of East Asian languages in the minds of many native English speakers, and because of East Asia's general preference for glossing over the truth to maintain social tranquility and the established social order, debate is considered by many advocates of Western democracy to be an important reason for learning English.  Like those who advocate East Asian democracy, however, they apparently overlook the fact that those most in need of the truth are at the very bottom of the social heap, the ones who will never acquire enough English to engage in an English debate -- goodness knows be able to understand what is debated when others do so! So, how will English language debating skills be employed by those who do acquire them? Negotiating business contracts and hustling walking-dictionaries.  Below you will find SCOLAR's take on it.
The project title "English in the Air" comes partly from the song "Love is in the Air". If something is in the air, you feel that it is happening or about to happen, e.g., Love/Change/Spring is in the air (The Cambridge International Dictionary of English). Dropping the verb "is" in the current title aims also to elicit a literal reading of "English in the Air", i.e., everywhere. It is indeed our hope to see English "happening" "everywhere".9
The bar stools at the bottom of the centre's page and the revolving images of Hong Kong's real landscape to the left, seem to capture far better what the English Campus and English Centre are all about. It is probably no small irony that the only Chinese words on the centre's image proper are a translation of English in the Air into Cantonese.

So let us move onto the people who run this show and visit the Hong Kong Education City Headquarters.

  • Headquarters - You can open to the Headquarters' image by clicking on the English Centre's image and then on the word image under the heading Headquarters in the menu that follows, or by opening to a new window. If you do not remember where the Headquarters of HKedCity is located, please return briefly to the City's panorama and look for the only very tall building that is barren at the top.

    One's first visit to the Headquarters as a Cantonese nonspeaker would probably turn you off immediately. Not only is the entire page written in Cantonese, but clicking on the word English, abbreviated as ENG, in the top right corner of the page, returns you to the very same page in Cantonese.10

    So, let us go into the Headquarters' visitor's lounge with a semi-bilingual speaker and see what we can find. It is the third item down in the list of places to visit in the top left-hand corner of the page.

Clicking anywhere on the Headquarters homepage's image will take you automatically to the Visitor's Lounge.
  • Education City Visitors' Lounge (new window)
    gau-3 seng-4 wui-6 hak-8 sat-7)

    In addition to the handsome picture of POON Chung Kwong, President, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, sitting in his office, what the Cantonese nonspeaker is likely to notice first is the absence of the three-letter abbreviation of the word English in the top right-hand corner of the page. What one does find, however, are the Chinese words for written Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese. In brief, Hong Kong's Education City is off-limits to non-Chinese speakers at the highest level!

    Just below the President's name written in three, bold, black characters, are eight smaller, dark-gray characters broken by a comma. This four-character format is a favorite among Chinese for expressing wisdom. In Cantonese the characters read do-1 dim-2 tau-4 jap-9, siu-2 dim-2 tau-4 sou-3.11 Translated into English they read more commitment, fewer complaints, or alternatively greater contribution, fewer complaints. Coming from a Chinese boss these words are neither particularly inspiring nor insightful, because they can easily be interpreted to mean contribute more to make me look better.12 Of course, if you are Hong Konger, they also mean, do as I say, hold onto your job, and pray that the economy does not falter.

    Above and to the left of Professor Poon's image this same set of eight Chinese characters appears again with an arrow pointing downward to the right. Clicking on the arrow reveals a pop-down menu where, in addition to Professor Poon's name, those of several other prominent figures in Hong Kong's educational system appear. Shall we pay a visit to still another of these illustrious figures before we leave the city's headquarters and the city, and complete the second and final of this section's two contrived images?

Please click on Professor Poon's image to obtain a link to Li Kwok Cheung's 1st Chapter.
  • Li Kwok Cheung's 1st Chapter (new window) - Li Kwok Cheung's is Hong Kong's Secretary for Education and Manpower. He occupies a seat in Hong Kong's Executive Council and thus enjoys high visibility in the Hong Kong community.13 During the second half of 2002 Hong Kong's educational bureaucracy underwent considerable reorganization, and Professor Li, the former Vice Chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, was invited to assume the top post. The former head of the now defunct Department of Education, Fanny Law, answers to Secretary Li, with the newly created title Permanent Secretary for Education and Manpower.

    Secretary Li's appointment appears to have been largely political, as he has little experience in Hong Kong's primary and secondary educational system that is not shared by most native Hong Kongers. Secretary Li was born and raised in Hong Kong.

    This image of Li Kwok Chueng when he was a child is a portion of a much longer HTML document (three A4-size pages). I have reproduced only the first page. A photograph of Secretary Li is provided at the top of the page. Like Professor Poon, Secretary Li, is also smiling. The two photographs below Secretary Li's cheerful-looking countenance are two more images of Secretary Li when he was much younger. In fact the entire HTML page is a brief summary of Secretary Li's life, that is traced with progressively, more recent photographs. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that Secretary Li is not portrayed smiling as a child.

    In effect, young Hong Kong secondary students, who see Secretary Li on television, read about him in the newspaper, and receive a good impression, can trace the Secretary's career path, and use it as a model for succeeding in Hong Kong's educational system. At least this appears to be the idea behind providing such a detailed summary of the real city's actual head.

    Once again, the entire page is completely in Chinese with no English version available. Though a few words are provided in English, they are mostly titular in nature. The names Steve an Alice appear in small print at the bottom of the image and capitalize on Hong Kongers' penchant for calling each other with English given names.14 The only other English words on the reproduced image are world class testing, the IT instructions at the very top, and if a full view of the page were provided, English Campus at the very bottom.

    This completes our tour!


  • Having completed our limited tour of Hong Kong's Edcuation City with what impressions are we left? The English language is an important door to technology and the key to a mystical, island paradise called higher education that all of Hong Kong's best have travelled.
  • Education in Hong Kong is managed by ethnic Chinese, and those without sufficient command of either Cantonese or Mandarin should keep their noses clear of administrative matters.
  • In short, the role of English in Hong Kong is little different than it is anywhere else in East Asia -- a means to acquire technological know-how and capital. You are welcome in Hong Kong as a foreigner, but only as an English speaking guest at arm's length.
  • In the end both EARTH's contrived East Asian image and the contrived Hong Kong image endorsed by Hong Kong's Education and Manpower Bureau appear to be fairly closely matched.


Public Domain and Civic Pride

The linguistic medium of most Hong Kongers is Cantonese. Those who enjoy English as both a medium and tool are few and either foreign or socially elitist. They are often native English speakers or Hong Kongers who have lived, studied, or worked abroad in an English speaking country. They hold positions of power and influence and occupy international ghettos of wealth and affluence. They promote the Basic Law and seek to preserve Hong Kong's colonial past as a means to protect and preserve their wealth and special privileges. They claim loyalty to Hong Kong and to all Hong Kongers, but appear more likely to engage in charitable acts when personal envy and greed threaten to push them into social isolation among their peers, rather than when people are in need and truly have something to offer.

Take a stroll through most any of Hong Kong's old residential districts and compare these with the majority of what one finds in Tokyo of equal age. You will be sorry you bothered. Take a ride on any one of Hong Kong's older buses on a rainy day and try to find a seat on the top deck toward the front of the bus that is not thoroughly soaked, because no one bothered to shut the window. Try finding many a public seashore that are not strewn with garbage, or even functional showers in public recreation areas. Finding a toilet in a public medical facility that does not smell of urine is a  challenge. Hong Kong's streets are littered with trash. Eating, drinking, and smoking in public places, where it is clearly posted that you should not, is commonplace. Enforcing any rule in the public domain that would be of benefit to everyone is inevitably a pain, so most public managers simply do not bother. When being shown a dwelling vacated by someone else, one must imagine how it might look after it were cleaned, because neither the previous tenant nor the landlord bothered to clean it when the old tenant left. Try finding a Hong Konger that will hold a door for you without your first having to ask.

The large, new, privately-owned, commercial centers that form the lower layers of large, high-rise, New Territory, residential estates all have voluminous, decorated halls, polished floors, and merchandise-filled shops that are heavily patrolled and privately-owned and managed. These commercial centers are kept clean, orderly, and festive, because by doing so their owners attract rent-paying, shop-owners looking for attractive, semipublic areas to sell their goods and services. In effect their upkeep fills the pockets of their owners. Besides, new buildings are easier to keep clean. Contrast these newly erected buildings with most of what you find in downtown Hong Kong, and private disregard for the public domain soon becomes obvious.

The nice-looking dwellings and shops on the inside of older Hong Kong buildings are a pleasure to enter. What you see on the outside, however, is what these buildings' owners provide to the public at no cost -- namely, public eyesores. The contrast is devastating.
Once these buildings are built, their exteriors are left to decay. Save for absolutely essential maintenance, such as plumbing and electrical wiring, and that which tenants provide for themselves and their customers. Even the insides of these buildings are often ramshackle in appearance. Corridors, inner courtyards, and walkways are in the end public places, so even their more intimate publics -- namely, the buildings tenants -- suffer as a result.

Now compare these same buildings with those that bare the names of large manufacturers, such as Toshiba, Exxon, or Siemens, and that dot the shoreline opposite Tsim Tsa Tsoi for all the world to see. The difference is both obvious and remarkable. At night these buildings fill the sky with incandescent luster, and during the day their brilliant reflections sparkle on the water's surface. Is it because these building are new, or is it because they bare the names of famous manufacturers broadcasting their trade names? In contrast how many Hong Kong residents even know the names of their building's owners.

Civic pride is not something that we are born with, it is something that we acquire in the home, school, and workplace. In light of the fact that Hong Kong students spend so much time either in the classroom or preparing homework in the household, where do you think the majority of the blame lies for Hong Kongers lack of civic pride?

Indeed, a vibrant urban metropolis will probably impress a passing tourist on the move, but what about the residents who must spend their entire lives in a constant state of vibration? Certainly among these are not the owners of the phallic grandeur of Hong Kong's commercial high-rises and New Territory, concrete-bunker, estates. These latter ride to work in air-conditioned, air-cushioned limousines, occupy private villas tucked away in the quiet hills that pepper Hong Kong's countryside, and look down upon the shabby roofs of most Hong Kong buildings far away from the din of honking taxi drivers and bored bus drivers. This is what Hong Kong's celebrated South China Morning Post regularly celebrates.


Pride of Language

Like building façades, language is a part of the public domain and requires maintenance.

Language flowers only when it is communicated. When we speak and someone replies, we have an incentive to speak again. When we write and someone reads, we want to write again. In order for communication to take place, however, we must take sufficient pride in our language to maintain the rules, patterns, and definitions, so crucial to good communication and understanding.

Not only do most Hong Kong students leave school with only a partially constructed building, but for most there is little incentive to finish its construction once having left. This unfortunate situation applies not only to spoken and written English, but also to Cantonese. When foreigners seeking Cantonese grammar book and dictionaries in Hong Kong bookstores are repeatedly told by bookstore owners that they should learn Mandarin, because Cantonese is not a language, and Cantonese grammar books not written in Cantonese do not exist, one quickly understands that many Hong Kongers are uninterested in sharing their native tongue with outsiders.15 In short, you are welcome in Hong Kong, so long as you teach us English. Please do not expect us to teach you Cantonese. Then too, many Hong Kongers look upon their own language as inferior to Mandarin.

The artificial linguistic building codes, that Hong Kong's universal English language (UEL) requirement seek to enforce in schools, are only enforceable, so long as one remains in school. After graduation, the fate of the English language is left to the individual and Hong Kong employers. Only those who take a keen interest in the language and utilize it regularly, and those who require it for specific employment tasks, such as Hong Kong's Immigration Department, Hong Kong manufacturers seeking overseas markets in English speaking countries, Hong Kong university professors under pressure to publish in English language journals, workers in Hong Kong's tourist industry, and government diplomats assigned the task of maintaining Hong Kong's Asia's World City image, bother to maintain it. Everyone else who requires the language, uses only that part of it required by their employers, and lets the rest of their half-completed building fall naturally into disrepair.

No matter how much the Hong Kong government strives to improve the quality of English language instruction in Hong Kong schools, so long as Hong Kongers can find no personal gain in maintaining the language after they have graduated, the fate of the language will be no different than the facades of Hong Kong's tong lau.16 This is the reality that Hong Kong educators appear unwilling to face. Obviously, the problem goes far deeper than mere linguistic pride, however. Compelling every Hong Kong student to spend a decade of his or her life to learn a language that he will never use but in the most trivial of ways is not only wasteful, but demeaning. Surely, this daily humiliation must rub off onto many young Hong Kongers' attitudes toward government, foreigners, and their own society.
The communal damage brought about by this arrangement must be substantial.


Collateral social damage

What is surely learned by those driven hard enough by their parents and teachers to pass the HKCEE and HKALE
is enough grammar and vocabulary to advance through the system and read a technical manual or scientific textbook. In contrast, one must shudder to think how anything written in English about human social organisation, the human psyche, or society in general is understood by young students in the absence of proper guidance from teachers. Unfortunately, until you get to the university level where most professors hold a Ph.D. acquired overseas, there must be shocking few Hong Kong teachers who have lived outside of Hong Kong long enough to know the people and societies about whom these textbooks are written.17 Then too, under such circumstances the language spoken in the classroom really does not matter, because neither the teacher nor the student understand the author's society well enough to interpret the text properly. Maybe there is no need to wonder why so little attention is paid to the social sciences in Hong Kong secondary schools!18 Maybe Hong Kong educators should even be applauded for having the wisdom not to teach subjects about which they likely have such little knowledge.

Indeed, until textbooks written in Chinese by Hong Kongers about Hong Kong society are made available to young students and the public in general, Hong Kongers will always grow up as little more than technical nerds, club members, close-knit families, financial whiz-kids, bible readers, and underpaid workers with little knowledge about how to seize their own political, social, environmental, and economic destiny. How is one to defend oneself against the rapacious hands of large multinationals and their native Hong Kong hosts, who would rather give to charity and refine their local images, than empower their own citizenry? Moreover, what is international about a society in which the majority of its citizens understand cross-cultural communication to be little more than a means to acquire technology and financial capital. Rather that Hong Kong children read about democracy, civil rights, human rights, civil society, environmental protection, globalization, modernization, conflict resolution, racial discrimination, and personal and social hygiene in their native tongue, than in English, where it is inevitably understood through the prism of an alien system of social values.

So, who will write for the Hong Kong general public who is not a journalistic sensationalist, an elite propagandist, or one of Hong Kong's many popular social butterflies? Certainly, it is not Hong Kong's brainpower whose entire literary output is focused on publication in the world's most prominent English language journals.


Hong Kong's two principal foreign communities

In order to enjoy a society as something more than a gawking tourist or travelling business person on a short leash, one must know the language of its people; either this, or one must occupy a colony where others live who understand the language of the host country well enough to serve as cross-cultural go-betweens.  Forcing an entire nation to learn English, so that these tiny, but important minorities (see graph 11) can have free run of the host country, and then labelling oneself international because of it, is both a sham and important waste of scarce resources.

If the many Philippine women, who serve as house servants for retired middle-class Hong Kong estate dwellers, truly enjoyed their hosts' society, they would not flood the street corners and public parks of Hong Kong society in their native Tagalog on their days off; rather, they would learn the language of their masters and build friendships with other Hong Kongers who share a similar social plight. These young, and not so young, women represent a full 40% of Hong Kong's foreign population and surpass the next largest foreign population by more than double. See graph 12. The English they speak is a tool of their trade, and the work they perform often replaces that of tools. Their social medium is Tagalog -- not Cantonese -- and they are categorically looked down upon by their local hosts as maid servants, cleaning ladies, and baby sitters. The next largest foreign population is Indonesian and together these two groups make up well-over half of Hong Kong's resident foreign population. English is neither an indigenous language of the Philippine or Indonesia.

In fact, among the top eight ethnic groups accounting for a full 82% of all non-Chinese ethnic Hong Kongers only the British are native English speakers. As a percentage of both ethnic Chinese and non-Chinese ethnic Hong Kongers these colonial remnants account for only 0.3% of the total population (see table 11). With the exception of those Hong Kongers, who have lived overseas or attended international schools all of their lives, most everyone else appears to be using English as a tool.


A precious non-economic good

Language is perhaps the most precious attribute of our species, and along with culture, history, and race it is a crucial determinant of group identity and social bonding and maintenance. We should be careful about the way we use both our own and others' languages to manipulate our social, biological, political, and economic environments.

It may be that many in East Asia care neither about the fate of the English language nor the communities that depend on it for their social medium. Such an attitude would of course be shortsighted, because whatever East Asians do with English in East Asia is unlikely to effect very significantly what occurs in those countries where English is the dominant language. If, on the other hand, the idea is to make the English language East Asia's lingua franca, then would it not be better to invest in quality and stop providing everyone with an expensive and wasteful excuse for bad communication? In the past lingua francas developed on their own, because those who learned them profited from their use. No special government funding was required to propagate them. There was no need to compel anyone to learn them. They generated their own return, and those who utilized them largely benefitted from their use.

Indeed, if East Asian governments are not going to invest in each other's language, and thereby bring the peoples of East Asia closer together through mutual cross-cultural understanding, then at least they should invest in an English language community that views language as something more than a tool to acquire what the other has.

By over investing and over selling the English language in East Asia national governments have cheapened the quality of the language and thereby reduced its effectiveness as a tool for creating community -- a language medium. They have even placed their own native languages and cultures at risk as a result.19 Young people who grow up with an unhealthy attitude toward the languages and cultures of others, also grow up with an unhealthy attitude their own.

Technology is a form of manipulation wherever it is in use. Whether we are manipulating our environment or each other, those who have the better technology, are likely to come out ahead --  provided, of course, that our social and biological environments can continue to withstand the stress.

Keeping up with one's neighbors, so as not to fall behind technologically may serve to maintain a technological balance of power, but it will not entirely prevent economic competition from getting out of hand. Many of our world's most important resources are exhaustible, and we will surely be at each others throats more than once in the not too distant future. Neighbors who know only to buy and sell may make good commercial diplomats, but they are unlikely either to eliminate the principal causes of war, or to prevent war's occurrence. Open, civil societies that integrate many competing, cross-cultural interests into complex, cross-cultural, social arrangements from which single individuals or groups of individual are unable to wrest control are likely to achieve this end, however. Whether this takes the form of democracy is probably far less important than the degree of social complexity and integration across national borders and the dispersion of power throughout society. No matter the political system without a firm understanding of each other's value the requisite degree of integration and complexity is unlikely to occur. What lingua franca of any age or generation has ever achieved the necessary level of cross-cultural understanding to achieve this purpose?

Language is the key to cultural understanding, and culture is the social fabric that holds society together. It is this unity of thought and language that politicians exploit to wage war against other nations for personal and political gain. It is this unity of thought that must be overcome to prevent war. Even sophisticated levels of English among East Asians appear incapable of overcoming these important barriers, however. East Asians, North Americans, and Europeans have been communicating in the English language for several centuries, but their ability to understand one another often appears in doubt. Surely much of this misunderstanding has to do with conflicting political and economic goals having little to do with social value; surely, much of it has to do with one side only learning, while the other side only teaches. Compelling all East Asians to learn English raises the barrier to Western acquisition of East Asian languages, by destroying the incentive for Westerners to acquire them. This is especially true for those who come to East Asia with English as their native tongue.20

If you have not understood by now, the problem with East Asia's universal English language requirement is not just about the quality of the English language in East Asia; it is also about sharing each other's language and culture in general.

Technological parity might cause both sides to listen, but language in the absence of cultural understanding is unlikely to achieve peace. When political tensions rise between the East and West the comments made by leading national politicians of either side often suggest a massive gap in understanding -- not so much between each side's politicians, rather between the peoples whom each side's politicians seek to persuade. That these manipulators of public opinion dare to use the language they do, strongly suggests the presence of highly misinformed general publics. It is this kind of broad-based public misunderstanding that universal English language requirements and lingua francas of whatever sort are likely never to overcome.



Obviously the division between language as tool and language as medium is no clearer than the division between language and culture. At one extreme there are those who use the English language to achieve certain ends beyond which no other use of the language is either necessary or wanted. At the other extreme are those who speak English as a second language nearly as well as their mother tongue, and the language itself forms the basis of a fluid, borderless, international community that one can enter and leave at will. This is not to say that bilingual individuals, who are fluent in the host country's language are not necessary in order to sustain the community; rather, it is to say that those living in the community, who do not speak the language of their host country, do not require it for their survival. Moreover, because the members of the international community share a common system of values and are relatively mobile, the language that they speak is comfortably understood by everyone within the community no matter the host country. To the extent that both of these extremes exist, there are far many more people in Hong Kong and East who fall into the first category than the second; and thus contribute to all of the problems associated with language when it is utilised solely as a tool, rather than as a social medium for thought and behavior.

So long as East Asian governments continue to create an artificial excess demand for the language, East Asian employers will exploit the resulting oversupply. As the quality of the language thus generated will always be inferior to that necessary to sustain an international community, all of the detrimental effect outlined in both parts of this section will continue. In the end, the problem is not with language being one or the other, a tool or a medium, rather it is a problem of the tool taking precedence over the medium at the expense of community. The obvious solution to the problem is the elimination of the universal English language requirement.

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1 R. A. Stegemann. 2002. English: Bridge or barrier? The political economy of English in East Asian society. [online document] (13 November 2003). See also Koenraad Kuiper and Daphne Tan Gek Lin in Cultural congruence and conflict in the acquisition of formulae in a second language taken from English across cultures: Cultures across English, eds. Orelia Garcia and Ricardo Othegny published by Monton de Gruyter, Berlin, 1989. In this article the Kuipers examine the role of English in Singapore society -- a society that is far more heterogenous than Hong Kong and thus more dependent on second languages for their social medium. Although Singaporeans acquire a form of English, it is often dominated by the vocabulary of their own cutlure and the grammar of their native Hokkien. In effect, not only do Singaporeans fail to acquire the culture of another's language, but what they do acquire forms a poor bridge to other cultures. The English they speak is poorly understood by those unfamiliar with Singaporean English. In a different contribution co-authored by Alison and Koernraad Kuiper entitled Constructing vocational aspirations linguistically in Globalisation, Societies and Education, vol. 1, 2 (July) published by Carfax Publishing in 2003, the Kuipers show that young Malaysians often discount their mother tongue in favor of English, because they believe that English will provide them with social advancement that their mother tongue will not. In addition they show that this expectation, although understandable, is probably not well-founded in terms of what is truly achieved by studying English. Like Singaporean society, Malaysian society is far more heterogeneous than Hong Kong's. (text)
Francis Fukuyama. 1995. Trust: the social virtues and the creation of prosperity. New York: Free Press Paperbacks. My first introduction to the term social capital. A well-written book with good insight into human social organization, but not always good insight into East Asian society. (text)
3 So as to insure what we view today does not suddenly disappear tomorrow, each webpage in this section has been reproduced as an image file and posted on the HKLNA-Project's website in HTML format.
Page titles and links for both webpages and images are also provided separately in both Chinese and English. As of December 2003 all Hong Kong Education City webpages reproduced here were still available online. Clicking on the HKLNA-Project's reproduced images takes you on a guided tour. (text)
Brown or auburn hair, though common in East Asia, is a genetic attribute visibly shared by only a small percentage of East Asians. Without opening a new chapter on the spot, the politics of the English language in East Asia has a distinct gender aspect to it. Women of industrially less-advanced nations, where manufacturing employment often dominates, are left with a markedlly different set of options than those of their female counterparts in more industrially advanced nations. If manual labor means working on a factory assembly line, then is it not better to perform it in the home, where your creative input is likely to be appreciated by your husband and children? This is not to say that manufacturing forms an overwhelmingly important part of the Hong Kong economy; English is, however, a socially upscale language that few people in the bottom layers of society are able to make effective use of. (text)
5 The Oxford University Press pop-up window has apparently been removed by the Hong Kong Education City webmaster. (text)
6 Most Hong Kong primary and secondary students wear uniforms that are not shed until they enter the university. Nevertheless getting your picture taken in your cap and gown is an important event when you receive a degree from a Hong Kong university. One can easily imagine a certain amount of pre-university nostalgia at work in the picture taking. For the vast majority it is the last they will see of school, but for class reunions and informal gatherings with former classmates. (text)
7 Short stories and mystery novels are often recommended to junior readers as a means to hold their attention. This is especially true for those learning a foreign language. (text)
8 English in the Air "is a pilot project launched by the Standing Committee on Language Education and Research (SCOLAR) and sponsored by the Language Fund to encourage greater use of the medium of television in the teaching and learning of English in secondary schools". Source: Hong Kong Education City. English in the Air. About this project. [online document] (29 January 2003). As always, one can only wonder what proportion of all Hong Kong students will make use of this program. This program also fits well into the Education and Manpower Bureau's recurrent theme: More is better, just do not ask how much. See Hong Kong's Window Dressers (pdf document - 49KB) for a better understanding of the political and economic ramifications of this misguided approach. (text)
9 Ibid. Hong Kong Education City. English in the Air. About this project. (text)
10 Between late November 2003, when this page was first downloaded and reproduced in image format, and late January 2004 when this section -- Language as medium -- of the HKLNA-Project website was completed no change had taken place on the HKedCity's website in this regard. Clicking on the word ENGlish still returned one to the same introductory page in Cantonese -- this, despite the appearance of numerous changes in content on the Cantonese page in celebration of the Chinese lunar New Year in late January. In effect, no English version of this page exists. (text)
11 A key for the pronunication of this phonetic transcription can be found at EARTH's Tsong-Kit for Cantonese Beginners. (text)
During my brief, but informative experience in the Economics Department at the Chinese University of Hong Kong I quickly learned that people at Hong Kong's top seldom credit publicly those below them. Li Kwok Cheung, the former Vice Chancellor, and current Secretary of Education and Manpower was a notable exception in this regard. (text)
13 The Executive's Council is the highest political body of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong. The Council's members are chosen by Hong Kong's Chief Executive and answer directly to him. The Chief Executive is appointed by Beijing, but answers to both Beijing and Hong Kong. (text)
14 Unlike Japanese, it is often difficult to determine the sex of a Chinese person by his names alone, thus one explanation for many Hong Kongers' preference for English names is the ability to determine another's sex by simply looking at his or her name. It is very common to see and hear names like Arthur Li, Christine Loh, Sunny Kwok, Michael Tien, Fanny Law, etc. One would think, if one did not know better, that these people's only Chinese names were those of their families. (text)
15 I have since discovered that a Cantonese grammar book for non-native Cantonese speakers does exist. Source: Steven Mathews and Virginia Yip. 1994. Cantonese: A Comprehensive Grammar. Taylor and Francis Group plc. [online document] (text)
16 Tong-4 lau-4 is the Cantonese expression for the old residential and commercial buildings that make up so much of downtown Hong Kong. The word tong-4 is the same used to describe the Tang Dynasty 618 A.D. - 907 A.D., thought by some to be China's golden age for culture and thought. (text)
17 According to a senior researcher in the Language Education Division of the Education Manpower Bureau, among the 514 public secondary schools registered by the language medium in which non-language subjects are taught, a full 400 qualify as English language medium of instruction (EMI) schools -- roughly speaking about a 80/20 split English to Chinese. (text)
18 It may be useful here to review the subsection entitled In Search of a Lifestyle under Beneath the Surface - A structural approach to Hong Kong's educational priorities. (text)
19 This notion was indirectly brought to my attention by a Singporean scholar, who claimed that Singapore youth have little sense of cultural identity that does not have its roots in modern society. Source: KUO Pau Kun, Artistic Director, Practice Performing Arts, Ltd. Asia Leadership Fellow, Japan-Southeast Asia Forum, International House of Japan, Tokyo, 19 September 1997. (text)
20 See R. A. Stegemann. 2002.
English: bridge or barrier? The political economy of English in East Asian society. [online document - pdf 136 KB] Developmental state approach. Holding foreigners at bay. Also, More on mirror dynamics. (text)

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