Help the Cantonese diaspora pass on their heritage language: The Ham-baang-laang project
Cantonese is probably the most widely spoken language that lacks children’s books.
This is a description about a project that I co-founded, which aims to preserve and promote Cantonese by creating storybooks. Click this link to view if you are blocked.
Cantonese used to be the most widely spoken vernacular in many Chinatowns around the world, and the language is said to be on the decline. Mandarin (also known as Putonghua), the lingua franca of both the Mainland China and Taiwan, has become the lingua franca among ethnic Chinese around the world, and it is to no one’s surprise that it will be embraced by the overseas community as the one way to connect with their homeland. Many Chinese schools did not seem to have struggled at all, and happily switched the medium of instruction to Mandarin.
I can’t blame these schools. Mandarin was chosen as the standard language, and written Chinese has been developed in the most Mandarin-centric way you can imagine. Even in Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong, students have been instructed to replace all words to the “book language”, so that every sentence can be understood by all Chinese. This means Cantonese speakers have no autonomy in what words they can write, but Mandarin speakers can use whatever words they want to add vitality to the written language. It is even said that only by suppressing one’s mother tongue can a person write good Chinese. This imbalance means that if we look at printed work, everything will look normal to a user of Mandarin, but there will be a large gap between any written materials and other non-Mandarin languages, including Cantonese. The under-representation of Cantonese in the written world will give a wrong impression to heritage speakers that abandoning Cantonese for Mandarin is the best way to achieve literacy, and this needs to be stopped.
Can we have more books written in Cantonese? Cantonese has always been written in informal situation, so there is no need to invent a writing system from scratch. Most educated people in Hong Kong and other Cantonese-speaking areas can read Cantonese, through exposure toCantonese in informal contexts, such as tabloids, online posting, instant messaging, etc. What we actually need to do is to use Cantonese to write serious things. In the past decade, we see the growth of Cantonese Wikipedia among many other…