The Basic Law of Hong Kong, the constitutional document of the country, states that Chinese and English are the official languages of the nation. English was the sole official language from 1883-1974 and after petitions and demonstrations from citizens of Hong Kong, Chinese was added from 1974 onward. In 1987, the Official Language Ordinance was amended to require all new governmental legislation to be communicated in both Chinese and English. There are no specific laws regarding the choice of Chinese dialect.

The majority of citizens (approximately 87%) in Hong Kong speak Cantonese or other Yue Chinese as their first language. The Hong Kong Cantonese dialect is used in broadcasting, daily communication, education, government, and the judiciary system. English is spoken by just 4.2% of the population natively, but around 50% of citizens are proficient in English due to the long-term presence of the language in the country.

Hong Kong is a linguistically diverse nation but there are a few important phrases to learn before travelling to the area. "Mm goi" is a way to say please as well as thank-you, it can also be used as a way to say "excuse me". A more formal way to say thank-you is "doh jeh", and this can be used in situations involving compliments, gifts, or special favours. The shopping in Hong Kong is amazing and "gay doo Chin", means "how much?"

The Hakka language is a Chinese dialect and has developed many varieties including the Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore variations, to name a few. The Teochew dialect from the Southern Min region is another branch of the Chinese language that is active in Hong Kong. Other Asian languages such as Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese also have a presence in the country. European languages such as French and German also have small numbers of native speakers in Hong Kong. Boutiques and restaurants in Hong Kong will often have French names.

This page was last modified on May 1st, 2018

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