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Nurhadi Hamka

Student ID: U5880202


Master of General and Applied Linguistics
The Australian National University

A Summary of Article: Hong Kong and modern diglossia


The article by Don Snow entitled Hong Kong and modern diglossia
scrutinizes the history of diglossia in Hong Kong which covers and focuses
on pre-modern diglossia and modern diglossia. In the article, Snow argued
that the diglossia situation that occurred in Hong Kong is likely the same
with the diglossia situation in German-speaking Switzerland. He claimed
that this kind of diglossia situation is very rare appear in a highly
modernized society. Snow, furthermore, explained that pre-modern
diglossia which happened in Hong Kong, consists of classical Chinese as
high variety (H) and another is Cantonese as low variety (L). He argued
that albeit Classical Chinese has no native speakers, it is still considered
as H since it is learned at school which means limited only for upper class
society or those who can afford education. On the other hand,
Cantonese is justified as L simply because the language can be learned
and acquired at home and as well as widely used by most people of Hong
Kong. In the modern diglossia situation, Snow argued that as Hong Kong
was returned to China with the help by Britain, there is a growing interest
on Putonghua. Snow described that at that time, the government begins
promoting Putonghua, such as at school, government offices and for the
civil servants. Also, the government utilize the power of media to
disseminate the language, and that Putonghua as the standard Chinese
becomes H variety in the era. Unlike H variety that evolve from classical
Chinese to Putonghua, Cantonese as L variety remain the same. The
language is treated as vernacular language in the country.
Moreover, Snow then describe German-speaking Switzerland
diglossia situation and compared it to Hong Kong. He explained that the
official language which is standard German is considered as H variety
while a dialect that close to standard German is treated L variety Snow
called the dialect as Swiss German. Snow justified two similarities
between Hong Kong and Switzerland. First, both nations are Modern in the
sense that the diglossia situation is occurred in the modern time in which,
both affected by modernisation such as industrialisation, urbanisation, and
democratisation. Secondly, the standard language is the H variety rather
than the classical one.
The case of Diglossia that consider the standard language as H
variety is also emerged in Indonesia. Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian) as the
standard language is an official language used in the Governments
service, language instruction at schools, and as lingua franca between
diverse regions. On the contrary, L variety is the one that changed from
local language (indigenous) to Indonesian dialect that is subtly spoken
after Indonesian was made official in 1945. The number of dialects are
many and various between regions. These diverse Indonesian dialects are
mostly affected by local languages that have been speaking by older for
many decades. And therefore, when the local people from different
regions accommodate the language through convergence is (consciously
or not) mixing with the standard Indonesian to local language which
triggered the birth of Indonesian dialects.