Linguistic capital: Continuity and change in educational language polices for South Asians in Hong Kong primary schools

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapters


Equity of education for South Asian minorities in Hong Kong has become increasingly salient due to the enactment of the Hong Kong Race Discrimination Ordinance in July 2008 and new educational language policies that have impacted these ethnic minority groups disproportionately. Post-colonial Hong Kong is faced with a highly multilingual and ethnically diverse population. In the 2006 census, the population of Hong Kong was 6,864,346 people, 95% of whom were ethnic Chinese. Of the 5% of non-Chinese, significant numbers are South Asians, including 112,453 Filipinos (1.64% of the population), 87,840 Indonesians (1.28%), 20,444 Indians (0.3%), 15,950 Nepalese (0.23%), 11,900 Thais (0.17%), 11,111 Pakistanis (0.16%), and people from other South Asian countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, and Sri Lanka. These population figures indicate that language policy in Hong Kong is moving swiftly from diglossic bilingualism to ‘biliteracy and trilingualism’ (Hu, 2007; Poon, 2004, 2010). In the colonial period of British rule, language policy was diglossic, with English being treated as the‘high’ language, while Cantonese, the widely spoken local language in Hong Kong, was a low-status subordinate language. Up until 1998, the majority of schools in Hong Kong used English as the medium of instruction. One of the major changes after the handover of sovereignty to China in 1997 was the biliterate and trilingual (liangwen sanyu) language policy which aimed to balance the status of English, Cantonese, and Putonghua (the national spoken language in China) (Hu, 2007, p. 85). This policy change is in accordance with the ‘mother tongue’ education policy, which wrongly assumes that Hong Kong students all share the same mother tongue (Cantonese). The shift has inadvertently impacted South Asian ethnic minorities, whose limited mastery of Chinese language (Cantonese as the spoken form and traditional Chinese characters for the written form) prevents them from obtaining academic advancement and upward social mobility (Gao & Shum, 2010). Copyright © 2012 Taylor & Francis.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLanguage planning in primary schools in Asia
EditorsRichard B. BALDAUF, JR., Robert B. KAPLAN, Knonko M. KAMWANGAMALU, Pauline BRYANT
Place of PublicationLondon
ISBN (Electronic)9780203720080
ISBN (Print)9781138107281, 9780415520843
Publication statusPublished - 2012


Gao, F. (2012). Linguistic capital: continuity and change in educational language polices for South Asians in Hong Kong primary schools. In R. B. Baldauf., Jr., R. B. Kaplan, N. M. Kamwangamalu & P. Bryant (Eds.), Language planning in primary schools in Asia (pp. 147-159). London: Routledge.


Dive into the research topics of 'Linguistic capital: Continuity and change in educational language polices for South Asians in Hong Kong primary schools'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.