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Telling Stories: Linguistic Diversity in Hong Kong was created by Professor Jette G. Hansen Edwards of The Chinese University of Hong Kong to showcase the languages of Hong Kong, past and present. Hong Kong has always been a site of vibrant multiculturalism and multilingualism; this website seeks to highlight this linguistic and cultural diversity through a database of speech samples and translations of the many languages and varieties that have been historically spoken or are in use in present-day Hong Kong. The website was developed to be easily accessible by researchers as well as by teachers and students, and to be used to explore a range of linguistic issues including linguistic diversity, minority languages, language endangerment, linguistic discrimination, and world Englishes.

Extensive historical and online document analyses were conducted in order to identify the languages and varieties to include in the website; in addition, potential speakers for the project were solicited through mass emails and social media. A particular focus of this research was on the languages/varieties spoken by ethnic minorities as well as endangered languages/varieties in Hong Kong, such as Hakka, Waitau, Tanka.

The rationale for these foci is the recent campaigns, including the ‘#Everyday Racism’ by the NGO Resolve, as well as recent news and public documents (see for example the Zubin Foundation, a non-profit think tank), that have highlighted the issues ethnic minorities face in Hong Kong, both linguistically and socially. At the same time, there is greater societal recognition of the endangerment of several indigenous languages in Hong Kong, including Tanka, Waitau, and Hakka. Finally, there has been an increasing interest in studying and providing resources for the deaf language community; this is evidenced by the development of a new diploma programme in Sign Language Studies in the Centre for Sign Linguistics and Deaf Studies at CUHK.

Despite this increasing public awareness of the need to preserve endangered languages, as well as to provide more linguistic and cultural resources for ethnic minorities and members of the deaf community in Hong Kong, there has as yet been no attempt to create an archive which seeks not only to document and preserve language diversity in Hong Kong, but also serves as an educational tool and research resource for educators, schools, students, and academics. This is the aim of the Telling Stories website, which is a database of spoken language data that has also been transcribed into written text format from a wide range of languages and varieties found in Hong Kong; these stories aim to raise awareness of the rich cultural and linguistic heritage of Hong Kong, to document and protect endangered languages, and to increase awareness of the cultural and linguistic richness found among ethnic minorities and members of the deaf community in Hong Kong. The incorporation of Hong Kong Sign Language into the archive is also an importance means of creating visibility and inclusiveness for members of this community.

As a result of extensive research, 41 languages, comprising 14 varieties of Chinese, 12 other Asian languages, 7 African languages, and 8 European languages, were identified as having been historically or are currently spoken in Hong Kong. In addition, 29 varieties of English were identified, including 13 varieties of Asian English, 6 varieties of African English, 8 varieties of European Englishes, 1 variety of Australasian English and 1 variety of North American English. We hope to expand the range of languages/varieties in the future.

The languages identified for the project include the indigenous languages of Hong Kong, such as Hakka, Waitau, and Tanka, as well as other varieties of Chinese such as Cantonese, Teochew, Putonghua, Hokkien, Shanghainese, among others, and Asian (Urdu, Tagalog, Hindi, Japanese, Korean), European (Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Irish, English, Portuguese, French, Dutch, German) and African (Swahili, Amharic, Oromo) languages. A range of varieties of English were also identified through this analysis, including Hong Kong English, Filipino English, British English, American English, Indian English, Thai English, Pakistani English, Japanese English, China English, and Australian English.

A Language Profile (for languages) or Variety Profile (for varieties of English) was created for each language/variety. These profiles include:

  • Information about the historical and present day use of the language/variety in Hong Kong, with demographic information of numbers of speakers today and in the past when data were available.
  • An overview of the role speakers of these languages have had in building Hong Kong industrially, financially, and culturally, when information is available.
  • Demographic information about each language/variety in terms of number of speakers globally and geographic spread of the language/variety around the world.
  • Descriptions of key features of each language/variety.
  • A list of references underpinning the content of the profiles.

A story-telling task was used to solicit speech data for as a device to create a database of spoken language data for each of the identified languages/varieties, and to showcase the cultural heritage and traditions of the speakers of these languages. The name of the website, Telling Stories, is in reference to the speech elicitation task as well as to the content of the short stories themselves. To date, 195 stories have been collected from speakers of the 70 languages/ varieties highlighted in this website.

Whenever possible, these stories were transcribed into written text in the original language/variety, and then translated into English and both traditional and simplified written Chinese. For many of the language, a video translation of the story into Hong Kong Sign Language was also created.

The aim of the transcriptions and translations is to foster digital literacy and spoken language maintenance. It also allows users of this website to ‘read along’ as the storyteller tells their story. The inclusion of both spoken and written text may also help with language documentation, providing a richer database of linguistic diversity, with more teaching and research applications.

The Hong Kong Sign Language translations were made so that this website is accessible to the deaf community in Hong Kong, as well as to provide a more inclusive overview of linguistic diversity of Hong Kong. As Hong Kong Sign Language is becoming an endangered language, the inclusion of these videos also serves to help document and preserve this indigenous language of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Sign Language videos may also be of interest to sign language users, teachers and researchers around the world as Hong Kong Sign Language is relatively unknown outside Hong Kong.

If you would like your story (or language/variety) to be included in this website, please contact Prof. Jette G. Hansen Edwards at jhansen@cuhk.edu.hk.


This website would not have been possible without the many people who lent their voices and stories to Telling Stories. I am grateful for your participation in this project and your willingness to tell me about your culture and traditions.

I am also grateful to the research assistants who have helped collect the indigenous data for this project: Lillian Wong and Tsun Sing Hung (Jason).

Finally, I wish to the thank the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund (SIE Fund) of the Hong Kong SAR Government for funding this project. Without this funding, the project would not have been possible.

How to cite this website:
This is an open access website, and you are free to use the material for research and teaching purposes if you cite this website.
This website may be cited as: Hansen Edwards, J. G. (2002). Telling Stories: Linguistic diversity in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: The Chinese University of Hong Kong. https://www.eng.cuhk.edu.hk/ENGE-TellingStories

This project was funded by a Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund (SIE Fund) of the Hong Kong SAR Government.