Joint Post with Idryss: Frenglish & Kongish

Today, I am delighted to invite Idryss, my French penfriend who is studying English and Economics in Paris, to share his views about Frenglish, its phenomenon and how English affected the use of French in this joint post series.  Meanwhile, to continue our meaningful discussion about languages, I would also like to provide you some insights about the popularity of Kongish (Hong Kong English) in the latter part.


The Phenomenon of « Frenglish »

How English impacted the use of French in the 21th Century

If you ever get to visit or work in France, you are more likely to hear English words within French phrases such as « c’est super cool ! » or « Il faut faire un business plan ».

Many English words have become part of the socio-professional environment, from borrowing specific terms which have a unique meaning or are simply easier to remember, to refer to international social media contents. More and more French natives communicate with what is called « Le Franglish ». It’s not just a matter for teenagers anymore.

This trend is everywhere: on commercials, in various work places, on the internet … In a globalized world where people are more likely to study or work abroad, participate in trips around the globe at the best prices, open up to foreign cultures and much more, English is the ultimate medium of language.

During the Week of French Language, a study revealed that about 10% of French vocabularies were Anglicism’s, according to Mediaprism.

Whether the French like it or not, they have to deal with it. Indeed, I highly doubt the fact that people would never give up Moliere’s language to combine with Shakespeare’s for a few words or even a full sentence. According to the same study, about 90% of French people use the English word « sometimes » and some other 12% use « often ».

In a relatively conservative country like France, this kind of results may worry some proud linguists. A commission was created under the government to try to « French-icize » the language but in vain. Some words like « marketing », « low cost » or « fashion » do not have the same meaning once translated. Some other neologisms such as « drone » and « smartphone » are directly taken from English language because of a lack of linguistic resources.

As a multicultural French national, I do not believe « lexical protectionism » is a better solution rather than celebrating international linguistic differences and participating even more to the global exportation and importation of the incredibly rich languages that are spoken throughout the world. If the English language is action-oriented and French is description-oriented, the two are not ultimately incompatible. They are complementary. ♦


Goodest English: The Vogue of Kongish

Me: “The exam is so chur ar.”

Friend: “Add oil!  After the exam we will open rice and blow water together 🙂 “

Me: “Great.  I won’t hea la.  See you later.”

It might look all Greek to you, isn’t it?  Yet what you have read is a real messaging between me and my friend in the recent days. Don’t be surprised that, despite some of the peculiar words, these literal English translations from our local tongue have been rising in popularity nowadays. It is a distinctly new language, a flexible language that is unique to bilingual Hong Kongers from different walks of life, and a lively language that reflects humourous blench of nonsensical or ungrammatical English in Chinese contexts.

Admittedly, internet and high-tech gadgets rise swiftly under the sweeping tide of globalization and the advent of cutting-edge technologies. Just click a button, our texts and messages will be sent to the others in the twinkling of our eyes regardless of geographical obstacles and time limits. Myriads of bilingual Hong Kongers, myself included, are more keen on communicating in Kongish on social media or messaging apps, instead of typing in standard English or traditional Chinese characters that are quite time-consuming to us. Digital communication, in general, plays a role in prompting bilingual Cantonese speakers to generate and promulgate new vocabs, with some common examples listing here:

  1. “Chur”: adjective. It means something is too overwhelming.
  2. “Add oil” (加油): verb. literally to lubricate, is used more as an idiom to encourage a person or a team.
  3. “Open rice” (開飯): verb. Both Chinglish and the name of a popular dining app, meaning “the meal is ready”
  4. “Blow water” (吹水): noun or verb. Directly translated from Cantonese, meaning someone is talking a lot but nonsense or the content is meaningless
  5. “Hea”: verb. It comes from the word hang around. But it’s usually been use to describe lounge around without any purpose.
from South China Morning Post

Hong Kongers also like to use “la”, “wor”, “ar”, “ma” as exclamations within the sentence.

Whether we literarily translate Cantonese phrases and idioms to English, or convert the above wordings from Chinese characters to English alphabets, it is ubiquitous for us to transmit features of Chinese syntax and lexical terms in English in informal setting.  Linguistically, such prevailing practice of language varieties during the speech is called code-switching.  While a monolingual English speaker could literally understand these Kongish words, they would be lacking the Cantonese context from which they originate, making him/her somewhat hard to comprehend.  Further to add spice to the daily conversation, Kongish is also created by using incorrect grammar and pronunciation of English words for fun.

However, there sparked waves of controversy in Hong Kong.  Some lamented the spread of Kongish that triggered the decline of the language level of Hong Kong students; while some regarded youngsters’ frequent use of Kongish as bad manners for communication. Nevertheless, popularity is still soaring among the adolescents and early adults when “Kongish Daily“, a Facebook page that offers cultural exploration of this innovative language, was established to the public and hit thousands of likes.  In this multilingual world,  it comes no wonder to witness the evolvement of languages and the cropping up of new English varieties like Kongish.  Let’s not forget from centuries, English words have long been borrowed from others, thus reflecting the diversification of this lingua franca and the complexity of cultural contacts from the bygone days.  After all, mixing languages is just a natural part of expressing ourselves as human beings.

Not only is Kongish merely a tool for expression, but also acts as a badge of locally-rooted Hong Kong identity among us in face of the city’s surging interactions with the Mainland China.  Hong Kongers, with pride,  are reinforcing the ownership of their multilingual language resources in a creative way, and express their recognition as a Cantonese and English speaker that differentiate them from the ones in the Mainland China.  For fear of the local identity to be assimilated, these novel invention and broad adoption of wordings highlight the blooming sense of belongings in the post-colonial era.

Kongish, full of humourous expressions with the colloquial use of English, has already struck a chord among us and captured our hearts.  It is my conviction that, with the passing of time, its allure, invented because of the creativity of Hong Kongers,  will endure, and become a joy to behold. ♦

Last but not least, with compliments, I would like to thank Idryss for being my guest, as well as his time, effort and willingness in contributing this joint post.


4 thoughts on “Joint Post with Idryss: Frenglish & Kongish

  1. I’ve never heard of Frenglish either! Idryss’s contribution as a native speaker certainly enriched the discussion. The article also made me reflect on the use of anglicisms in my own native language (portuguese), and how such phenomenon is linked to globalization, crossing all borders. Cheers to linguistic mixtures and diversity!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, Rebecca. That is nice that our joint post gave you some insights and sparked your interest towards linguistic diversity. I also believe it would be an inevitable trend in the future for one language mixing with another due to globalisation. How interesting the language world will be when we embrace it with open arms!


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