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Documentation of general lexical items in four Indigenous languages of Hong Kong: Waitou-wa, Hakka-wa, Tingkok-wa and Tung-pingchau-wa

Year of Approval



Association for Conservation of Hong Kong Indigenous Languages

Project Status

Completed in August 2017

Brief Description of the Project

Indigenous languages play an integral part in Hong Kong history. More than simply the languages of the indigenous inhabitants, they are an indispensible element constituting the cultural identity of Hong Kong people. The rapid development of Hong Kong over the last few decades has prompted many indigenous New Territories residents to relocate overseas or move to the urban areas. This and the use of Cantonese as the language of instruction in all schools have caused changes in our linguistic ecology, putting the survival of many indigenous languages into question.

The Association for Conservation of Hong Kong Indigenous Languages has been actively promoting the conservation of the indigenous languages in Hong Kong. With funding support from the Lord Wilson Heritage Trust, the Association launched a project called “Creation of a Chinese Character Pronunciation Database for the On-line Promotion of the Wai-tou and Hak-ka Dialects Spoken by the Indigenous Inhabitants of Hong Kong” in 2009. An online audible dictionary has been developed for users to check the pronunciations of Hak-ka and Wai-tou vocabularies. Later, the Association was funded again by the Trust to compile the common vocabularies of four dialects, namely Wai-tou, Hak-ka, Ting-kok and Tung Ping Chau, and to keep an audio record of their pronunciations.

By the Association’s projection, there will not be anyone left to speak these languages fluently thirty years from now. It is hoped that by compiling and recording related information and encouraging the younger generation to pick up these languages, the tongues of our ancestors can be preserved and sustained.

Distribution of the Indigenous and Non-indigenous Languages in Hong Kong

“Indigenous languages” refer to the dialects spoken by different Chinese groups settled in the New Territories before 1898. There are six major indigenous languages, namely Wai-tou, Hak-ka, Ping-po, Da-peng, Tan-ka and Hokkien.

The Wai-tou dialect, also known as the Pun-ti dialect, is spoken by the Pun-ti people, or the locals. Most of them come from five great clans - the Tang, the Man, the Hau, the Liu and the Pang who owned lands in Yuen Long, Sheung Shui, Fanling, Tai Po and Sha Tin. The Hak-ka dialect was brought to Hong Kong from eastern Guangdong by the Hak-ka farmers in the early days of the Qing dynasty. They either rented plots from the locals or reclaimed farmlands in New Territories East, including the Sai Kung Pennisula, Sha Tin, Tai Po, Sha Tau Kok, Tsuen Wan and Yuen Long East. The Ping-po dialect is said to be a Hak-ka dialect imported indirectly from Minxi (i.e. western Fujian). It is spoken in around Shui Tsiu Tsuen in southern Yuen Long while the Da-peng dialect was once popular in Tung Ping Chau. The Tan-ka and Hokkien dialects are used by fishermen.

Related Link(s)

(1) Association for Conservation of Hong Kong Indigenous Languages
(2) Lord Wilson Heritage Trust: Conservation of Indigenous Languages