Minding your language

If you find the spread of creepy Mainland-ese into Hong Kong official language jarring, you’ll get used to it. Spare a thought for the government copywriters and translators who have to learn how to craft this new form of prose.

Today’s example follows a complaint by UK legislators about Hong Kong’s declining freedoms and rule of law. This calls for a whiny and defensive panty-wetting statement along the lines that ‘We categorically deny that our pants are on fire’. The English version suggests that the government scribes are benefitting from their Commie-speak lessons, though they are still some way off from full fluency.

Terminology is largely correct (eg, ‘return to the Motherland’ for ‘handover’). Quotation marks are used for mendacious clunky slogans (‘…“Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong”…’) and to indicate pouty foot-stamping deny-everything indignation at inconvenient facts (‘Any allegation of “political screening” is misleading and ill-founded’). Over-use of adjectives is coming along (‘…strict accordance with … full and successful implementation of…’), though I would suggest studying Xi Jinping’s speeches for inspiration.

Classic CCP announcements contain standard phrases that wrap wishful thinking and bullshit up as cold, haughtily delivered technical detail. Two at the end stand out.

The first is vintage stroppy PRC spokesman: ‘Foreign legislatures should not interfere in any form in the internal affairs of the HKSAR’. It obviously belongs in this press release. However, the ‘in any form’ qualification is weak, hinting that maybe UK lawmakers might be entitled to write to their own Secretary of State, as they did, which of course they are not where our internal affairs are concerned.

The second is a home-grown one: ‘Statements arbitrarily made to undermine and bring possible damage to the rule of law and our well-recognised reputation in this regard is [sic] not conducive to Hong Kong’s progress’.

Since the CCP started to downgrade rule of law in Hong Kong several years ago, hypersensitive local officials have attempted to portray and deflect criticism of this process as itself damaging to the law, actually or in terms of reputation. This is what amateur psychologists call ‘projecting’. If we are to seek truth from facts, this positioning is desperate and unconvincing. At some point, the spin-doctors need to work up a more robust and assertive Line to Take – probably by dismissing Western norms altogether and insisting on the superiority of ‘Common Law with Chinese Characteristics’, or whatever.

In all: Mainlandization of official language is progressing reasonably, but there’s still room for improvement.

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4 Responses to Minding your language

  1. prop dev says:

    Nice one! [filler for the requisite 15 characters]

  2. Old Fishmarket Close says:

    It should be pointed out, of course, that the overuse of adjectives and the egregious sprinkling of quotation marks is standard in Hong Kong corporate speak.

    Put simply, it’s all shite.

  3. Knownot says:

    Yes, a nice one!

    However, the press statement is still readable, not yet in the heavy, ponderous style of Mainland political English. I was struck by part of this sentence:
    “The Department of Justice handles all criminal cases in accordance with the applicable law, relevant evidence and the Prosecution Code with no political consideration at all.”
    – the last five words. “No [noun] at all” or “not at all” are rather formal, but light and natural English phrases. I applaud the native speaker, or the person with native speaker standard, who used that phrase.

  4. Reader says:

    The ISD shoves the fig-leaf “spokesman for the HKSAR Government” into the opening paragraph, just to hammer home that we ‘umble citizens get to listen but not ask.

    Also, the second paragraph cunningly leaves ambiguous exactly what “has been widely recognised by the international community”. Is it:
    a) the full and successful implementation of the “one country, two systems” principle; or merely
    b) the “one country, two systems” principle [per the label on the tin]

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