Language Policies and Racialized Linguistic Privilege within Educational Settings in Hong Kong

Wai-chi Chee*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference abstractpeer-review


    Compared to the general student population in Hong Kong, South Asian students arewell-documented to be challenged by disproportionate academic underachievementand unequal access to career opportunities. Although research has suggestedstructural constraints (e.g., limited school choice) to be a signifi cant cause, governmentinterventions often downplay structural barriers and instead highlight South Asians’“language defi cit,” creating a linguistic hierarchy and leading to exclusionary practicesand segregation at schools. The Education Bureau prioritizes a Hong Kong-centricassimilationist approach, which upholds Chinese as the linguistic and culturalstandard. Such monocultural assumptions set desirable Chinese profi ciency as aprerequisite of social integration. The prestigious status of English language ineducation and business further complicates the situation. Drawing on a review ofeducation policies relating to ethnic minority students and in-depth interviews with 75South Asian students in Hong Kong, this paper unravels how language policies serve toreify and racialize privilege in linguistic terms. I argue that race intersects withlanguage to produce a linguistic hierarchy, which perpetuates racialized privilege. Thislinguistic elitism has two layers. Firstly, a perceived lack of English profi ciency is usedto justify the limitations placed on South Asian students’ equal access to educationaland career opportunities regardless of their actual English competence. Secondly, aperceived low level of Chinese language, just like English, becomes a barrier for SouthAsian students in their attempts to access educational and career opportunities. Ontop of that, Cantonese, the local spoken language of Hong Kong, is further used tojustify the exclusion of South Asians, who are perceived to be not profi cient enough inthis language. In other words, English language becomes a vehicle to transmitprivilege, whereas Chinese language serves to draw a boundary of inclusion/exclusion.Racialized privilege is demonstrated through this dual linguistic elitism.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2023
    EventXX ISA World Congress of Sociology - Melbourne, Australia
    Duration: 25 Jun 20231 Jul 2023 (Conference website) (Conference programme)


    ConferenceXX ISA World Congress of Sociology
    Internet address


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