Pinter in Cantonese: Language, Stage and Meaning

Vicki Ooi


In 1492 Queen Isabella of Spain was formally presented with a copy of Antonio de Nebreja's Gramatica, the first grammar written about any modern European language. The Queen asked, "What is the book for?" and the Bishop of Avila replied, "Your Majesty, language is the perfect instrument of empire." The Bishop of Avila was merely stating a well known political fact: language is a necessary and useful instrument of politics. The Greeks and Romans spread their language as far as their armies maintained their outposts, and since then every colonial power has attempted to do the same thing. Colonists impose their language on the subject people and demand or require that they express their loyalty to or acknowledge the unity of the empire by using the single approved or official language. In Hong Kong the only official language was English until three years ago, when Chinese was given equal status with English as an official language. As so often happens in a new nation, the need for national identity expresses itself in an attempt to adopt or revert to a national language. A problem arises, however, where there is a multiplicity of languages found within the nation. A government confronted with the problem is likely to discourage the use of regional dialects since these appeal to local loyalties rather than to a single national loyalty.

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