Date of Award


Degree Type

UG Dissertation (Restricted)



First Advisor

Professor Andrew Sewell John


Perceptual preference of languages and accents are primarily influenced, if not determined, by standard language ideology. Standard varieties, such as General American, Standard British English and Received Pronunciation (Milroy, 2007) have been the prevailing varieties of English in global context. Hong Kong is, indubitably, no exception to this internalised sociolinguistic norm. With the emergence of Hong Kong English (HKE) as a new variety of English over the past decades, subsequent studies have been carried out to examine HKE based on the existing Standard English theories and approaches. In a review of Bolton's Hong Kong English: Autonomy and Creativity (2002), Davis (2005) argues that the research foci of Hong Kong English have always been in a catch 22 situation. He writes,

Accounts of varieties of English often veer between the Scylla of feature identification and the Charybdis of historical stereotype. In the former, lists of linguistic features are pressed into service to formulate a national variety. These lists are useful, but can conceal as much in the way of variation as they reveal. In the latter, dates and national boundaries are used to lay down an arbitrary historical definition of a variety. The United States is said to have come into existence in 1776, and with it, runs the assumption, came American English (Algeo, 2001: 4). The British Empire is said to have ceased to exist in 1997, and with it, some might assume, Hong Kong English (if indeed it ever existed in the first place). These assumptions require an unjustifiable level of historical and linguistic generalization. They tell us more about their progenitors, language ideologies than about the language situations they are trying to describe. All too often, they miss the chance to give adequate explanation and characterization of new and rapidly developing language ecologies. (Davis, 2005:101)

It is necessary to note that HKE studies and perhaps most language studies are prone to over-generalisation. One is tempted to define HKE by the elicited phonological properties {Hung, 2000; Chan, 2010), but they are mostly derived from the Standard English ideological perspectives that pays little attention to how locals, English as Second Language (ESL) learners, understand and practice HKE in different contexts. Besides, the ever-changing socio-linguistic behaviours and political climate of Hong Kong have often problematized the understanding of HKE, its identity functions and communicative practices.

In last year's course English Phonology, I conducted a mini-research on the pronunciation variations of university students in terms of British and American accent markers. Some intriguing outliers and questions were raised from students' comments on British and American English. The intentional or unintentional use of some classical British/American accent markers elicited more questions on how the phonological features reflect (and conceal) their accent preferences, and affect the actual usage of certain prosodic features—something that ESL learners are not fully aware of, or perhaps do not mean to address when speaking English. The tentative conclusions of the mini-research pointed towards several unresolved areas, for instance, language accommodation, Americanisation and identity constructs of local university students. All in all, the mini- research experience and inconclusive results increased my motivation to further fathom these respective areas.

Recommended Citation

Chung, S. K. C. (2016). Untangling perception and reality : a quali-quantitative study of perception, linguistic judgements and identity functions of English accents in Hong Kong (UG dissertation, Lingnan University, Hong Kong). Retrieved from