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The University of Hong Kong
Kongish: Translanguaging and the Commodification of an Urban Dialect

Kongish is an emerging hybrid urban dialect that is affiliated to but not co-extensive with Hong Kong English. Starting with an English(-Cantonese) poem published in an anthology by the Facebook initiative KongPoWriMo (Hong Kong Poetry Writing Month), we will look at how colloquial Cantonese is represented in the written word (or numeral), sometimes to the effect of disfiguring what is ostensibly English. Examples will be used to illustrate three aspects of Kongish, namely its fluidity, multimodality, and self-reflexivity. It is suggested that Kongish, possibly undergirded by what is dubbed MK (Mongkok) Culture, exemplifies an ethos of translanguaging that seeks to continually transgress the boundary between named languages as well as between linguistic and nonlinguistic modalities. It is also highly amenable to commodification, both on social media and in the commercial market. The seminar considers the extent to which we might consider Kongish to be based “off” rather than “on” English—more specifically, as an innominate register that breaches institutionalised borders without settling into a code.


Tong King Lee is Professor of Language and Communication in the School of English, University of Hong Kong and Honorary Professor of Culture, Communication, and Media at University College London. He was Luce East Asia Fellow at the National Humanities Center, U.S. (2021), Lee Kong Chian Research Fellow at National Library, Singapore (2022), and IAS Fellow at Durham University, U.K. (2023). He is the author of Kongish (Cambridge University Press, 2023), Choreographies of Multilingualism (Oxford University Press, 2022), and Translation as Experimentalism (Cambridge University Press, 2022).