Fieldwork in Hong Kong was made possible by financial support from Social Science Research Council (International Dissertation Research Fellowship). Preparation of this article was supported by funding from UCSD Faculty Career Development Program and Hellman Fellowship. I would like to thank Andrew Abbott, Susan Gal, Gregory Matoesian, Elizabeth Mertz, Leslie Salzinger for their comments and criticisms of earlier versions of the article. Special thanks to the two anonymous reviewers and LSR editor Carroll Seron for their detailed comments and suggestions. The two anonymous reviewers also provided me with valuable information on the relevant literature for this inter-disciplinary paper. I also thank Kate McDonald for her comments and help. Last but not least, I am grateful to the litigants, counsel, and judges I met and interviewed and to the Hong Kong Judiciary for allowing me to obtain official tape recordings of the trial sessions I selected to study.
“If I lie, I tell you, may heaven and earth destroy me.” Language and Legal Consciousness in Hong Kong Bilingual Common Law
Article first published online: 20 MAY 2009
© 2009 Law and Society Association
Law & Society Review
Volume 43, Issue 2, pages 369–404, June 2009
How to Cite
Ng, K. H. (2009), “If I lie, I tell you, may heaven and earth destroy me.” Language and Legal Consciousness in Hong Kong Bilingual Common Law. Law & Society Review, 43: 369–404. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-5893.2009.00376.x
- Issue published online: 20 MAY 2009
- Article first published online: 20 MAY 2009
Based on an ethnographic study of courtroom interactions in the bilingual (Chinese/English) common law system in Hong Kong, this article investigates how language plays a constitutive role in shaping the ways people use, argue, and think about law. While the use of English in Hong Kong prescribes by default the supposedly universal speech act of statement-making, the presence of Cantonese allows local speech acts to be brought into the courtrooms. Two local speech acts, “catching fleas in words” and “speaking bitterness,” are discussed. The findings of this study suggest that by studying the local practices and beliefs in postcolonial settings, researchers can gain insights into the complex ways in which Anglo American–style legal institutions are reconstituted.