Cover of The Common Law in Two Voices by Kwai Hang Ng
The Common Law in Two Voices
Language, Law, and the Postcolonial Dilemma in Hong Kong
Kwai Hang Ng


352 pages.
from $28.00

Hardcover now $55.00 (50% off)
Paperback now $14.00 (50% off)

Hardcover ISBN: 9780804761642
Paperback ISBN: 9780804761659
Ebook ISBN: 9780804772358

Request Review/Desk/Examination Copy


Excerpts and More

Co-Winner of the 2010 Distinguished Book Award, sponsored by the ASA Sociology of Law Section.

Hong Kong is one of the very few places in the world where the common law can be practiced in a language other than English. Introduced into the courtroom over a decade ago, Cantonese has significantly altered the everyday working of the common law in China's most Westernized city. In The Common Law in Two Voices, Ng explores how English and Cantonese respectively reinforce and undermine the practice of legal formalism.

This first-ever ethnographic study of Hong Kong's unique legal system in the midst of social and political transition, this book provides important insights into the social nature of language and the work of institutions. Ng contends that the dilemma of legal bilingualism in Hong Kong is emblematic of the inherent tensions of postcolonial Hong Kong. Through the legal dramas presented in the book, readers will get a fresh look at the former British colony that is now searching for its identity within a powerful China.

About the author

Kwai Hang Ng is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego.

"Ng's book is well researched, written, and argued . . . This thought-provoking book is highly recommended for libraries that collect sociology or Asian law monographs."

—Roy L. Sturgeon, International Journal of Legal Information

"[T]he importance and promise of this study makes it a useful and important book for those interested in the sociology of law, postcolonialism, or the political implications of being unable to speak the language of the courts. It is essential reading for those who are interested in what sociological studies of language can contribute to cultural understanding."

—Celine-Marie Pascale, American University, American Journal of Sociology

"Ng's analysis leaves the door open to important questions which other social science literatures ought to address . . . [His] books remains an important empirical and theoretical contribution to legal sociology and language politics. It constitutes an important step towards greater research on the impact of language on human behavior in legal setting and beyond."

—Marie-Eve Reny, The Law and Politics Book Review

"A daunting task, to say the least, Ng delivers a novel, creative integration of Weber and Goffman, with a touch of Bourdieu, in this rich and engaging account of bilingualism and social structure in the courtrooms of Hong Kong. To my knowledge, this is the first systematic appreciation of these different dimensions of social reality-and it speaks broadly to our evolving understanding of the construction of identity, power, and culture in legal discourse."

—Greg Matoesian, University of Illinois at Chicago

"Ng's The Common Law in Two Voices is an illuminating comparative study of legal practice in the courthouses of a Hong Kong undergoing rapid change. Its focus is on the parallel legal worlds of Cantonese and English-speaking courtrooms, and it is elegant and lucid in its weaving together of complex socio-legal, socio-linguistic, ethnographic and philosophical analyses of the parts played by language in mediating the procedural and moral and by the moral and procedural in mediating language. It deserves to be very widely read as a report of an original and penetrating piece of research."

—Paul Rock, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, London School of Economics, and Visiting Professor of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania

"Professor Ng, Sociology, UC San Diego, eloquently examines the remarkable post-1997 courts of Hong Kong."

—Benjamin E. Wallacker, Journal of Asian History