上海闲话 (Shanghainese)

According to an article I came across today, the local government in Shanghai is trying to preserve Shanghainese, the variety of Wu spoken in Shanghai. This involves recording people who speak ‘pure’ Shanghainese talking about local legends and traditions, etc. This is the third time such a project has been attempted, and they hope to find more speakers of ‘true’ Shanghainese this time – something they didn’t manage before.

Similar projects are underway in other parts of China, such as Jiangsu and Yunnan, to preserve other regionalects/languages. The plan is to compile a national database of regional languages and dialects.

This initiative marks a reversal of the government policy of the 1990s when there was a campaign to encourage people to speak Mandarin rather than Shanghainese in Shanghai. The use of Shanghainese was banned in schools and the number of Shanghainese programmes on the radio and TV fell dramatically. As a result, relatively few children speak Shanghainese and those who do don’t speak it very well, Mandarin became the main language for many people in Shanghai, and Shanghainese became stigmatised.

Recently the situation has changed somewhat with the publication of a Shanghainese dictionary, a regular and popular newpaper column, and music and stand-up comedy in Shanghainese [source].

Do you speak Shanghainese or are you studying it?

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This entry was posted in Chinese, Endangered languages, Language, Language learning.

8 Responses to 上海闲话 (Shanghainese)

  1. Kate says:

    I’m working in Shanghai this summer. I speak Mandarin, so I’ll see how often Shanghainese is used. I know it’s only about 50% intelligible with Mandarin, which is more than some dialects of Chinese. If you’d like, I can report back in several months!

  2. Kyle says:

    I used to live in central Jiangsu (I’ve since moved up north). Visiting Shanghai was quite odd, as not nearly as many people speak Shanghainese there as in Suzhou, or Nantong, or any of the other nearby areas. Likewise, the Mandarin spoken tends to be a lot more standard than even in the Mandarin-speaking areas of Jiangsu province (although I did have a problem with an unwelcome porter speaking god-knows-what and following me around all over the place). I think Shanghainese is well on the way out in that city: We should probably start calling it Suzhouese because everyone seems to think the Suzhou variety is more standard and pleasing to the ears anyway: When I lived down there, I often heard said that the most beautiful Chinese was Mandarin with a Suzhou accent.

    I’ve been told that few decades ago Wuxi mainly spoke Shanghainese. All I heard there was Mandarin with an accent. Aside from that, though, you can still frequently hear the local non-Mandarin dialects in most of the border cities, even the more wealthy ones. I used to have to sometimes visit a small but surprisingly rich little town called Danyang for work, and they spoke something apparently closer to the low-prestige Anhuinese, but they were quite proud to do so. No clue why Shanghai and Wuxi people are shaking off their dialects when everyone else in China is so full of regional pride.

  3. Kyle says:

    Oh, dear, pardon my colon issues. Wrote that too fast.

  4. Jasper says:

    I’m a native Shanghainese. I’d always been like to work on the orthography of the Wu language by using Chinese characters. There’s no formal education of Shanghainese, and the new generation tends to use both Shanghainese and Mandarin in a same sentence, sometimes even English vocabulary shares a high attendance.

  5. Weili says:

    I’ve been to Shanghai many times and have stayed as long as up to 6 weeks.

    My impression was closer to the article and farther from Kyle’s. I spent a good amount of time with many younger Shanghaiese (20-35) and they were all fluent in their dialect (in addition to Mandarin of course). They were very proud of their dialect that they even offered to teach me.

    I personally am a strong supporter of preserving and even popularizing dialects, however, all Chinese citizens should be able to speak Mandarin. Just like here in the US, many people speak different languages but they should be able to speak English as a common language.

  6. Tommy says:

    The local libraries in Tokyo have language learning material (books, audio, etc) for Shanghainese (mixed in with the material for Cantonese, Mandarin, and Taiwanese of course)

  7. Maggie says:

    My Chinese teacher is from Shanghai, and he speaks Shanghainese. I only know how to say “hello” though.

  8. Lawrence says:

    Shanghainese is spoken less and less in the city.

    I remember in the 90’s it was hard to find shopkeepers and market people that spoke mandarin. Now its all na di ning ( xiao wu ning ).

    This is due to the huge influx of people from other regions, sadly, I’d say Shanghainese is a dying language, although Ningbo native Zhou Li Bo has done a remarkable job of popularizing Shanghainese for the younger generation.

    Todays Shanghainese is totally different to the lo sang hei wu of before, now the lo’s are all lo hao, lo ling a…, or maybe its because i hang out with Shanghainese women too much haha.

    Shanghainese has changed over the years though, these days its becoming more mandarinized, with lots of borrowed words. Its interesting to see the changes over the years.