Culture >Dialects
Wu Chinese (Language)
Wu Language (Language) is also known as “Jiangdong Language” or “Jiangzhe Language”. With more than 3000 years of history, it is now spoken primarily in Zhejiang, southern Jiangsu, Shanghai, northeast Jiangxi,and northern Jujian. With roughly 100 million speakers, it is one of the seven major dialects of China. Its syntactic structure differs drastically from Standard Chinese.
Shanghai Dialect

Shanghai dialect is a dialect spoken in the city of Shanghai and the surrounding region. Shanghainese, like other Wu dialects, is largely not mutually intelligible with other Chinese dialects such as Standard Mandarin. The term "Shanghainese" in English sometimes refers to all Wu Chinese dialects. It is only partially intelligible with other subbranches of the Wu language group. Shanghainese is a representative dialect of Northern Wu; it contains vocabulary and expressions from the entire Northern Wu area (southern Jiangsu, northern Zhejiang). With nearly 14 million speakers, Shanghainese is also the largest single coherent form of Wu Chinese. It once served as the regional lingua franca of the entire Yangtze River Delta region. Shanghai dialect has very different pronunciation from Mandarin and Cantonese, including several sounds that are not found in any other Chinese dialect. Although the bulk of vocabulary is the same, there is also considerable variation in words and phrases. As people have become more appreciative of its unique value – and perhaps more sensitive to conservation issues generally – Shanghai dialect has undergone something of a revival. Public lessons are now conducted in some kindergartens and language organizations, while several TV programs (such as ‘old uncle’, a farce opera series in local style and dialect) have regained popularity, alongside dialect classics such as The House of 72 Tenants (Qishi er jiafangke) and Muddle-Headed Parents Some slight taste of the dialect might be gleaned from the following examples: -- In Shanghainese, you don't ‘drink’ beverages or ‘smoke’ cigarettes, you ‘eat’ (chi) them both! -- An effeminate man can be described as having ‘a woman’s voice’ (niang niang qiang). -- The Mandarin expression ‘bu san bu si’ (‘neither three nor four’, meaning ‘dubious’) becomes ‘bu er bu san’ (‘neither two nor three’) in Shanghai dialect. -- In Mandarin, one ‘shou bu liao’ (‘can't stand’) something intolerable, but in Shanghai dialect, one ‘chi bu xiao’ (‘can't digest’) it. -- In Shanghainese, a thief is described as ‘zei gu tou’ (‘bad to the bone’). -- The Shanghainese expression ‘qing ni chi sheng huo’, literally meaning ‘giving you the treat of your life’, is actually a threat to beat you senseless. -- To be ‘lin bu qing’ in Shanghai dialect is to be clueless and stubborn. -- In Shanghai dialect, you never ‘wash’ your face, hair or anything else, instead you ‘beat’ (da) them.

Wu Chinese Language

Overview: The term “Wu” is mostly considered to be a technical term used by linguists; those who encounter the language in other contexts are likely to call it simply “Chinese,” “Shanghainese,” or one of the many local dialect names. It is popular in and around China’s largest city, Shanghai, and in the surrounding Jiansu and Zhejiang provinces. Although they are spoken by many people, the Wu dialects are not usually mutually intelligible with Mandarin Chinese, and so those who speak Wu natively are almost always fluent in Mandarin as well. During the 1950s, as the People’s Republic of China took power, it sought to establish Mandarin as a lingua franca throughout the nation. Efforts were made to persuade the people of the Shanghai region to speak Wu less frequently in favor of Mandarin, with mixed success. Although people are technically supposed to speak Mandarin in public, official, or formal situations, they do not always adhere to the rules, and these rules are also not strictly enforced. Something of a blend of Wu and Mandarin has emerged, which some consider to be threatening to the existence of a few of the older dialects. Roots of the language: A language family that is nearly three thousand years old, the Wu dialects are said to have been spoken by the ancient Wu and Yue peoples of the Yangtze River Delta. These states, which were considered barbaric by the Chinese dynasties, became increasingly involved in Chinese politics before being absorbed into the larger empire. It is unknown to what degree the modern language of Wu has changed from the way it was centuries ago, but it is generally agreed to have descended directly from the states of Wu and Yue. The Suzhou variety was perhaps the most important dialect of Wu in earlier times, used by scholars, officials, and other members of the elite. It was supplanted by the Shanghai dialect in the early twentieth century as migrants flooded Shanghai, making that city one of the largest and most powerful in the region (and in China as a whole). The Shanghai dialect, sometimes referred to as “Shanghainese,” is now the dominant form of Wu, and lesser-spoken dialects might even be endangered. The Suzhou dialect, however, is still considered to have more features in common with the older, “pure” form of Wu that first came to be. Language characteristics: The pronunciation differences that the Wu dialects have from Mandarin Chinese are proposed to be remnants of certain pronunciation characteristics typical of Middle Chinese (from roughly between the 7th and 10th centuries AD). Word order is generally less strict in Wu than it is in Mandarin, although the majority of phrases still follow the subject-verb-object pattern. Wu is often described by other Chinese speakers as having a soft, flowing quality to its pronunciation. The language is known for its complex pronoun system, which uses different sets of pronouns depending on whether or not the speaker is including the listener in the reference. Written form: Most of the cultures that existed near the ancient Chinese state, whether or not they were Chinese themselves, adopted classical Chinese characters as their own writing system. This was true of the Wu and Yue people as well, whose writings are not easily distinguishable from those of other Chinese scholars in the same time period. While there are some differences in vocabulary and grammar, older Wu texts do not give much of an idea of what pronunciation must have been like, as Chinese characters do not reflect phonetic sounds. While Wu literature can be studied, much of the focus is necessarily on more modern pieces, or else on folklore and poetry.

Shanghai kindergartens to promote local dialect

Children in 20 kindergartens in Shanghai will be encouraged to speak their local dialect in a pilot program by the city's education authorities starting this year. The move represents a change in the policy that promoted the sole use of Putonghua, or standard Mandarin. The move is part of the city's efforts to protect the dialect, which is at risk of extinction, especially among young people, according to the working plan for 2014 of the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission. Protecting the dialect is one of the major tasks for the city's language authorities, along with promoting Putonghua and regulating the use of foreign languages, said Yuan Wen, deputy director of the commission. In 1992, China began to promote the use of Putonghua in a nationwide campaign that encouraged its use in classrooms. Students and teachers had to speak Putonghua in class, otherwise the school's annual assessment would be influenced. Under the pilot program, children in 20 kindergartens in the city are encouraged to speak the Shanghai dialect during breaks and while playing games. According to an online survey by news portal, more than 60 percent of respondents support the pilot program. "The mother tongue is the first language a person learns from birth. I grew up with the dialect, but my son doesn't speak it. I used to insist on speaking the dialect with my son at home, but he soon shifted to Putonghua, which was spoken in kindergarten," said Wang Yajing, a Shanghai resident. "With less people speaking the dialect it will gradually disappear. It's necessary to work out ways to protect it," she said. The dialect can trace its roots to the Wu dialect, one of China's oldest spoken languages, in use for more than 3,200 years. It was spoken in areas around Shanghai with its own grammar and vocabulary. Before the 1990s, the dialect was widely used as the major language in Shanghai, equivalent to Cantonese in Hong Kong. Anyone speaking Putonghua in Shanghai would be thought of as "provincial". Over the past decades, the country's financial hub has witnessed dramatic development. The large influx of people from other cities and countries has marginalized the city's native tongue. About 40 percent of the city's 23 million population were not born in Shanghai and the use of Putonghua has expanded. A report by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences some years ago showed only 60 percent of Shanghai students could fully understand the local dialect. Linguists, scholars, political advisers and residents rallied to rescue the dialect from extinction. Political adviser Qian Cheng, who is deputy director of the Shanghai Comic Troupe, is among the group who are standing up to save their dialect. "I have visited schools and found that many children have difficulty speaking the dialect, and many cannot speak it at all," Qian said. Earlier this month, Qian and several other political advisers proposed that the city government should promote the dialect among children during its annual session. "It's not merely the children who cannot speak the dialect. Even teachers were unable to speak it properly," said political adviser Wu Xiaoming, who is vice-president of the Shanghai Film Group. In 2012, the first Shanghai dialect textbook was introduced in extracurricular classes and hobby groups. The book, Learning to Speak the Shanghai Dialect for Pupils, teaches the dialect's usage through local folktales, rhymes, riddles and cartoons. "This can be a fun and educational experience," said the textbook's author Qian Nairong, also the director of the Research Center of Linguistics at Shanghai University. "Regional dialects are one of the pillars for local culture," Qian said. Public services in Shanghai also promote the dialect. Bus announcements are made in the dialect as well as in Putonghua and English, while Shanghai Airlines uses the dialect to announce passenger information. The city's long-running News Workshop TV program started a Shanghai dialect version in 2012, becoming the first TV news program in China to be broadcast in the dialect. But concerns have been raised, especially among the city's migrant population. "I think the education authorities should consider the feelings of migrant children before implementing the program. When other children communicate in the local dialect, migrant children may feel alienated. I'm not sure whether it's good for their psychological growth," said a woman surnamed Liu. Cheng Yuli contributed to the story.

Knowledge Graph

1 Wu is a group of linguistically similar and historically related varieties of Chinese primarily spoken in Zhejiang province, the municipality of Shanghai, and southern Jiangsu province.

2 Wu Chinese, along with Min, is also of great significance to historical linguists due to their retention of many ancient features.

3 Shanghainese is also a very common name, used because Shanghai is the most well-known city in the Wu-speaking region, and most people are unfamiliar with the term Wu Chinese.