|Parallels with Shanghainese|
|Written by Nick Westra|
|Tuesday, 05 June 2007|
Page 3 of 4
What is Shanghainese?
There are many major Chinese dialects other than Cantonese - namely Wu, Min, Hakka, Xiang, and Gan. This article focuses on the Wu dialect, and more specifically, Shanghainese - a vernacular of the Wu dialect.
Today 14 million people speak Shanghainese in the greater metropolitan city of Shanghai (18,670,000 people) As the map on the right suggests, Shanghai is the focal point of the Wu dialect, which has an estimated 60 million - 90 million speakers.
State of Shanghainese today
Deeply rooted in the city of Shanghai, Shanghainese has been passed down through generations of the city's inhabitants. Times are changing, however, as the city's population has skyrocketed in the past 30 years, largely on the back of immigrants.
In 2003 alone, over 3 million migrant laborers made their way to Shanghai! Coming from all over the country, these migrants have little if any knowledge of Shanghainese. Impeded by this language barrier, many of the migrants have struggled to integrate into the city.
Kathy feels that the migrants are alienated by the language divide,
and recognized that the Mainland government is trying to resolve that.
"Most of the immigrants can't speak
[Shanghainese], and they feel isolated from local culture. I think the
government kind of noticed that this is harmful to social harmony," she said.
Because Shanghai's economy is heavily reliant on the infusions of labor that these migrants provide, the Mainland government has taken a special interest in promoting Mandarin as the main language in Shanghai.
Perhaps also, because Shanghai is one of China's most prominent cities, the Mainland government wishes to bring it into the fold with Mandarin as an example to the rest of the country - and maybe even Hong Kong? Hong Kong's The Standard runs an interesting story, comparing Shanghainese to Cantonese in this regard.
If you are interested in learning more about Shanghai's migrant laborer issue, please take a look at this free video from the Washington Post.
Extent of the dialect
Shanghainese is spoken throughout the city of Shanghai - in households, at work, on television and radio. China Daily (a state-run, English language newspaper based in Beijing) notes that while 70% of Shanghainese people can speak Mandarin, only 30% do so on a regular basis. The assumption then, is that the majority of the remainder speak Shanghainese.
Kathy said, however, that these numbers may be inflated because in her opinion "presently about 50% of the residents in Shanghai can't speak Shanghainese."
In various blogs and forums, foreigners have generally agreed that Shanghainese is not as important for work as it is for integrating into the city . One person wrote that he will not learn the language fluently, but just enough to "understand what is going on around me." Finally, someone noted that while Shanghainese is prevalent within the city's greater region, it is almost non-existent outside of it.
From this sampling of opinions, it seems that Shanghainese is a very prominent, localized language. While it does not seem essential to learn the language in order to survive and function, it seems that one would be somewhat of an outsider without at least understanding some key words and phrases.
While all public services and announcements in Shanghai are conducted in Mandarin, they are often repeated in Shanghainese too. I copied in an audio link below to a weather report given in Shanghainese.
|Last Updated ( Thursday, 21 June 2007 )|
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