Shanghainese (rarely "Shanghaiese", without second "n"), also known as the Shanghai dialect, Hu language or Hu dialect, is a variety of Wu Chinese spoken in the central districts of the City of Shanghai and its surrounding areas. It is classified as part of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Shanghainese, like other Wu variants, is mutually unintelligible with other varieties of Chinese, such as Mandarin. Shanghainese belongs to the Taihu Wu subgroup and contains vocabulary and expressions from the entire Taihu Wu area of southern Jiangsu and northern Zhejiang. With nearly 14 million speakers, Shanghainese is also the largest single form of Wu Chinese. It serves as the lingua franca of the entire Yangtze River Delta region. Shanghainese is rich in vowels (twelve of which are phonemic) and in consonants. Like other Taihu Wu dialects, Shanghainese has voiced initials : neither Cantonese nor Mandarin has voiced initial stops or affricates. The Shanghainese tonal system is also significantly different from other Chinese varieties, sharing more similarities with the Japanese pitch accent, with two level tonal contrasts (high and low), whereas Cantonese and Mandarin are typical of contour tonal languages.


Shanghai did not become a regional center of commerce until it was opened to foreign investment during the late Qing dynasty. Consequently, languages and dialects spoken around Shanghai had long been subordinate to those spoken around Jiaxing and later Suzhounese. In fact "speakers of other Wu dialects traditionally treat the shanghai vernacular somewhat contemptuously as a mixture of Suzhou and Ningbo dialects." In the late 19th century, most vocabulary of the Shanghai area had been a hybrid between Southern Jiangsu and Ningbonese.China Newsweek
Since the 1850s, owing to the growth of Shanghai's economy, Shanghainese has become one of the fastest-developing languages of the Wu Chinese subgroup, undergoing rapid changes and quickly replacing Suzhounese as the prestige dialect of the Yangtze River Delta region. It underwent sustained growth that reached a hiatus in the 1930s during the Republican era, when migrants arrived in Shanghai and immersed themselves in the local tongue. After 1949, the government imposed Mandarin (Putonghua) as the official language of the whole nation of China. The dominance and influence of Shanghainese began to wane slightly. Since Chinese economic reform began in 1978, especially, Shanghai became home to a great number of migrants from all over the country. Due to the national prominence of Mandarin, learning Shanghainese was no longer necessary for migrants, because those educated after the 1950s could generally communicate in Mandarin. However, Shanghainese remained a vital part of the city's culture and retained its prestige status within the local population. In the 1990s, it was still common for local radio and television broadcasts to be in Shanghainese. In 1995, the TV series ''Sinful Debt'' featured extensive Shanghainese dialogue; when it was broadcast outside Shanghai (mainly in adjacent Wu-speaking provinces) Mandarin subtitles were added. The Shanghainese TV series ''Lao Niang Jiu'' (Old Uncle) was broadcast from 1995 to 2007 and was popular among Shanghainese residents. Shanghainese programming has since slowly declined amid regionalist/localist accusations. From 1992 onward, Shanghainese use was discouraged in schools, and many children native to Shanghai can no longer speak Shanghainese. In addition, Shanghai's emergence as a cosmopolitan global city consolidated the status of Mandarin as the standard language of business and services, at the expense of the local language. Since 2005, new movements have emerged to protect Shanghainese from fading away. At municipal legislative discussions in 2005, former Shanghai opera actress Ma Lili moved to "protect" the language, stating that she was one of the few remaining Shanghai opera actresses who still retained authentic classic Shanghainese pronunciation in their performances. Shanghai's former party boss Chen Liangyu, a native Shanghainese himself, reportedly supported her proposal. There have been talks of re-integrating Shanghainese into pre-kindergarten education, because many children are unable to speak any Shanghainese. A citywide program was introduced by the city government's language committee in 2006 to record native speakers of different Shanghainese varieties for archival purposes and, by 2010, many Shanghainese-language programs were running. The Shanghai government has begun to reverse its course and seek fluent speakers of authentic Shanghainese, but only two out of thirteen recruitment stations have found Traditional Shanghainese speakers; the rest of the 14 million people of Shanghai speak modern Shanghainese, and it has been predicted that local variants will be wiped out. Professor Qian Nairong is working on efforts to save the language. In response to criticism, Qian reminds people that Shanghainese was once fashionable, saying, "the popularization of Mandarin doesn't equal the ban of dialects. It doesn't make Mandarin a more civilized language either. Promoting dialects is not a narrow-minded localism, as it has been labeled by some netizens". The singer and composer Eheart Chen sings many of his songs in Shanghainese instead of Mandarin to preserve the language. Since 2006, the ''Modern Baby Kindergarten'' in Shanghai has prohibited all of its students from speaking anything but Shanghainese on Fridays to preserve the language amongst younger speakers. In 2011, Professor Qian said that the sole remaining speakers of real Shanghainese are a group of Shanghainese peoples over the age of 60 and native citizens who have little outside contact, and he strongly urges that Shanghainese be taught in the regular school system from kindergarten all the way to elementary, saying it is the only way to save Shanghainese, and that attempts to introduce it in university courses and operas are not enough. Fourteen native Shanghainese speakers had audio recordings made of their Shanghainese on May 31, 2011. They were selected based on accent purity, way of pronunciation and other factors. By a certain date a new television program airing in Shanghainese was created.

Chinese Policy toward Shanghainese

90% of the Chinese population are Han Chinese, who speak seven topolects. However, the seven topolects are not interchangeable, and they each have many subdialects. The rest 10% of people, who belong to the minor ethnic group, speak more than 300 dialects. China has a long history of unifying language and writing systems. Before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, there were already attempts to establish a common language system. Therefore, the language issue is always one of the most important sections of the Party policy. Other than the government language-management efforts, the rate of rural-to-urban migration in China also accelerated the shift to Putonghua and the disappearance of dialect in the urban areas. As more people moved into Shanghai, the economic center of China, Shanghainese had been threatened although it was originally a strong dialect of the Wu topolect. According to Shanghai Municipal Statistics Bureau, the population was estimated to be 24.28 million in 2019. 14.5 million of them are permanent residents and 9.77 million are foreign residents. To have better communication with foreign residents and develop a top-level financial center among the world, the promotion of the official language, mandarin, became very important. Therefore, Shanghai Municipal Government banned the use of Shanghainese in public places, schools, and work. A survey of students from the primary school in 2010 indicated that 52.3% of students believed Mandarin is easier than the Shanghai dialect for communication, and 47.6% of the students choose to speak Mandarin because it is a mandatory language at school. Furthermore, 68.3% of the students are more willing to study Mandarin, but only 10.2% of the students are more willing to study the Shanghai dialect. The youth could no longer speak the Shanghai dialect fluently because they had no chance to practice it at school. Also, they were unwilling to communicate with their parents in the Shanghai dialect, which accelerated the disappearance of the Shanghai dialect. The survey in 2010 indicated that 62.6% of primary school students use Mandarin as the first language at home, but only 17.3% of them use the Shanghai dialect to communicate with their parents.

Immigrants’ Opinions toward Shanghainese

Shanghai dialect is sometimes labeled as a tool to discriminate against immigrants. The migrant people, who move from other Chinese cities to Shanghai, had few abilities to speak the Shanghai dialect. Among the migrant people, they believe Shanghai dialect is actually the superiority of native Shanghainese. They also believe that native Shanghainese intentionally speak Shanghai dialect in some places to discriminate against the immigrant population to transfer their anger to migrant workers, who take over their homeland, take advantage of housing, education, medical, and job resources.

Intelligibility and variations

Shanghainese is part of the larger Wu Chinese of Chinese languages. It is not mutually intelligible with any dialects of Mandarin Chinese, or Cantonese, Southern Min (such as Hokkien-Taiwanese), and any other Chinese languages outside Wu. Modern Shanghainese, however, has been heavily influenced by standard Chinese. That makes the Shanghainese spoken by young people in the city different, sometimes significantly, from that spoken by the older population. Also, the practice of inserting Mandarin or both into Shanghainese conversations is very common, at least for young people. Like most subdivisions of Chinese, it is easier for a local speaker to understand Mandarin than it is for a Mandarin speaker to understand the local language. Shanghainese is somewhat similar to the speech of neighboring cities of Changshu, Jiaxing and Suzhou, categorized into Su-Hu-Jia dialect subgroup (苏沪嘉小片) of Wu Chinese by linguists. People mingling between those areas do not need to code-switch to Mandarin when they speak to each other. However, there are noticeable tonal and phonological changes, which do not impede intelligibility. As the dialect continuum of Wu continues to further distances, however, significant changes occur in phonology and lexicon to the point that it is no longer possible to converse intelligibly. Most Shanghainese speakers find that by Wuxi, differences become significant and that the Wuxi dialect would take weeks to months for a Shanghainese-speaker to learn fully. Similarly, Hangzhou dialect is understood by most Shanghainese-speakers, but it is considered "rougher" and does not have as much glide and flow in comparison. The language evolved in and around Taizhou, Zhejiang, where it becomes difficult for a Shanghainese speaker to comprehend. Wenzhounese, spoken in the southernmost part of Zhejiang province, is considered part of the Wu group but mutually unintelligible with Shanghainese.


Following conventions of Chinese syllable structure, Shanghainese syllables can be divided into initials and finals. The initial occupies the first part of the syllable. The final occupies the second part of the syllable and can be divided further into an optional medial and an obligatory rime (sometimes spelled ''rhyme''). Tone is also a feature of the syllable in Shanghainese. Syllabic tone, which is typical to the other Sinitic languages, has largely become verbal tone in Shanghainese.


Shanghainese has a set of tenuis, voiceless aspirated and voiced plosives and affricates, as well as a set of voiceless and voiced fricatives. Alveolo-palatal initials are also present in Shanghainese. Voiced stops are phonetically voiceless with slack voice phonation in stressed, word initial position. This phonation (often referred to as murmur) also occurs in zero onset syllables, syllables beginning with fricatives, and syllables beginning with sonorants. These consonants are true voiced in intervocalic position.


The table below lists the vowel nuclei of Shanghainese The following chart lists all possible finals (medial + nucleus + coda) in Shanghainese represented in IPA. :Syllabic continuants: The transcriptions used above are broad and the following points are of note when pertaining to actual pronunciation: * The vowel pairs , , and are each pronounced similarly (, , and respectively) despite having different conventional transcriptions. * are similar in pronunciation, differing slightly in lip rounding ( respectively). are also similar in pronunciation, differing slightly in vowel height ( respectively). These two pairs are each merged in younger generations. * Many in younger generations diphthongize to . * is pronounced before rounded vowels. The Middle Chinese rimes are retained, while and are either retained or have disappeared in Shanghainese. Middle Chinese rimes have become glottal stops, .


Shanghainese has five phonetically distinguishable tones for single syllables said in isolation. These tones are illustrated below in Chao tone names. In terms of Middle Chinese tone designations, the ''yin'' tone category has three tones (''yinshang'' and ''yinqu'' tones have merged into one tone), while the ''yang'' category has two tones (the ''yangping'', ''yangshang'', and ''yangqu'' have merged into one tone). The conditioning factors which led to the ''yin–yang'' split still exist in Shanghainese, as they do in other Wu dialects: ''yang'' tones are only found with voiced initials , while the ''yin'' tones are only found with voiceless initials. The ''ru'' tones are abrupt, and describe those rimes which end in a glottal stop . That is, both the ''yin–yang'' distinction and the ''ru'' tones are allophonic (dependent on syllabic structure). Shanghainese has only a two-way phonemic tone contrast, falling ''vs'' rising, and then only in open syllables with voiceless initials.

Tone sandhi

Tone sandhi is a process whereby adjacent tones undergo dramatic alteration in connected speech. Similar to other Northern Wu dialects, Shanghainese is characterized by two forms of tone sandhi: a word tone sandhi and a phrasal tone sandhi. Word tone sandhi in Shanghainese can be described as left-prominent and is characterized by a dominance of the first syllable over the contour of the entire tone domain. As a result, the underlying tones of syllables other than the leftmost syllable, have no effect on the tone contour of the domain. The pattern is generally described as tone spreading (T1-4) or tone shifting (T5, except for 4- and 5-syllable compounds, which can undergo spreading or shifting). The table below illustrates possible tone combinations. As an example, in isolation, the two syllables of the word for ''China'' are pronounced with T1 and T4: and . However, when pronounced in combination, T1 from spreads over the compound resulting in the following pattern . Similarly, the syllables in a common expression for ''foolish'' have the following underlying phonemic and tonal representations: (T5), (T1), and (T2). However, the syllables in combination exhibit the T5 shifting pattern where the first-syllable T5 shifts to the last syllable in the domain: . Phrasal tone sandhi in Shanghainese can be described as right-prominent and is characterized by a right syllable retaining its underlying tone and a left syllable receiving a mid-level tone based on the underlying tone's register. The table below indicates possible left syllable tones in right-prominent compounds. For instance, when combined, ("buy") and ("wine") become ("buy wine"). Sometimes meaning can change based on whether left-prominent or right-prominent sandhi is used. For example, ("fry") and ("noodle") when pronounced (i.e., with left-prominent sandhi) means "fried noodles". When pronounced (i.e., with right-prominent sandhi), it means "to fry noodles".

Common words and phrases

''Note: Chinese characters for Shanghainese are not standardized and are provided for reference only. IPA transcription is for the Middle Period of modern Shanghainese (), pronunciation of those between 20 and 60 years old.''

Literary and vernacular pronunciations


Like all Sinitic languages, Shanghainese is an isolating language that lacks marking for tense, person, case, number or gender. Similarly, there is no distinction for tense or person in verbs, with word order and particles generally expressing these grammatical characteristics. There are, however, three important derivational processes in Shanghainese.Zhu 2006, pp.53. Although formal inflection is very rare in all varieties of Chinese, there does exist in Shanghainese a morpho-phonological tone sandhi that Zhu (2006) identifies as a form of inflection since it forms new words out of pre-existing phrases.Zhu 2006, pp.54. This type of inflection is a distinguishing characteristic of all Northern Wu dialects. Affixation, generally (but not always) taking the form of suffixes, occurs rather frequently in Shanghainese, enough so that this feature contrasts even with other Wu varieties, although the line between suffix and particle is somewhat nebulous. Most affixation applies to adjectives. In the example below, the suffix -''deusir'' changes an adjective into a noun. ::''geqtsung angsae-deusir veq-dae leq'' ::(this kind disgusting-''deusir'' not-mention p) ::“Forget that disgusting thing!” Words can be reduplicated in order to express various differences in meaning. Nouns, for example, can be reduplicated to express collective or diminutive forms; adjectives so as to intensify or emphasize the associated description; and verbs in order to soften the degree of action. Below is an example of noun reduplication resulting in semantic alteration. ::''tseutseu'' ::(walk-walk) ::“take a walk” Word compounding is also very common in Shanghainese, a fact observed as far back as Edkins (1868), and is the most productive method of creating new words. Many recent borrowings in Shanghainese originating from European languages are di- or polysyllabic.

Word Order

Shanghainese adheres generally to SVO word order. The placement of objects in Wu dialects is somewhat variable, with Southern Wu varieties positioning the direct object before the indirect object, and Northern varieties (especially in the speech of younger people) favoring the indirect object before the direct object. Owing to Mandarin influence, Shanghainese usually follows the latter model. Older speakers of Shanghainese tend to place adverbs after the verb, but younger people, again under heavy influence from Mandarin, favor pre-verbal placement of adverbs.Pan et al 1991, pp.271. The third person singular pronoun ''xii'' (he/she/it) or the derived phrase ''xii ka'' (“he says”) can appear at the end of a sentence. This construction, which appears to be unique to Shanghainese, is commonly employed to project the speaker’s differing expectation relative to the content of the phrase. ::''xii xii ka, ka veq ho'' ::“Unexpectedly, he says no.”


Except for the limited derivational processes described above, Shanghainese nouns are isolating. There is no inflection for case or number, nor is there any overt gender marking. Although Shanghainese does lack overt grammatical number, the plural marker -''la'', when suffixed to a human denoting noun, can indicate a collective meaning.Zhu 2006, pp.59. ::''xuqsang-la xeq sir'' ::“students’ books” There are no articles in Shanghainese, and thus, no marking for definiteness or indefiniteness of nouns. Certain determiners (a demonstrative pronoun or numeral classifier, for instance) can imply definite or indefinite qualities, as can word order. A noun absent any sort of determiner in the subject position is definite, whereas it is indefinite in the object position. ::''laothabu ceqlae leq'' ::(old lady get-out p) ::“The old lady is coming out.” ::''lae banxieu leq'' ::(come friend p) ::“Here comes a friend.”


Shanghainese boasts numerous classifiers (also sometimes known as “counters” or “measure words”). Most classifiers in Shanghainese are used with nouns, although a small number are used with verbs.Zhu 2006, pp.71. Some classifiers are based on standard measurements or containers. Classifiers can be paired with a preceding determiner (often a numeral) to form a compound that further specifies the meaning of the noun it modifies. ::"geqtsaq biidjieu" ::(this-Cl ball) ::“this ball” Classifiers can be reduplicated to mean “all” or “every,” as in: ::''penpen'' ::(Cl-Rd for “book”) ::“every ook


Shanghainese verbs are analytic and as such do not undergo any sort of conjugation to express tense or person.Zhu 2006, pp.82. However, the language does have a richly developed aspect system, expressed using various particles.


Some disagreement exists as to how many formal aspect categories exist in Shanghainese, and a variety of different particles can express the same aspect, with individual usage often reflecting generational divisions. Some linguists identify as few as four or six, and others up to twelve specific aspects.Zhu 2006, pp.81. Zhu (2006) identifies six relatively uncontroversial aspects in Shanghainese. Progressive aspect expresses a continuous action. It is indicated by the particles ''laq'', ''laqlaq'' or ''laqhae'', which occur pre-verbally. ::''xii laq tsu kungkhu va'' ::(he Prog do homework Q) ::“Is he doing his homework?” The resultative aspect expresses the result of an action which was begun before a specifically referenced timeframe, and is also indicated by ''laq'', ''laqlaq'' or ''laqhae'', except that these occur post-verbally. ::''pensir xuq laqhae jinglae phaxiongzang'' ::(skill learn Rslt future take-advantage) ::“Acquire the skill and take advantage of it later.” Perfective aspect can be marked by ''leq'', ''tsir'', ''hao'' or ''lae''. Notably, ''tsir'' is regarded as an old-fashioned usage.Zhu 2006, pp.83. ::''iizong ma lae leq'' ::(clothes buy Perf p) ::“The clothes have been bought.” Zhu (2006) identifies a future aspect, indicated by the particle ''iao''. ::''mentsao iao luqxy xeq'' ::(tomorrow Fut fall-rain p) ::“It’s going to rain tomorrow.” Qian (1997) identifies a separate immediate future aspect, marked post-verbally by ''khua''. ::''di’in saezang khua leq'' ::(movie finish ImFut p) ::“The movie will finish soon.” Experiential aspect expresses the completion of an action before a specifically referenced timeframe, marked post-verbally by the particle ''ku''.Zhu 2006, pp.84. ::''ngu dao haelii chii xieuxiung xieu ku ngthong'' ::(I to sea-inside go swim swim Exp five-times) ::“I have swum the sea five times (so far).” The durative aspect is marked post-verbally by ''xochii'', and expresses a continuous action. ::''nung djieu njiang xii tsu xochii haoleq'' ::(you even let he do Dur good-p) ::“Please let him continue to do it.” In some cases, it is possible to combine two aspect markers into a larger verb phrase. ::''kungkhu tsu hao khua leq'' ::(homework do Perf ImFut p) ::“The homework will have been completed before long.”

Mood and Voice

There is no overt marking for mood in Shanghainese, and Zhu (2006) goes so far as to suggest that the concept of grammatical mood does not exist in the language.Zhu 2006, pp.89. There are, however, several modal auxiliaries (many of which have multiple variants) that collectively express concepts of desire, conditionality, potentiality and ability. :: Shen (2016) argues for the existence of a type of passive voice in Shanghainese, governed by the particle ''be''. This construction is superficially similar to by-phrases in English, and only transitive verbs can occur in this form of passive.


Personal pronouns in Shanghainese do not distinguish gender or case.Zhu 2006, pp.64. Owing to its isolating grammatical structure, Shanghainese is not a pro-drop language. :: There is some degree of flexibility concerning pronoun usage in Shanghainese. Older varieties of Shanghainese featured a different 1st person singular, ''ngunjii'' or ''njii'',Hashimoto 1971, pp.249. and newer varieties feature a variant of the 2nd person plural as ''aqlaq''.Chao 1967, pp.99. While Zhu (2006) asserts that there is no inclusive 1st person plural pronoun, Hashimoto (1971) disagrees, identifying ''aqlaq'' as being inclusive. There are generational and geographical distinctions in the usage of plural pronoun forms, as well as differences of pronunciation in the 1st person singular. Reflexive pronouns are formed by the addition of the particle ''zirka'', as in: ::''xii tseqhao kua zirka'' ::(he can only blame self) ::“He can only blame himself.” Possessive pronouns are formed via the pronominal suffix -''xeq''. ::


Most native Shanghainese adjectives are monosyllabic. Like other parts of speech in this isolating Wu dialect, adjectives do not change to indicate number, gender or case. Adjectives can take semantic prefixes, which themselves can be reduplicated or repositioned as suffixes according to a complex system of derivation, in order to express degree of comparison or other changes in meaning. Thus: ::''lang'' (“cold”) ::''pinlang'' (“ice-cold”) ::''pinpinlang'' (“cold as ice”)


The particle ''va'' is used to transform ordinary declarative statements into yes/no questions. This is the most common way of forming questions in Shanghainese. ::''nong hao va'' ::(2s good SFP) ::“How are you?” (lit. “Are you good?”)


Nouns and verbs can be negated by the particle ''mmeq'', whereas in most cases only nouns can be negated by ''veqzir'' or just ''veq''. ::''geq veqzir daetsir'' ::(this not-be table) ::“This is not a table.”


Chinese characters are used to write Shanghainese. Romanization of Shanghainese was first developed by Protestant English and American Christian missionaries in the 19th century, including Joseph Edkins. Usage of this romanization system was mainly confined to translated Bibles for use by native Shanghainese, or English-Shanghainese dictionaries, some of which also contained characters, for foreign missionaries to learn Shanghainese. A system of phonetic symbols similar to Chinese characters called "New Phonetic Character" were also developed by in the 19th century by American missionary Tarleton Perry Crawford. Shanghainese is sometimes written informally using homophones: "lemon" (), written in Standard Chinese, may be written (person-door; in standard pinyin) in Shanghainese; and "yellow" () may be written (meaning king; and in standard pinyin) rather than the standard character for yellow. These are not homophones in Mandarin, but are homophones in Shanghainese. There are also some homophones in Mandarin which are not homophonic in Shanghainese, e.g. , and , all in Standard Mandarin. Protestant missionaries in the 1800s created the Shanghainese Phonetic Symbols to write Shanghainese phonetically. The symbols are a syllabary similar to the Japanese Kana system. The system has not been used and is only seen in a few historical books.

See also

*Shanghainese people *Haipai *Wu Chinese **Suzhounese **Hangzhounese **Ningbonese *List of varieties of Chinese *Chinatown, Flushing




* Lance Eccles, ''Shanghai dialect: an introduction to speaking the contemporary language''. Dunwoody Press, 1993. . 230 pp + cassette. (An introductory course in 29 units). * Xiaonong Zhu, ''A Grammar of Shanghai Wu''. LINCOM Studies in Asian Linguistics 66, LINCOM Europa, Munich, 2006. . 201+iv pp.

Further reading

* * * * * * * * * *
Pott, F. L. Hawks (Francis Lister Hawks), 1864-1947 | The ...
* * * * * *
Shanghai steps up efforts to save local language

. ''CNN''. March 31, 2011.

External links

Shanghainese audio lesson series
Audio lessons with accompanying dialogue and vocabulary study tools

Resources on Shanghai dialect including a Web site (in Japanese) that gives common phrases with sound files
Shanghainese-Mandarin Soundboard
A soundboard (requires Flash) of common Mandarin Chinese phrases with Shanghainese equivalents.
Wu AssociationIAPSD | International Association for Preservation of the Shanghainese Dialect
*Recordings of Shanghainese are available through Kaipuleohone, including talking about entertainment and food, and words and sentences {{DEFAULTSORT:Shanghainese Dialect Category:Wu Chinese Category:Culture in Shanghai Category:Languages of China Category:Languages of Taiwan Category:Languages of Hong Kong Category:Languages of the United States Category:Languages of Canada Category:City colloquials