The Info List - Shanghainese

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The SHANGHAINESE LANGUAGE, 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 outside of the Wu region such as Mandarin , sharing just 29% lexical similarity with the Mandarin heard in Beijing .

In English, "Shanghainese" sometimes refers to _all_ Wu languages, variants and dialects, although they are only partially intelligible with one another. Shanghainese proper is a representative language of Taihu Wu; it 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 . Shanghainese has two level tonal contrasts (high and low), while Cantonese and Mandarin are typical of contour tonal languages .


* 1 History * 2 Intelligibility when it was broadcast outside of 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 received tremendous popularity among Shanghainese residents. Shanghainese programming has since slowly declined, over concerns of 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. Now many Shanghainese-language programs are running; 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.

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.

INTELLIGIBILITY "> (with 28.9% lexical similarity) with the Mandarin heard in Beijing . Modern Shanghainese however, has been heavily influenced by modern Mandarin and some other Chinese languages, such as Cantonese . This makes the Shanghainese spoken by young people in the city different from that spoken by the older population, sometimes significantly. It also means that inserting Mandarin, Cantonese or both into Shanghainese sentences during everyday conversation is very common, at least amongst 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 part of the larger Wu subgroup of Chinese languages. It is somewhat similar, to a certain degree, to the speeches of neighboring cities of Ningbo and Suzhou . People mingling between these areas do not need to code-switch to Mandarin when they speak to one another. 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 where it is no longer possible to converse intelligibly. The majority of Shanghainese speakers find that by Wuxi , differences become significant and the Wuxi dialect would take weeks to months for a Shanghainese speaker to fully learn. 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 , by which point it becomes difficult for a Shanghainese speaker to comprehend. Wenzhounese , spoken in the southernmost part of Zhejiang province, although considered part of the Wu group, is not at all intelligible with Shanghainese.

Shanghainese is also mutually unintelligible with Cantonese , Southern Min (e.g. Hokkien or Teochew ), or any other language in any different groups of Chinese.


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 rimes (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.












t͡s t͡ɕ


t͡sʰ t͡ɕʰ





VOICED v z ʑ




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 following chart lists all possible finals (medial + nucleus + coda) in Shanghainese represented in IPA .


MEDIAL ∅ J W ∅ J W ∅ J W


I i

O o

Y y



ɤᵚ ɤᵚ jɤᵚ



wən əʔ


ɛ ɛ jɛ wɛ ɪɲ


ɔ ɔ jɔ

ʊŋ jʊŋ

ʊʔ jʊʔ

ø ø jø wø ʏɲ


OPEN VOWEL A a ja wa ã jã wã aʔ jaʔ waʔ


ɑ̃ jɑ̃ wɑ̃


The transcriptions used above are broad and the following points are of note when pertaining to actual pronunciation:

* and are pronounced with similar tongue position, but the former is pronounced with compressed lip rounding while the latter is pronounced with protruded lip rounding ( and respectively). * The vowel pairs and , and , and are each pronounced practically identically (, and respectively) despite having different conventional transcriptions. * /j/ 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).

Five Shanghainese Citation Tones with Middle Chinese Classifications

_PING_ (平) _SHANG_ (上) _QU_ (去) _RU_ (入)

_YIN_ (阴) 52 (T1) 34 (T2) 44ʔ (T4)

_YANG_ (阳) 14 (T3) 24ʔ (T5)

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 /ʔ/. 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.


T1 52 55 22 55 44 22 55 44 33 22 55 44 33 33 22

T2 34 33 44 33 44 22 33 44 33 22 33 44 33 33 22

T3 14 11 44 11 44 11 11 44 33 11 11 44 33 22 11

T4 44 33 44 33 44 22 33 44 33 22 33 44 33 22 22

T5 24 11 24 11 11 24 11 22 22 24 22 44 33 11 11 11 11 11 24 22 44 33 22 11

As an example, in isolation, the two syllables of the word for _China_ are pronounced with T1 and T4: /tsʊŋ52/ and /kwəʔ44/. However, when pronounced in combination, T1 from /tsʊŋ/ spreads over the compound resulting in the following pattern /tsʊŋ55kwəʔ22/. Similarly, the syllables in a common expression for _foolish_ have the following underlying phonemic and tonal representations: /zəʔ24/ (T5), /sɛ52/ (T1), and /ti34/ (T2). However, the syllables in combination exhibit the T5 shifting pattern where the first-syllable T5 shifts to the last syllabe in the domain: /zəʔ11sɛ11ti24/.

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.

Possible Left Syllable Tone Values in Right-Prominent Sandhi TONE UNDERLYING TONE NEUTRALIZED TONE

T1 52 44

T2 34 44

T3 14 33

T4 44 44

T5 24 22

For instance, when combined, /ma14/ and /tɕjɤᵚ34/ become /ma33tɕjɤᵚ34/ (buy wine).

Sometimes meaning can change based on whether left-prominent or right-prominent sandhi is used. For example, /tsʰɔ34/ and /mi14/ when pronounced /tsʰɔ33mi44/ (i.e., with left-prominent sandhi) means _fried noodles_. When pronounced /tsʰɔ44mi14/ (i.e., with right-prominent sandhi), it means _to fry noodles_.


_Note: Chinese characters for Shanghainese are not standardized and are provided for reference only. IPA transcription is for the Middle period of modern Shanghainese (中派上海话), pronunciation of those between 20 and 60 years old._


Shanghainese (language)

上海闲话 or 上海言话(上海閒話 or 上海言話)

Shanghainese (people)




we or I



渠(佢, 伊, 其)


渠拉(佢拉, 伊拉)

you (sing.)


you (plural)





thank you or 谢谢侬(謝謝儂)



but, however , 但是, 但是呢



that one , 埃只, 伊只(埃隻, 伊隻)

this one


there , 埃𡍲, 伊𡍲

over there , 埃面𡍲, 伊面𡍲



to have


to exist, here, present

徕許, 勒許

now, current


what time is it?


where , 何里𡍲(何裏𡍲), 啥地方



who or 啥人, 何里位





how , 哪能 (哪恁), 哪能介 (哪恁介)

how much?



no , , , 呒, 勿是, 呒没, 覅 (嘸, 勿是, 嘸沒, 覅)

telephone number




Come to our house and play.


Where's the restroom?


Have you eaten dinner?


I don't know


Do you speak English?


I adore you


I like you a lot








a lot


inside, within




How are you?



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家 jiā house tɕia˥˨ ka˥˨

顏 yán face ɦiɪ˩˩˧ ŋʱɛ˩˩˧

櫻 yīng cherry ʔiŋ˥˨ ʔã˥˨

孝 xiào filial piety ɕiɔ˧˧˥ hɔ˧˧˥

學 xué learning ʱjaʔ˨ ʱoʔ˨

物 wù thing vəʔ˨ mʱəʔ˨

網 wǎng web ʱwɑŋ˩˩˧ mʱɑŋ˩˩˧

鳳 fèng male phoenix voŋ˩˩˧ boŋ˩˩˧

肥 féi fat vi˩˩˧ bi˩˩˧

日 rì sun zəʔ˨ ȵʱiɪʔ˨

人 rén person zən˩˩˧ ȵʱin˩˩˧

鳥 niǎo bird ʔȵiɔ˧˧˥ tiɔ˧˧˥


The first-person pronoun is suffixed with 伲 as in "我伲" , and third-person with 拉 ), but the second-person plural is a separate root, 㑚 .


A table of Shanghai Phonetic Symbols by Rev. J. A. Silsby

Chinese characters are used to write Shanghainese. Romanization of Shanghainese was first developed by Protestant English and American Christian missionaries in the 19th century, such as 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.

Shanghainese is sometimes written informally using homophones : "lemon" (_ningmeng_), written 檸檬 in Standard Chinese, may be written 人門 (person-door) in Shanghainese; and "yellow" (_huang_) may be written 王 (king) rather than standard 黃. These are not homophones in Mandarin, but are homophones in Shanghainese. There are also some homophones in Mandarin which are not homophonic in Shanghainese: 做, 作 and 坐 are homophonic in Mandarin, but not in Shanghainese.

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.


* Shanghai portal * Language portal

* Shanghainese people

* Wu Chinese

* Suzhounese * Ningbonese

* List of varieties of Chinese * Chinatown, Flushing



* ^ _A_ _B_ Glossika\'s index of mutual intelligibility * ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ China Newsweek Archived March 14, 2008, at the Wayback Machine . * ^ _Chinese Wikipedia page of Lao Niang Jiu 老娘舅_, . * ^ Yin Yeping (July 31, 2011). "60 years of Putonghua and English drown out local tongues". _Global Times_. * ^ Zat Liu (August 20, 2010). "Is Shanghai\'s local dialect, and culture, in crisis?". _ CNN GO_. Retrieved June 5, 2011. * ^ "Call goes out: Language, please". Shanghai Daily. April 6, 2010. Archived from the original on June 7, 2011. * ^ " Shanghai struggles to save disappearing dialect". _ CNN GO_. November 22, 2010. Retrieved January 18, 2011. * ^ Tiffany Ap (November 18, 2010). "That ain\'t Shanghainese you\'re speaking". _shanghaiist_. Retrieved September 30, 2011. * ^ Tracy You (June 3, 2010). "Word wizard: The man bringing Shanghainese back to the people". _ CNN GO_. Retrieved January 18, 2011. * ^ Tracy You (July 26, 2010). "Eheart Chen: Shanghai\'s modern rocker with a nostalgic soul". _ CNN GO_. Retrieved January 18, 2011. * ^ Ni Dandan (May 16, 2011). "Dialect faces death threat". _Global Times _. Retrieved June 5, 2011. we arranged Shanghai Day on Fridays to promote the language and local culture * ^ Jia Feishang (May 13, 2011). "Stopping the local dialect becoming derelict". _ Shanghai Daily _. Retrieved February 11, 2017. * ^ Miranda Shek (February 2, 2011). "Local dialect in danger of vanishing". _ Global Times _. Archived from the original on November 6, 2011. Retrieved December 1, 2016. * ^ Liang Yiwen (May 30, 2011). "14 Shanghainese selected for dialect recording". _ Shanghai Daily _. Retrieved September 30, 2011. * ^ Xiaonong, Zhu. _A Grammar of Shanghai Wu_. Lincom, 2006, pp. 6-16. * ^ Ladefoged, Peter, Maddieson, Ian. _The Sounds of the World's Languages_. Wiley-Blackwell, 1996, p. 64-66. * ^ Zhu, Xiaonong S. _ Shanghai Tonetics_. Lincom Europa, 1999, p. 12. * ^ _A_ _B_ Chen & Gussenhoven (2015) * ^ Zhu, Xiaonong S. _ Shanghai Tonetics_. Lincom Europa, 1999, p. 14-17. * ^ Zhu, Xiaonong S. _A Grammar of Shanghai Wu_. Lincom Europa, 2006, p. 11. * ^ Svantesson, Jan-Olof. " Shanghai Vowels," _Lund University, Department of Linguistics, Working Papers,_ 35:191-202 * ^ Chen, Zhongmin. _Studies in Dialects in the Shanghai Area_. Lincom Europa, 2003, p. 74. * ^ Zhu, Xiaonong. _A Grammar of Shanghai Wu_. Lincom Europa, 2006, p. 17. * ^ Introduction to Shanghainese. Pronunciation (Part 3 - Tones and Pitch Accent) * ^ Zhu, Xiaonong. _A Grammar of Shanghai Wu_. Lincom Europa, 2006, p. 38-46. * ^ Zhu, Xiaonong. _A Grammar of Shanghai Wu_. Lincom Europa, 2006, p. 46-47. * ^ Zhu, Xiaonong. _A Grammar of Shanghai Wu_. Lincom Europa, 2006, p. 35. * ^ Graham Thurgood, Randy J. LaPolla (2003). Graham Thurgood, Randy J. LaPolla, ed. _The Sino-Tibetan languages_. Volume 3 of Routledge language family series (illustrated ed.). Psychology Press. p. 86. ISBN 0-7007-1129-5 . Retrieved March 10, 2012. * ^ Wm. V. Hannas (1997). _Asia\'s orthographic dilemma_. University of Hawaii Press. p. 20. ISBN 0-8248-1892-X . Retrieved December 8, 2011. Non-Mandarin speakers take their own shortcuts, such as 王 (Shanghai) wang "king" for 黃 wang "yellow" (pronounced Huáng in Mandarin) or 人門 (Shanghai) ningmeng (lit.) "person" and "door" for 檸檬 ningmeng "lemon," not to mention hundreds of unique forms and usages devised popularly that have no application to Mandarin at all. There is nothing new about this phenomenon. For at least two millennia, there have been two orthographies in China: the one formally sanctioned by lexicographers and the state, and a popular tradition used informally by people in their everyday lives. () * ^ https://oldchinesebooks.wordpress.com/2012/12/ * ^ https://archive.org/stream/chineserecorder19lodwuoft#page/106/mode/2up/search/phonetic


* Lance Eccles, _ Shanghai dialect: an introduction to speaking the contemporary language_. Dunwoody Press, 1993. ISBN 1-881265-11-0 . 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. ISBN 3-89586-900-7 . 201+iv pp.


* Chen, Yiya; Gussenhoven, Carlos (2015), " Shanghai Chinese", _Journal of the International Phonetic Association_, 45 (3): 321–327, doi :10.1017/S0025100315000043 * John A. Silsby, Darrell Haug Davis (1907). _Complete Shanghai syllabary with an index to Davis and Silsby\'s Shanghai vernacular dictionary and with the Mandarin pronunciation of each character_. American Presbyterian Mission Press. p. 150. Retrieved May 15, 2011. * Joseph Edkins (1868). _A grammar of colloquial Chinese: as exhibited in the Shanghai dialect_ (2 ed.). Presbyterian mission press. p. 225. Retrieved May 15, 2011. * Shanghai Christian vernacular society (1891). _Syllabary of the Shanghai vernacular: Prepared and published by the Shanghai Christian vernacular society_. American Presbyterian mission press. p. 94. Retrieved May 15, 2011. * Rev.John Macgowan (1868). _Collection Of Phrases In The Shanghai Dialect_ (2 ed.). The London Missionary Society. p. 113. Retrieved May 15, 2011. * Gilbert McIntosh (1908). _Useful phrases in the Shanghai dialect: With index-vocabulary and other helps_ (2 ed.). American Presbyterian mission press. p. 113. Retrieved May 15, 2011. * Joseph Edkins (1869). _A vocabulary of the Shanghai dialect_. Presbyterian mission press. p. 151. Retrieved May 15, 2011. * Charles Ho, George Foe (1940). _ Shanghai dialect in 4 weeks: with map of Shanghai_. Chi Ming Book Co.press. p. 125. Retrieved May 15, 2011. * John Alfred Silsby (1911). _Introduction to the study of the Shanghai vernacular_. American Presbyterian Mission Press. p. 53. Retrieved May 15, 2011. * R. A. Parker (1923). _Introduction Lessons in the Shanghai dialect: in romanized and character, with key to pronunciation_. Shanghai. p. 265. Retrieved May 15, 2011. * Pott, F. L. Hawks (Francis Lister Hawks), 1864-1947 The ... * Francis Lister Hawks Pott (1907). _Lessons in the Shanghai dialect_. Shanghai: Printed at the American Presbyterian mission press. * Francis Lister Hawks Pott ; Frank Joseph Rawlinson (1915). _滬語開路 = Conversational exercises in the Shanghai dialect / Hu yu kai lu = Conversational exercises in the Shanghai dialect_. Shanghai: Shanghai mei hua shu guan. * Francis Lister Hawks Pott (1924). _Lessons in the Shanghai dialect_ (revised ed.). Printed at the Commercial Press. p. 174. Retrieved May 15, 2011. * Francis Lister Hawks Pott (1924). _Lessons in the Shanghai dialect_. Commercial Press. * _An English-Chinese vocabulary of the Shanghai dialect_ (2 ed.). Printed at the American Presbyterian Mission Press. 1913. p. 593. Retrieved May 15, 2011. * " Shanghai steps up efforts to save local language" (Archive). _CNN _. March 31, 2011.


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* shanghainese.info * 100 Useful Shanghainese phrases * Example sentences in Shanghainese with audio and translations in other languages. * Shanghainese to IPA tool turn input text in Shanghainese into IPA, with tones * Shanghainese Pronunciation Shanghainese Pronunciation * Shanghainese Dictionary: Glossika's Searchable Shanghai Wu Dictionary * Shanghainese audio lesson series: Audio lessons with accompanying dialogue and vocabulary study tools * Shanghai Dialect: 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. * Shanghai Dialect Words Learn and search Shanghai Dialect * Wu Association * Romanization of Shanghainese at Omniglot * IAPSD International Association for Preservation of