Learn Shanghainese (Wu Chinese)

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About Shanghainese (Wu Chinese)

Shanghainese is a dialect of Wu Chinese, which is spoken in south-eastern China. The Shanghainese variety is spoken in and around the city of Shanghai; it is not understandable by Mandarin speakers. After Mandarin became the official language of China in 1949, the use of Shanghainese was discouraged but since the 1978 economic reforms, there has been the greatest decline in the use of the language. As more migrants from inside and outside of China moved to the city, the need to speak Shanghainese decreased. However, new movements to protect Shanghainese have emerged since 2005, including the use of the language in kindergartens as well as singers producing their songs in the dialect.

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Fun facts — Wu Chinese (Shanghainese)

  • In old Shanghainese, ’shanghai’ means ‘(get) on board a ship’. The meaning dates back to early times when sailors tried to lure villagers aboard in order to kidnap them.
  • In the 18th century Christian missionaries to Shanghai developed their own scripts for writing Shanghainese, sometimes using Chinese or Latin characters and sometimes inventing graphics to represent the sounds.
  • There’s a Shanghainese idiom which applies to anyone pretending to be very busy but who is in fact doing nothing, it translates as they are ‘stirring glue’ - 捣糨糊 dao jiangwu.
  • To set forth a white pigeon - 放白鸽 fang bage - means to not keep a promise or appointment.
  • To make a monastery in a spiral shell - 螺蛳壳里做道场 lusi koli zu daosang - means to manage an event or business in little space.

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