Shanghai Dialect Struggles to Survive in China

Shanghainese Fights to Survive in China

Dialects in China have hit a bump in the road, with the government demanding that Mandarin Chinese be spoken as the country’s official language. In particular, the number of people speaking the Shanghainese decreasing. A combination of factors, such as influx of foreigners and Shanghai’s quest to become international, has added to the decline of the Shanghai dialect.

One of the problems faced by Shanghainese speakers is that few young people know the dialect.

“The weakening of dialects means the weakening of local culture. Why must our children speak (Mandarin) Chinese? Shanghai people who cannot speak the Shanghai dialect. What stupidity!” said Shanghai comedian Zhou Libo in an AFP article.

Experts in language studies, such as retired Professor Qian Nairong of the Shanghai University, are working to preserve the language. Qian published a dictionary of the Shanghai dialect in 2007.

“A language is like a living thing, after it gets old, it must die,” said Qian. “People born in the 1990s cannot really speak Shanghai dialect.”

Older generations are looking to pass on the language skills to others. AFP recently reported that Tongji University in Shanghai has organized a voluntary class in Shanghainese, teaching phrases like “nong hao” (hello) so that younger people and foreign students can converse with elderly Shanghai residents.

“We thought it was good to have people from outside the organization and even outside the school to join the class,” Shen Yiwen, an organizer of the class, said in the AFP article.

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