Wu Chinese

Wu Chinese

nativename= _zh. 吳語/ _zh. 吴语
"Wú yǔ"
states=China; and countries with overseas Chinese originating from Wu speakings areas of China
region=Shanghai; most of Zhejiang province; southern Jiangsu province; Xuancheng prefecture-level city of Anhui province; Shangrao County, Guangfeng County and Yushan County, Jiangxi province; Pucheng County, Fujian province; North Point, Hong Kong
speakers=~77 million
rank=10 [http://www.davidpbrown.co.uk/help/top-100-languages-by-population.html]

Wu (zh-tsp|t=吳方言|s=吴方言|p=Wú fāngyán; also zh-tsp|t=吳語|s=吴语|p=Wú yǔ “Wu language”) is one of the major divisions of the Chinese language. It is spoken in most of Zhejiang province, the municipality of Shanghai, southern Jiangsu province, as well as smaller parts of Anhui, Jiangxi, and Fujian provinces. Major Wu dialects include those of Shanghai, Suzhou, Wenzhou, Hangzhou, Shaoxing, Jinhua, Yongkang, and Quzhou. The traditional prestige dialect of Wu is the Suzhou dialect, though due to its large population, the Shanghai dialect is today sometimes considered the prestige dialect.

As of 1991, there are at least 77 million speakers of Wu Chinese, making it the second most populous Chinese language after Mandarin, which has 800 million speakers, and the 10th most populous language in the world.

Among speakers of other Chinese languages, Wu is often subjectively judged to be soft, light, and flowing. There is even a special term used to describe these qualities of Wu speech (zh-tsp|t=吳儂軟語|s=吴侬软语|p=wúnóngruǎnyǔ). The actual source of this impression is harder to place. It is likely a combination of many factors. Among speakers of Wu, for example, Shanghainese is considered softer and mellower than the variant spoken in Ningbo, although some Wu speakers still insist that old standard Suzhou dialect is more pleasant and beautiful than the dialects of Shanghai and Ningbo.

Like other varieties of Chinese, there is debate as to whether Wu is a language or a dialect. By the standard of mutual intelligibility, Wu is a separate language; however, socially it is considered to be a regional form of the Chinese language. See Identification of the varieties of Chinese for the issues surrounding this dispute. In terms of written communication, there is a great but not complete degree of mutual intelligibility between Wu and Mandarin within the People's Republic of China as both are written in the current Vernacular Chinese, which uses Simplified Chinese characters as well as grammar and vocabulary centred on Standard Mandarin with a few allowances for "regional variation".


The modern Wu language can be traced back to the ancient Wu and Yue peoples centred around what is now southern Jiangsu and northern Zhejiang. The Japanese nihongo|Go-on|呉音|goon pronunciation of Chinese characters (obtained from the Wu Kingdom during the Three Kingdoms period) is from the same region of China where Wu is spoken today.

Like most other branches of Chinese, Wu descends from Middle Chinese. Although Wu represents the earliest split from the rest of these branches, and thus keeps many ancient characteristics, it was influenced by northern Chinese (Mandarin) throughout its development. This was due to its geographical closeness to north China and also to the high rate of education in this region. During the time between Ming Dynasty and early Republican era, the main characteristics of modern Wu were formed. The Suzhou dialect became the most influential, and many dialectologists use it in citing examples of Wu.

After the Taiping Revolution at the end of Qing dynasty, in which most of the other Wu-speaking regions were largely destroyed, Shanghai became an important city with immigration from other Wu-speaking regions. This greatly affected the language of Shanghai, making it a language island compared to the surrounding area. In the first half of the 20th century, before Mandarin was strongly promoted in the Wu area, "Shanghainese" played the role of a regional "lingua franca" and gradually replaced the influence of the Suzhou dialect.

After the founding of People's Republic of China, the strong promotion of Mandarin in the Wu-speaking region influenced the development of the language. Wu was gradually excluded from most modern media and schools. Public organisations are required to use Mandarin. With the influx of a migrant non Wu-speaking population and the near total "mandarinisation" of public media and organizations, as well as the radical Mandarin promotion measures, more and more children of Wu descent cannot speak Wu anymore, even within their families. Instead, Mandarin has become their mother tongue.

Many people have noticed this trend and thus call for the protection of this language. More and more TV programs in Wu appear although they are mostly comedies rather than formal programs. Roughly speaking, modern Wu is a leftover of the Chinese dialects – starting from 1500 BC with Wu's position relative to other dialects.


[http://sinolect.org/images/y-wu-e600.gifWu.variations Image-Link ■■■]

[http://sinolect.org/images/y-roundbig2-k400.gifWu.proportions Image-Link ■■■]

Many Wu dialects are diverse and not mutually intelligible with each other. However, all Wu dialects including Oujiang can understand the Taihu dialect, while Taihu speakers find the other dialects unintelligible or intelligible only to a small extent.

According to Yan (2006), Wu is divided into six dialect areas:

*Taihu ( _zh. 太湖): Spoken over much of southern part of Jiangsu province, including Suzhou, Wuxi,Changzhou,southern part of Nantong,Jingjiang and Danyang; the municipality of Shanghai; and the northern part of Zhejiang province, including Hangzhou, Shaoxing, Ningbo, Huzhou, and Jiaxing. This group makes up the largest population among all Wu speakers. The subdialects of this region are, in a large degree, mutually intelligible among each other.
**Suzhou dialect
**Hangzhou dialect
**Ningbo dialect
**Wuxi dialect
**Changzhou dialect
*Taizhou ( _zh. 台州): Spoken in and around Taizhou, Zhejiang province. Taizhou Wu is among the southern dialects the closest to Taihu Wu, also known as North Wu, and can communicate with speakers of Taihu Wu.
*Oujiang ( _zh. 甌江/ _zh. 瓯江)/Dong'ou ( _zh. 東甌片/ _zh. 东瓯片): Spoken in and around Wenzhou, Zhejiang province. This dialect is the most distinctive and mutually unintelligible among all the Wu dialects. Some dialectologists even treated it as a dialect separate from the rest of Wu dialect.
**Wenzhou dialect
*Wuzhou ( _zh. 婺州): Spoken in and around Jinhua, Zhejiang province. Like Taizhou Wu dialect, it is mutually intelligible with Taihu Wu dialect at least in some degree.
*Chuqu ( _zh. 處衢/ _zh. 处衢): Spoken in and around Lishui and Quzhou in Zhejiang as well as in Shangrao County and Yushan County in Jiangxi province.
*Xuanzhou ( _zh. 宣州): Spoken in and around Xuancheng, Anhui province. This part of Wu is becoming less spoken since the campaign started by Taiping Revolution and is being slowly replaced by the immigrants' mandarin dialect from the north of Yangtse river.


According to Yan (2006), the Wu dialects are notable among Chinese languages in having kept the "muddy" (voiced, or more precisely slack voiced) plosives and fricatives of Middle Chinese, such as IPA|/b̥/, /d̥/, /ɡ̊/, /z̥/, /v̥/, "etc.", thus maintaining the three-way contrast of Middle Chinese stops and affricates, IPA|/p pʰ b̥/, IPA|/tɕ tɕʰ d̥ʑ̊/, "etc." In tone, the Wu dialects may have as few as two word tones (Shanghai), to eight or more syllable tones (Wujiang).

See Suzhou dialect, Hangzhou dialect, and Shanghai dialect for examples of Wu phonology.


The Wu pronoun system is complex when it comes to personal and demonstrative pronouns. For example, the first person plural pronoun differs when it is inclusive (including the hearer) and when it is exclusive (excluding the hearer, such as "me and him/her/them not you"). Wu employs six demonstratives, three of which are used to refer to close objects, and three of which are used for further objects.

In terms of word order, Wu uses SVO (like Mandarin), but unlike Mandarin, it can also be spoken in SOV.

In terms of phonology, tone sandhi is extremely complex, and helps parse multisyllabic words and idiomatic phrases. In some cases, indirect objects are distinguished from direct objects by a voiced/voiceless distinction.



Yan, M.M. (2006). Introduction to Chinese Dialectology. Munich: LINCOM EUROPA

External links

Resources on Wu dialects

* glossika.com
** [http://www.glossika.com/en/dict/wu/index.php Shanghainese Wu Dictionary] – Search in Mandarin, Shanghai, IPA, or English
** [http://www.glossika.com/en/dict/classification/wu/index.php Classification of Wu Dialects] – By James Campbell
** [http://www.glossika.com/en/dict/tones/wu.htm Tones in Wu Dialects] – Compiled by James Campbell
* [http://www.sinolect.org/bbs/ Linguistic Forum of Wu Chinese] (zh-s|s=吴语论坛) – A BBS set up in 2004, in which topics such as phonology, grammar, orthography and romanization of Wu Chinese are widely talked about. The cultural and linguistic diversity within China is also a significant concerning of this forum.
* wu-chinese.com (in simplified Chinese)
** [http://wu-chinese.com/wu-chinese/ “The elegant language in Jiangnan area”] (zh-s|s=江南雅音话吴语) – Excellent reference on Wu Chinese, including tones of the sub-dialects.
** [http://wu-chinese.com Wu Chinese Online Association] – Aimed at modernization of Wu Chinese, including basics of Wu, Wu romanization scheme, pronunciation dictionaries of different dialects, Wu input method development, Wu research literatures, written Wu experiment, Wu orthography, a discussion forum etc.


* [http://www.wacc.org.uk/wacc/publications/media_development/2006_1/globalization_national_culture_and_the_search_for_identity_a_chinese_dilemma Globalization, National Culture and the Search for Identity: A Chinese Dilemma (1st Quarter of 2006, Media Development)] – A comprehensive article, written by Wu Mei and Guo Zhenzhi of World Association for Christian Communication, related to the struggle for national cultural unity by current Chinese Communist national government while desperately fighting for preservation on Chinese regional cultures that have been the precious roots of all Han Chinese people (including Hangzhou Wu dialect). Excellent for anyone doing research on Chinese language linguistic, anthropology on Chinese culture, international business, foreign languages, global studies, and translation/interpretation.
* [http://www.ytlcommunity.com/commnews/shownews.asp?newsid=12482 Modernisation a Threat to Dialects in China] – An excellent article originally from Straits Times Interactive through YTL Community website, it provides an insight of Chinese dialects, both major and minor, losing their speakers to Standard Mandarin due to greater mobility and interaction. Excellent for anyone doing research on Chinese language linguistic, anthropology on Chinese culture, international business, foreign languages, global studies, and translation/interpretation.
* [http://www.middleburycampus.com/news/2002/02/27/NewsSpecialTheTowerOfBabel/Middlebury.Expands.Study.Abroad.Horizons-192768.shtml Middlebury Expands Study Abroad Horizons] – An excellent article including a section on future exchange programs in learning Chinese language in Hangzhou (plus colorful, positive impression on the Hangzhou dialect, too). Requires registration of online account before viewing.
* [http://www.thestandard.com.hk/weekend_news_detail.asp?pp_cat=30&art_id=5935&sid=5491218&con_type=1&d_str=20051119 Mind your language (from The Standard, Hong Kong)] – This newspaper article provides a deep insight on the danger of decline in the usage of dialects, including Wu dialects, other than the rising star of Standard Mandarin. It also mentions an exception where some grassroots’ organizations and, sometimes, larger institutions, are the force behind the preservation of their dialects. Another excellent article for research on Chinese language linguistic, anthropology on Chinese culture, international business, foreign languages, global studies, and translation/interpretation.
* [http://www.asiamedia.ucla.edu/article-eastasia.asp?parentid=42837 China: Dialect use on TV worries Beijing (originally from Straits Times Interactive, Singapore and posted on AsiaMedia Media News Daily from UCLA)] – Article on the use of dialects other than standard Mandarin in China where strict media censorship is high.
* [http://www.radio86.co.uk/explore-learn/lifestyle-in-china/2410/standard-or-local-chinese-tv-programs-in-dialect Standard or Local Chinese – TV Programs in Dialect (from Radio86.co.uk)] – Another article on the use of dialects other than standard Mandarin in China.

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