Shanghainese 上海话, is a dialect of Wu Chinese spoken in the city of Shanghai. Wu has over 100 million speakers, and is the second most spoken form of Chinese after Mandarin.

Wu Chinese is a major division of the Chinese language.
  As of 1991 Wu Chinese has 87 million speakers, making it one of the largest languages system in China, second to Mandarin Chinese which has over 800 million speakers.  Wu dialects are notable among Chinese languages in having kept voiced consonants, such as /b/, /d/, /g/, /z/, /v/, etc.  Mandarin and Cantonese have no voiced consonants.

The term Wu came from the Wu Kingdom which was united by Wu Taibo, then known as Gouwu. Wu Kingdom’s capital sits only 80 kms away from Shanghai 2500 years ago.
  The kingdom was brought up again during the  Five Dynasties and Ten States period as the Kingdom of Wuyue (吴越国).  Eventually, the tiny coastal kingdom of Wu spread through the much larger Chu State during the Zhou Dynasty. 


Wu spoken today descends from the languages spoken in Wu, Eastern Chu, and Yue kingdoms, along with Han influences later on. Major cities in the Wu-speaking region today include Shanghai, Suzhou, Wuxi, Changzhou, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Shaoxing and Wenzhou.


Shanghainese, also called the Shanghai dialect is the representative dialect of Northern Wu.  It is the primary language of China’s biggest city, Shanghai and is spoken by over 13 million people in the area alone.


Shanghai dialect is abundant with consonants and pure vowels.  Shanghainese has only two live tonal contrasts, high and low.  The Shanghainese tonal system is different from Thai and Vietnamese Chinese languages. Shanghainese syllables are quick and direct; the average Shanghainese syllable is 30% shorter than Mandarin.


Shanghai dialect has a group of voiced initials and manifests unvoiced unaspirated and aspirated stops. Moreover, there are unvoiced and voiced fricatives sets. Shanghainese also features Palatized initials. The /l/ consonant is also particular in that there is a minor flapping of the tongue during speech, similar to some extent to the Japanese r (although lateral and not post-alveolar). The sound may be made by lightly placing the tongue on the back of the upper set of teeth. However this flapping is not present when each character is individually pronounced.


Shanghainese grammar like other Chinese topolects has changed substantively over the past hundred years, influenced by Mandarin. Shanghai dialect has a relatively higher amount of Subject-Object-Verb sentence structure than Mandarin or Cantonese. There is huge array of personal and demonstrative pronouns used within dialects. Wu is in general more Subject-Object-Verb (SOV) oriented (Qian 1997), although Mandarin influence has created many new SVO expressions as well. The circumstances at which they are used and the particles involved differ for SOV and SVO.


Although Shanghainese is Sinitic, suggestions of a non-Sinitic indigenous substratum can still be found in Shanghainese word formation and structure. The core basic vocabulary in Shanghainese is significantly different from Mandarin, with many words instead being cognates with Tai-Kadai languages. Wu dialects in Shanghai's rural suburbs have as many as 100 cognates with Tai languages within one thousand common words surveyed (Li, Hui 2001). Many adjectives in Shanghainese end with -shishi, -lei or -leishi, while adverbs are usually uninflected. Morpheme order in words are also often reversed from Mandarin. In general, Shanghainese is more agglutinative and polysyllabic than Mandarin. There are also several illogical sentence constructions in Shanghainese that while negative literally, imply a positive statement.


Many Shanghainese see their mother tongue as an essential element of the Shanghainese identity.  However,, Shanghainese is not encouraged to be used in schools.  Also, the media are strongly discouraged from broadcasting in contemporary Shanghainese.  Several television advertisements in Shanghainese have been removed shortly after airing Just recently, linguists were barred from assigning Chinese characters to indigenous Shanghainese and Wu words with no Mandarin equivalent (Qian 2004).  Due to the vast dominance of Mandarin in Chinese society over the past fifty years, some Shanghainese speakers feel that their native dialect is ill-suited for contemporary society.  Normally (but not always), if there's one non-Shanghainese speaker in a group of Shanghainese speakers, the entire group will speak in Mandarin.


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