Jump to content
Chinese-forums.com
Learn Chinese in China

Shanghainese romanization


dahbairtuh
 Share

Recommended Posts

What different forms of Shanghainese romanization are available today? Judging from the different websites that deals with Shanghainese there doesn't seem to be any proper standard available, and textbooks in Shanghainese all use different methods of representing pronunciation. In the late 19th C. there were several systems used by missionaries aimed at Shanghainese (and other local languages as well), but seemingly they have all been lost in time.

I am aware of the different policys today directed against the usage of Shanghainese in general, but are there any current works or research being done on the topic of Shanghanese romanization?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

This is an interesting question, and based purely on my own observations (as opposed to any academic study), I think there is no answer to your question. I have several books on Shanghainese, and each seems to have its own system of romanization. This makes learning Shanghainese from books very difficult, because it is impossible to be certain of how a character is pronounced without romanization (although in many cases it can be correctly guessed), and interpreting the romanization itself is often a fruitless task. What's more, many of these books completely ignore tones in their romanization.

I think that apart from any government policies, creating a unified romanization system for Shanghainese is a difficult task, firstly because the Shanghainese language itself has not been standardized. Different speakers will pronounce the same word in different ways, so which of these ways would be transcribed into standard romanization? Also, since tone sandhi in Shanghainese apply in practically every word, and are not entirely systematic, this also presents a problem in romanization. And finally, since there are several different sounds in the b/p, d/t, g/k, s/z groups, new romanized combinations such as ph and th have to be introduced which lead to the romanization system being complicated and much harder to interpret.

I'd be surprised if any unified standard of Shanghainese romanization is ever created. The prevalence of Shanghainese is decreasing, and apart from those with a special interest, very few people will make the effort to learn it, much less through formal study where romanization may be applicable. In summary, Shanghainese romanization has very limited use, and coupled with lack of political support for Shanghainese, no romanization system is likely to take hold as a standard, de-facto or official.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If the HK/Cantonese pattern can be taken for reference, the shanghainese could set up a TV station, make some very good TV series in Shanghainese, and sell it throughout the whole Chinese-speaking world. Or their singers could sing pop-songs in Shanghainese. I would think that this would help standardise the dialect.

But if the Shanghainese themselves do not care, who would?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In 2007 a prof released a dictionary named 上海话大词典. I haven't picked it up yet, but from what I've heard, it's the only official Shanghainese dictionary. There must be a kind of pinyin that may become the leading form of romanization.

I'm gonna be picking it up when I go to Shanghai next spring, so I'll let you know how it is. :D

Other than that, I have yet to find a really useful book/audio/video series that really teaches Shanghainese properly. They usually go too fast and there is no repetition involved. I wish that there was a Pimsleur's approach to Shanghainese.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But if the Shanghainese themselves do not care, who would?

I don't think it is true to say that the Shanghainese themselves do not care. True, a large proportion do not care, but there is also a sizeable proportion who do. But like so many other things which are politically influenced in China, most people feel powerless to influence the situation and resign themselves to the status quo.

Nevertheless, the original question was about Shanghainese romanization, and since Shanghainese is not a written language anyway, romanization is fairly irrelevant, all the more so to the Shanghainese themselves.

In 2007 a prof released a dictionary named 上海话大词典. I haven't picked it up yet, but from what I've heard, it's the only official Shanghainese dictionary.

I have a copy of that dictionary (two copies in fact) right here in front of me. I'm not sure what constitutes an 'official' dictionary, but it is by no means the only Shanghainese dictionary available, although it is certainly the best I have seen so far. As for the romanization, however, it contains many symbols which are not part of the standard latin alphabet (I would describe it as phonetic symbols rather than romanization), and each syllable is followed by a two digit numerical code to represent the tone.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But if the Shanghainese themselves do not care, who would?

A few Shanghainese people I talked to said for them Putonghua was more important.

Non-Shanghainese Chinese in Shanghai:

Well. I would definitely suggest you to learn Mandarin, not the local Shanghai dialect - or Shanghainese. It is true that Shanghainese are different from the Mandarin. But almost all the people you can reach can speak Mandarin but not all speak Shanghainese.

Taking me as an example, I don't speak Shanghainese and can hardly understand Shanghainese, but that does not infect my life. It is a nice place to live.

Unlike Cantonese, Shanghainese is only used in Shanghai, not even in nearby cities like Hangzhou and Suzhou. So it will be almost useless if you go out of Shanghai...

If I lived in Shanghai, I would have a go at the dialect.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghainese

Link to comment
Share on other sites

since Shanghainese is not a written language anyway, romanization is fairly irrelevant

Wouldn't the lack of a proper writing system make romanization even more important? The alphabet in Chinese can be used in two ways, either as a phonetic indicator (where the IPA works as well) or as a real writing system where no other writing exists. Any language that can be spoken can also be written, and I suppose that goes for Shanghainese as well, just as it applies to newly discovered languages and other languages without writing.

There were as you probably know experiments done in the '30s and '40s with Sin Wenz (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latinxua_Sin_Wenz). One of their goals was to replace characters with a romanized, dialectal writing. This was a politically difficult question then as now, and all of it disappeared with the rise of Pinyin. But the idea still fascinates me.

What do you people think about dialect romanization (that is the creation of a proper dialectal writing) in general in China today?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Unlike Cantonese, Shanghainese is only used in Shanghai, not even in nearby cities like Hangzhou and Suzhou. So it will be almost useless if you go out of Shanghai.

Not so. People in Hangzhou and Suzhou speak dialects of Wu which are very similar to Shanghainese and readily mutually intelligible. My Shanghainese wife's ancestral home is west of Wuxi (Shitangwan) and not only do all the locals understand Shanghainese, but some of them would not understand Mandarin.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yep, I've been to many cities in Zhejiang and they all spoke the same Wu dialect, as in Shanghai. There were small differences here and there, but quite similar.

The Shanghainese that I know write in Shanghainese all the time, email and msn especially. 侬好伐?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wouldn't the lack of a proper writing system make romanization even more important?

The point is that shanghainese is never written formally, and therefore any writing system, character-based, romanized or otherwise, is irrelevant. One may argue that shanghainese is never written formally precisely because there is no writing system, but that is a separate issue. Until the writing of dialects is supported politically, written Shanghainese will never get a foothold in the mainstream. And even with political support, it may be already be too late to stop the tide of mandarin from drowning out regional dialects.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Apart from the political obstacles confronting Shanghainese, there is little incentive to learn it in the realm of say, pop culture.

Nowadays karaoke bars are dominated by Cantonese and Mandarin songs. It's difficult to find a place that plays a single Shanghainese song. Even the Shanghainese girls I encountered in karaoke bars belt out either Mandarin or Cantonese tunes.

Basically there is no Shanghainese pop culture that would attract a cultural interest in learning the language, like Cantopop or Korean pop culture.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Apart from the political obstacles confronting Shanghainese, there is little incentive to learn it in the realm of say, pop culture.

I agree, which is why I said in #3 that they could make good TV series and sing pop-songs in Shanghainese, if they care.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 year later...

I don't think it's correct to say everyone in Zhejiang speaks the same Wu dialect. My fiancee is from Zhejiang.

She claims that where she went to high school (25 minutes by car from her village), they speak a different dialect. They are mutually intelligible, but have differences and you can tell from which village a person comes from. She also says she can understand some Shanghainese, but cannot speak it. I think that's how it works a lot of the time, two Chinese people will speak to each other but both in their own dialect (if for some reason they don't want to speak Mandarin that is). She also claims that there are instances of places that are very close (say less than an hour apart), but the dialects are mutually UNintelligible. That seems crazy to me (as an American).

Also, interestingly, my fiancee doesn't understand what I'm talking about when I say she speaks "wu2yu3." She usually just says it is her hometown language (or hometown hua in my Chinglish), and that she knows what the name of it is in her hometown language but doesn't know what it would be called in Mandarin.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 years later...

The question of whether Shanghainese can be written down came up on another post. I thought this post would be better suited for that discussion. Please see this link for reference (see post #3).

My questions are:

1. Is it true that there is an official Shanghainese romanization? This was a link that was posted.

2. Is it true that 99% of Shanghainese people don't know about it?

I haven't had the chance to ask the Shanghainese people I know yet, but would like to know what others here think.

Edit: After I posted this, I realized this thread might not be talking about the same thing (romanization vs. writing Chinese characters to represent Shanghainese). But hopefully, we can still do the discussion here.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So far I haven't come across a Shanghainese person capable of writing down their own language. I would show them the example sentences from Tatoeba and their reaction usually would be "yeah, it's somewhat similar, but doesn't really sound like Shanghainese when I read it out aloud". Many people can't wrap their head around the fact that the characters can have other, non-普通话 readings. So they just read it in 普通话 and then complain that it's not Shanghainese and that I'm a silly laowai. 哎呀呀.

Shanghainese is not taught anywhere, the Shanghainese people learn the spoken language by exposure, so it's no wonder that they don't know how to write it down.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Similar for Minnanese. In Taiwan, a few years ago the government came up with a list of characters for Minnese words. Some tv programs apparently went to ask random people on the street whether they knew those characters, and when the people didn't, the list was proclaimed useless. What a surprise: people who never learned written Taiwanese didn't recognize the characters when first confronted with them.

I had a similar discussion once, I'm not sure if it was here on the forums or elsewhere, about romanization of Taiwanese. Can't be done, said a native speaker, I've seen Church romanization but a Taiwanese can't read that. Yeah, duh, because they never learned it. The remark in the other thread that a native speaker is not a linguist is very true.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is probably not the best thread, since the discussion is about writing, rather than romanization. Both have been discussed in detail, just search for user 'ala'.

Some good threads romanization, and some examples:

http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/5889-northern-wu-incl-shanghainese-phonology-and-romanization/

http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/12868-shanghainese-phrases-specific-ones-not-found-in-other-posts/

Some threads about using Chinese characters to write Shanghainese and general grammar discussion:

http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/12146-a-few-questions-about-shanghainese-%E5%85%B3%E4%BA%8E%E4%B8%8A%E6%B5%B7%E8%AF%9D%E7%9A%84%E4%B8%80%E4%BA%9B%E9%97%AE%E9%A2%98/

http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/658-shanghainese-grammar/

http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/8192-%E4%B8%8A%E6%B5%B7%E8%AF%9D-shanghainese-the-allocation-of-characters/

I remember into running into some written Shanghainese in online forums and chatrooms, but it is definitely far less common than Cantonese. Unfortunately, a byproduct of centuries of linguistic standardisation on Mandarin (this is much older than the Republic, Guoyu and Putonghua) has resulted in a climate where dialect (non-Mandarin languages) are seen as less prestigious, and something that is only spoken, not written. This view is not shared by everyone, but it is very common, IMHO.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ok, I did talk to several Shanghainese people, who are currently living in the USA, but were born and grew up in Shanghai. When I asked them whether Shanghainese can be written, their unanimous answer was that most of it can be written, but some can't. Then, I showed them the Tateoba website and had them search for some of the more "Shanghainese" specifc words. Afterwards, they agreed that pretty much all of it can be written but they've rarely seen those Shanghainese specific words written.

I also found this book from Amazon China called 写不出的上海话. It basically teaches the words that most Shanghainese people don't know.

My responses below to some comments here based on my conversations with the Shanghainese people I know and my own online searches / research.

Shanghainese is not taught anywhere, the Shanghainese people learn the spoken language by exposure....

This is correct. The people I talked to have never officially learned how to write the Shanghainese specific terms.

So far I haven't come across a Shanghainese person capable of writing down their own language.

When you say "capable of writing down their own language" do you mean the more Shanghainese specifc terms? Minus the more specfic Shanghainese terms, the rest of the dialect is (mostly) written the same way as Mandarin. The reason they don't write those Shanghainese specific terms is probably because pretty much no one reads them that way.

Many people can't wrap their head around the fact that the characters can have other, non-普通话 readings. So they just read it in 普通话 and then complain that it's not Shanghainese ...

The people I talked to didn't seem to have any problems with non-普通话 pronounciations. In fact they can all read standard Mandarin text using Shanghainese pronounciation. For some common Shanghainese specific terms below, they didn't seem to have any problems thinking it should be read closer to Shanghainese either. Because most of the time, they read "我们" to sound like "阿拉" anyways when they are reading out loud in Shanghainese.

阿拉 = 我们

伊拉 = 他们/她们

You might also want to check out the videos I included from 快乐三兄弟 in the end. See my point #3.

Unfortunately, a byproduct of centuries of linguistic standardisation on Mandarin (this is much older than the Republic, Guoyu and Putonghua) has resulted in a climate where dialect (non-Mandarin languages) are seen as less prestigious, and something that is only spoken, not written. This view is not shared by everyone, but it is very common, IMHO.

@renzhe, by the way, thanks for including those links; very informative. Your quote pretty much echoes what the Shanghainese people I talked to have told me. Kids are not supposed to speak Shanghainese in school and all written communications are done in Mandarin.

Some tv programs apparently went to ask random people on the street whether they knew those characters, and when the people didn't, the list was proclaimed useless. What a surprise: people who never learned written Taiwanese didn't recognize the characters when first confronted with them.

It's strange that they proclaimed the list useless because people didn't recognize the characters?

I found these videos of some episodes of 快乐三兄弟(a Shanghainese TV show) where they are asking Shanghainese people to guess how certain characters are written for Shanghainese specific terms. Based on these videos I came to the conclusion that:

1. Most Shanghainese people know that Shanghainese can be written. (In the first video) The bald guy in blue says "上海人都会写" (although in a jokingly manner). But the idea that Shanghainese "can" be written using 汉字 is understood.

2. Most Shanghainese have trouble getting the characters correctly (why would they have the show in the first place?). Although, at least someone does get the characters right in the contest. It's also important to note that the Shanghainese terms they are testing are the more obscure / harder terms.

3. Most Shanghainese people can pronounce 汉字 in Shanghainese. They were reading those terms all in Shanghainese and not Mandarin.

http://www.56.com/u43/v_NTkwNzA0NzI.html

http://www.56.com/u25/v_NTk4OTU4OTQ.html

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's strange that they proclaimed the list useless because people didn't recognize the characters?
The reasoning being something like 'you say these characters can be used to write Taiwanese, but the random people we asked (who had never learned any of those characters and had never learned to writer Taiwanese; all they learned to write was Mandarin) didn't know them, therefore they cannot be used to write Taiwanese, therefore the list is useless'. I agree that this is not just strange but even shortsighted and stupid.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...