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Hi all,

Currently I'm settling in to my new job in a university here in Wuhan.

I was just wondering if anyone had any advice on distinguishing wuhanhua from putonghua and/or knew of any specific words/sounds that are noticably/consistently different.

Any other general information about Wuhan that you could pass on would be great. (Broad question, I know, but I'm putting it out there.)



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Wuhanhua isn’t very different from putonghua. Whereas Shanghai people need to learn good putonghua if they want to communicate with people from outside Shanghai, wuhan people can almost get by using wuhanhua to talk to a putonghua-speaker. In fact I was told that when they were casting around for a dialect upon which to model putonghua, for a while they considered using wuhanhua because although similar to some of the northern dialects it also has southern aspects to it.

I don’t know what those aspects would be, though, except for the tongue thing. Putonghua distinguishes between sh and s, zh and z, ch and c … but wuhanhua, like some other southern dialects, doesn’t – so shi shounds just like si, for example (ie soft, no “h” in any of them).

Even if a wuhan person is speaking putonghua they may well not distinguish the “h” bits.

There’s also a tendency to mix up l and r, ie “len” instead of “ren”, I think sometimes the letters n and l get mixed too.

Thus zhongguoren could sound like zongguolen, even if the person is otherwise speaking fairly regular putonghua.

Then there are the tones. Lots of the differences between putonghua and wuhanhua are tonal – same word, same (or similar – see above) sound, but different tone. “Yao” – ie want, need, is 4th tone in putonghua but becomes 2nd tone “yao” in wuhanhua. Say “bu4 yao2” a lot -- particularly with a faintly disgusted or dismissive tone of voice on the yao -- and I reckon you sound instantly wuhanlen.

Putonghua to Wuhanhua tones

2 to 3

3 to 4

4 to 2

1 stays as 1.

One consequence of this is that all those 4th tones,sharp falling, which I always think are particularly prevalent in putonghua (are they?), become 2nd tones in wuhanhua. This can give wuhan people a quarrelsome or argumentative sound to what they’re saying, lots of 2nd tones, even when that’s not their intention.

Then there are some sounds that change. For example the “iu” in “liu” (eg the number six) often gets changed to “ou”, sounding like the English “low”. So “six” in wuhanhua is a 2nd tone “lou”. I think quite a few of the “iu” sounds change i this way, but I can’t remember if all of them do.

Another one I do remember is that north, “bei”, becomes “be” (ie sounds like “er”). But whether that’s just for “north” or for lots of “ei” words I forget.

And of course there are words which are very different in wuhanhua from putonghua. For example “chi”, eat, becomes qi (2nd tone I think). “hen”, very, becomes “man”. “shenme” can become something that sounds like “mosi” would in pinyin. Plenty of others. & they also like putting “sa” on the ends of some questions but I think more for rhetorical questions, I never worked that one out though.

There’s a part of Hankou, I forget which bit, where they are supposed the best wuhanhua. But I think the best exponents are the extremely fierce middle-aged women, shopkeepers especially. Wuhan people often sound like their angy or annoyed even when they’re not. But are the extremely fierce middle-aged women are in any case very short-tempered, so they sound even worse.

But I always thought the dialect has a softness to it – if you can deal with the roughness it in fact sounds much more pleasing than the icy sharp aloof barking commanding putonghua, especially northern-spoken putonghua.

I’d really welcome anyone to tell me what I’ve got wrong here or if anything doesn't make sense, and to find out what others think about how wuhanhua sounds.

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Thanks realmayo!

Are you in Wuhan now?

Right now I'm in a wangba (and in a slight hurry) where I can't even print stuff out, which seems to be the norm here, unlike Australia.

But at the nearest opportunity I intend to print out your email for a nice slow read so that I can digest its contents.

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I can only add that as far as i know that word "sa" (written usually as 撒)exists not only in questions. I think it is used mostly to stress something. Also i think some grammar and word order are different from those of putonghua. I also want to know more about Wuhanhua

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no I'm not in wuhan -- I lived there for a couple of years, three or four years ago.

great place though, I know it's not that far west and it is a big city after all, but definititely used to have a slightly edgy, wild west, & no nonsense feel to it, probably still does? wuhan people get a bad press in China generally, by the way.

let me know if anything I wrote earlier about the language makes or doesn't make sense when you're listening to people out and about. one thing I should have stressed though it that often you mayn't be sure whether you're hearing someone speak a) putonghua with a wuhan accent, B) attempted (for your benefit) putonghua but with lots of wuhanhua creeping, or c) wuhanhua!

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Luoman, I think you're right about "sa". I'd love to know if there are equivalents in other dialects. for all I know there may be something similar in putonghua that I was never advanced enough to have known. And for sure there's far more to wuhanhua than what I mentioned earlier: those are just the standout differences that I was ever aware of.

PS 雅各 again: I should've mentioned a couple more common wuhanhua words: instead of "qu4" for "go", they say "ke" (2nd tone probably); instead of "haizi" for "children" they say "xiezi" (ie similar to putonghua for "shoes"). how many shoes do you have etc...

one more thing: "ni he laozi", does anyone know if this is a putonghua phrase?

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Thanks again for your additional comments, both realmayo & Luoman. I'm sure it'll help me tell the difference (which realmayo remarked on) and also make better progress once I can!!

One thing someone said to me when our conversation was ending the other day was "hao3ze1". I suspect this is an example of wuhanhua, but I don't know what it means. Wenlin/miniABC doesn't have a definition for this.

Also, the word for sweet "tian" (?) seemed to be pronouned /tia:n/ or tiaarn, rather than like putonghua.

I'll keep listening out for 撒.


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I'm a Wuhanese and on behalf of my folks, welcome to Wuhan

If you want to communicate with Wuhanese, I suggest you speak Mandarine. Most of them can understand that but they don't say it well. Wuhanhua is not so easy to understand, although its pronounciation is much nearer to Mandarine than Cantonese or Shanghaihua. Ordinary Wuhanese use a lot of slangs and idioms that even a Chinese from other province will get confused.

As to pronounciations, in Wuhanhua l, n, r are usually has the same pronounciation of l.

Also, your tongue need not to roll very much. [zh][sh] becomes[z], and the mandarine [ch]becomes [ts].

sa 撒 is often used to stress something. Wuhanese are usually very passionate people and tend to exaggerate their feelings. Some times you may feel that they are being too aggressive, but they are indeed being friendly. So don't feel offended when they let out some curses :)

ni he lao zi 你吓老子 means you are scaring me, usually used when someone is really surprised

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Flava, a few questioms, if you don`t mind. 8)

Is the Wuhan dialect very similar to Sichuanhua? When i hear someone from Hubei or Sichuan speaking putonghua, their accent sounds pretty much the same to me. Is the slang the same? Can wuhanese understand such phrases as 先人板板 (a Sichuan swearing i saw in some novel) or "dingdingmeir" (don`t know how to write correctly, the spoken for "dragonfly" in Sichuanese)?

What is the origin of the famous phrase about 九头鸟 and Hubei people? I heard many diffferent variants of it:mrgreen: . If it is just a kind of a joke, then why many Hubeiese told me that it may sound rude sometimes. Are there any similar legends or proverbs about Chinese people from other provinces?

I like people from Hubei i dealt with. Most of all i like their sense of humor and that they are always willing to communicate8)

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The answer to your question is yes, Wuhanhua is sort of similar to Sichuanese. I was also surprised by the similarity when I met my first Sichuanese classmate. But different dialects have different idioms, and Wuhanese don't use 先人板板 : ) Sometimes Wuhanese use 个斑马的 ge ban ma de. Don't ask me what's that. Not even a single Wuhanese knows what's that. That and "biao zi yang de" together have almost the same function with their English equivalent "sob", but it's mearly a indicator of strong feelings and no more.

Wuhanese may sound rough, huh...but believe me, they are friendly.

As for 九头鸟, literally it means "a bird with nine heads". Here its a metaphor and means that Wuhanese are very clever and a little bit cunning. "天上九头鸟,地下湖北佬" "Just like there are nine-headed birds in the sky, there are Hubei fellas on the ground". It's usually used when people from other province show their comtemptation to our cleverness. Anyway, we take it as a praise.

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about sa 撒

it's an elusive character in Wuhanese. Basically, it is used at the end of a sentence to show that the speaker is intentionally stressing something. Or you can just regard it as an "!"

for example: 今晚一起吃饭吧 Let's have dinner together tonight.

今晚一起吃饭撒 Let's have dinner together tonight. Come on!

那是个么事?(mo si, Wuhanese version of 什么 what) What's that?

那是个么事撒? What the hek is that?!

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Hi Flava,

Call me a newbie, but I haven't seen 个 used like that before or those sentence structures. But I'm sure that's my problem and not yours. Were you actually giving examples of Wuhanhua? Or am I just ignorant of some major Putonghua sentence structures?

i.e. 那是个么事? 那是个么事撒?

[A note regarding 撒: I'm sure I'd be well advised not to try to use it. It'll probably sound fake, forced & way out of place coming from me :oops: ]



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Yes, you don't see 个 much in putonghua. But if you put it here, it's also ok. 个 here means the speaker is stressing, faintly impatient, and slightly disatisfied. eg. 他吃饭很慢(He's slow on eating, neutral )他吃个饭也慢吞吞的(He's damn slow on eating, a little derogatory)

This elusive small words that express mood are difficult to handle. I am also slow on that in English. Just learn it step by step and firstly, make yourself clear to others.

Wuhanhua can be also very beautiful and soft if you pick out those slangs and offensive words. I myself know many well-educated Wuhanese who don't swear or curse and speak it gentlely. But I always feel they are speaking another language. Wuhan used to be a port city.(码头城市,a city prospers on its port). There used to be a word 跑码头的in Chinese(literally, those who work around a port) but today its hardly seen. Besides its literal meaning, it also imply that this 跑码头的 guy is not educated, belongs to a lower strata of the society(but this word is not derogatory; it contains sympathy with these poor people). You can get the implication easily; most of those who work at a port are coolies. Wuhanese derives from their language and that's why it sounds rough and wild. But I love speaking Wuhanese. Although it may sound rude sometimes, I believe it's the most sincere and unaritificial dialect in China. And my view point is backed by most Wuhanese people:mrgreen:

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  • 7 months later...

This is my second year in Wuhan so you can tell how much I like it!! Now I really want to get talking to and understanding the locals! I've read the previous postings which are all very useful, but I would like to know if there are any books or articles published anywhere about Wuhanhua??

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  • 1 year later...

My wife is from Hubei, but not Wuhan, but her dialect is similar. In both my wife's village, and last time I was in Wuhan, when people said my Chinese name (李龙月), they pronounced "yue" as "rei," like ray in pronounced in English. Some of them did this even when speaking Putonghua. An old Wuhan man I have spoken with has some funny pronunciations of certain sounds when he speaks Putonghua. In addition to the "n" and "l" swapping, he would pronounce any word that began with "yu-" with a "r-" sound. So, when he would say 超越 (chaoyue) in Putonghua, he could say "cao-ri." Really threw me for a loop.

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