An Interesting interview in Hokkien

Discussions on the Hokkien (Minnan) language.
ransek
Posts: 21
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2007 9:19 pm

An Interesting interview in Hokkien

Post by ransek »

Host spoke in Choan-chiu Hokkien and the interviewee 卓依婷 spoke Taiwan Hokkien
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HBFWHJ0Cb8

I'm still learning Hokkien so Choan-chiu dialect is a little hard for me to understand.

Can Taiwanese generally understand Choan-chiu Hokkien like 卓依婷 did?

amhoanna
Posts: 912
Joined: Sat Sep 18, 2010 12:43 pm

Re: An Interesting interview in Hokkien

Post by amhoanna »

The Coanciu "City dialect" is tough for me too. Sometimes it doesn't even sound like Hokkien to me. The "Coastal" dialect is easier.

My short answer to your question would be: no. The problem is mostly psychological, though -- inc. lack of motivation, etc. -- and also has to do with local knowledge. In this interview, Miss 卓 obviously had the motivation to understand Coanciu Hokkien. Also, there were no local knowledge issues. Beyond that, I'd say the interviewer didn't go deep with her Hokkien. It's also possible that Miss 卓 has had exposure to Coanciu City or similar dialects in her past, since she was a child star singing in Hokkien and also comes from a district where some of the old folks speak with Coanciu "inland" accents, if I'm not mistaken.

ransek
Posts: 21
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2007 9:19 pm

Re: An Interesting interview in Hokkien

Post by ransek »

"Coastal" refers to Coan-ciu and "inland" is Ciang-ciu, right?
amhoanna wrote:The Coanciu "City dialect" is tough for me too. Sometimes it doesn't even sound like Hokkien to me. The "Coastal" dialect is easier.

My short answer to your question would be: no. The problem is mostly psychological, though -- inc. lack of motivation, etc. -- and also has to do with local knowledge. In this interview, Miss 卓 obviously had the motivation to understand Coanciu Hokkien. Also, there were no local knowledge issues. Beyond that, I'd say the interviewer didn't go deep with her Hokkien. It's also possible that Miss 卓 has had exposure to Coanciu City or similar dialects in her past, since she was a child star singing in Hokkien and also comes from a district where some of the old folks speak with Coanciu "inland" accents, if I'm not mistaken.

SimL
Posts: 1407
Joined: Mon Jun 26, 2006 8:33 am
Location: Amsterdam

Re: An Interesting interview in Hokkien

Post by SimL »

Hi Ransek,

Thanks for posting this. A very interesting interview. At least here, I can catch some fragments of sentences. But even then, my comprehension is far from "understanding" the whole interview.

ransek
Posts: 21
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2007 9:19 pm

Re: An Interesting interview in Hokkien

Post by ransek »

SimL wrote:Hi Ransek,

Thanks for posting this. A very interesting interview. At least here, I can catch some fragments of sentences. But even then, my comprehension is far from "understanding" the whole interview.
Thanks for your reply SimL.
Are you Taiwanese? I'm guessing you have problem understanding Choan-chiu Hokkien as well?

amhoanna
Posts: 912
Joined: Sat Sep 18, 2010 12:43 pm

Re: An Interesting interview in Hokkien

Post by amhoanna »

No, I'm talking about the Coastal Coanciu dialect (the so-called 海口腔 Háikháu khiuⁿ) vs the others. The dialect of the City of Coanciu proper is a more conservative dialect. So are the dialects inland from there, inc. the Éngchun dialect(s) and the Ankhoe dialect(s). The Tâng'oaⁿ dialect is a transition between Coanciu and Ciangciu. Out of all these, only the Coastal dialect is easy for me to understand ... but Klang / Kuala Lumpur Hokkien (based on Éngchun) doesn't seem too hard.

SimL
Posts: 1407
Joined: Mon Jun 26, 2006 8:33 am
Location: Amsterdam

Re: An Interesting interview in Hokkien

Post by SimL »

ransek wrote:Thanks for your reply SimL.
Are you Taiwanese? I'm guessing you have problem understanding Choan-chiu Hokkien as well?
Hi Ransek,

No, I'm not Taiwanese. I was born in Malaysia and lived in Penang until the age of 14. I then migrated with my parents to Australia and lived there until I was 29. Then I moved to the Netherlands, which is where I have lived for the past 25 years.

I speak Penang Hokkien, which is often said to be largely "Ciang-ciu derived". I'm English-educated in 1960's and 70's Malaysia (when this distinction was a very significant marker of a person's background). I'm also from a Baba family on my father's side. (My mother's side is Amoy-ish speaking, living in Southern Malaysia, but I grew up mostly surrounded by my paternal relatives.) Being English-educated and being from a Baba-family are the main reasons that I don't speak Mandarin at all, and that my Hokkien is quite limited. And leaving Penang at the age of 14 only added to the limitations of my already limited Hokkien.

Actually, I understood vastly more of the Cuan-ciu of the interviewer in the link you posted than I did of some other Cuan-ciu segments I stumbled across on YouTube. Those ones I could hardly understand even 1% of, and when I played them to my mother (who speaks an Amoy-ish variant, and whose Hokkien is much better than mine), she questioned whether it was a form of Hokkien at all!

I'll try and see if I can find the links for you in the coming period.

What's your background?

ransek
Posts: 21
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2007 9:19 pm

Re: An Interesting interview in Hokkien

Post by ransek »

Thanks for the clarification. I didn't know there were so many variations within Coanciu Hokkien. I heard from some Taiwanese that 海口腔 equals 泉州口音 and I thought Coanciu Hokkien in general would be hard to understand.

Are you Taiwanese? I guess Coanciu immigrants in Taiwan mainly came from the coastal part and that's why coastal Coanciu dialect is easier for Taiwanese to understand...Am I right?
amhoanna wrote:No, I'm talking about the Coastal Coanciu dialect (the so-called 海口腔 Háikháu khiuⁿ) vs the others. The dialect of the City of Coanciu proper is a more conservative dialect. So are the dialects inland from there, inc. the Éngchun dialect(s) and the Ankhoe dialect(s). The Tâng'oaⁿ dialect is a transition between Coanciu and Ciangciu. Out of all these, only the Coastal dialect is easy for me to understand ... but Klang / Kuala Lumpur Hokkien (based on Éngchun) doesn't seem too hard.

ransek
Posts: 21
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2007 9:19 pm

Re: An Interesting interview in Hokkien

Post by ransek »

Thanks for sharing your story!
I'm always confused with the concept of "Baba". Does Baba refer to Chinese immigrants who moved to SEA very long time ago, or those who intermarried with Malays? And I heard Baba family speak Malay with some Hokkien vocabulary; but some sources claimed that the Baba tongue was more like a mixture of Hokkien and Malay, or simply something like Penang Hokkien....So if you could tell me a little bit more about the subject it would be great.

My background isn't that interesting. I was born in Northern China and raised in Suzhou, China. My family is 3/4 Wu and 1/4 Northern. Mandarin is my mother tongue, but I speak Suzhou Wu fluently (and a little bit of Changshu and Shanghai Wu). I went to college in Hong Kong so I have no problem conversing in Cantonese (Cantonese is fairly easy to pick up for Wu people). Then I moved to the states for more school and work.

I became interested in Hokkien when I was watching Taiwanese TV program. In fact I found Hokkien and Wu had some kind of deep connections despite the fact that the two languages are very different lexically. After a couple years' youtube watching, I can understand around 80% of Taiwanese Hokkien. I have little problem understanding news and political speeches. But casual conversations are much harder.

I also watched many Singapore/Malaysia Hokkien clips. (I became very interested in Singapore and Malaysia after I visited the region. In fact I'm going there again this winter). Singapore/Southern Malaysian Hokkien is easier to understand, but Penang Hokkien is very hard....
SimL wrote:
ransek wrote:Thanks for your reply SimL.
Are you Taiwanese? I'm guessing you have problem understanding Choan-chiu Hokkien as well?
Hi Ransek,

No, I'm not Taiwanese. I was born in Malaysia and lived in Penang until the age of 14. I then migrated with my parents to Australia and lived there until I was 29. Then I moved to the Netherlands, which is where I have lived for the past 25 years.

I speak Penang Hokkien, which is often said to be largely "Ciang-ciu derived". I'm English-educated in 1960's and 70's Malaysia (when this distinction was a very significant marker of a person's background). I'm also from a Baba family on my father's side. (My mother's side is Amoy-ish speaking, living in Southern Malaysia, but I grew up mostly surrounded by my paternal relatives.) Being English-educated and being from a Baba-family are the main reasons that I don't speak Mandarin at all, and that my Hokkien is quite limited. And leaving Penang at the age of 14 only added to the limitations of my already limited Hokkien.

Actually, I understood vastly more of the Cuan-ciu of the interviewer in the link you posted than I did of some other Cuan-ciu segments I stumbled across on YouTube. Those ones I could hardly understand even 1% of, and when I played them to my mother (who speaks an Amoy-ish variant, and whose Hokkien is much better than mine), she questioned whether it was a form of Hokkien at all!

I'll try and see if I can find the links for you in the coming period.

What's your background?

SimL
Posts: 1407
Joined: Mon Jun 26, 2006 8:33 am
Location: Amsterdam

Re: An Interesting interview in Hokkien

Post by SimL »

Hi Ransek,

Thank you for sharing about your background.

>> Mandarin is my mother tongue, but I speak Suzhou Wu fluently [...]
>> I have no problem conversing in Cantonese

Wow, fabulous :P!

What a pleasure to have you on the Minnan Forum! I think it's particularly rare for someone without a "native" Hokkien background to become interested in Hokkien. But, in a very heart-warming way, there are 4 of you on this Forum: Mark, Ah-bin, amhoanna, and now you. (Mark: I do remember correctly that you only became exposed to Hokkien when you went to work in Penang, right?)

To be honest, I don't know what the "formal" or "ethnological/anthropological" definition of Baba would be. Perhaps there isn't one - perhaps it's fuzzy anyway, as are so many of these things connected with identity.

In broad outline, yes, Babas are "Chinese" who have lived in Malaya/Singapore for longer than the "sin-kheh" wave of migration in the late 1800's to the early 1900's. How far back is rather unclear to me too (perhaps Ah-bin, who is a real sinologist and scholar, can throw some light on this). It's sometimes claimed that the earliest Baba were formed by the delegation which accompanied a Ming Dynasty Chinese princess, when she came to Malacca to marry a Malay prince. IIFC, there is no Chinese documented evidence for this "princess" in the first place (she might have been the daughter of a senior noble, rather than a princess, and hence not considered important enough to document in official history). This community I
n Malacca is definitely known to have existed, irrespective of the historical existence or otherwise of the princess, but it's unclear to me to what extent there is a blood (or culturally-continuous) relationship between the members of this community and the group of individuals who identified as being Baba from the middle of the 19th century onwards. AFAIK, it's not "widely believed and claimed" among the Babas that this is the case.

In any case, Babas were certainly around in Penang, Malacca and Singapore by the mid-1800's. My grandparents' grandparents would have been born around then, and they lived in Penang.

As for whether they are "immigrants who moved to SEA very long time ago, or those who intermarried with Malays", again, I think the lines are very blurry. Certainly, a lot of them would have married with Malays, but a lot of them married Chinese (brides fetched from China, as in the case of some of my great-great-grandparents and their siblings).

That intermarrying with Malays did occur is - I think - practically indisputable. For one thing, it's a good explanation for why (some) Baba families spoke Malay natively (see below). For another, even in my family, there is variation in "darkness of complexion". Most members look "quite Chinese" (i.e. fair-skinned, yellow, whatever you want to call it!), whereas, every now and again, one or two members will be very dark, practically "Malay-looking". Having Malay blood in the family 4-5 generations prior to this would hence be a very good explanation for this phenomenon.

The 3 main centres of Baba settlement were Penang, Malacca, and Singapore. Only Malaccan Babas spoke (a form of) Malay as their native language though. Many Babas in Penang up to the early 1900's spoke Malay *fluently*, but not natively. Apparently, my great-grandmother (born around 1880) was linguistically gifted enough to be
much admired in "pantun contests", which is where people extemporize poetry in Malay during celebrations, on subjects which poked fun at people and current topics. So, my family in that generation (born late 1800's) could speak Malay, and some even spoke it very well, but they still continued to speak Hokkien as their native language. But in that Hokkien, there were many borrowed Malay words. In contrast, (many) Babas in Malacca didn't speak Hokkien natively - Baba Malay was the only language they spoke natively. [I'm less aware of the situation historically for Singapore Babas because there were fewer branches of my family in Singapore.]

Again, I'd like to emphasise that nothing is "black and white". There might well have been Penang Babas who spoke Malay natively, and there were undoubtedly Malaccan Babas who spoke Hokkien natively and Malay (only) fluently. But what I've tried to sketch is a general overall picture.

And again, everything was very fluid and subtle. Things changed over time, as well. By my grandmother's generation (born around 1900), there was considerable "re-sinification", undoubtedly because more and more sin-khehs were arriving. Not only would there have been more opportunities for young Baba men to marry sin-kheh women (resulting in the children becoming "more Chinese" again), but also the number of Chinese available to socialize, trade, compete, and quarrel with would have grown considerably. This would probably have led to more Chinese words being (re-)introduced into the vocabulary of the Babas. This would have produced some degree of "re-sinification" among the Babas, even without intermarriage with sin-khehs. So, by my grandmother's generation, nobody could do "pantun contests" any more, and their Malay was simply Bazaar Malay, part of it probably influenced by bits of broken Malay that they heard the sin-khehs speaking.

So, in my youth, there were 5 main "features" which distinguished a Penang Baba from a non-Baba. 1) The womenfolk all wore sarongs, rather than the "trousers" which the sin-kheh women wore. [That's just a simple way of stating it, of course - along with the sarong were all the other dress accoutrements of Baba women: a semi-transparent sort of top, hair done up in a tight bun, a special sort of brass belt for special occasions, covering their faces every morning with a fine white rice powder, etc.] 2) They ate with their hands. 3) They had a cuisine where curries based on coconut-milk formed a large component, and they used lots of Malay herbs and spices. [The "nyonya cakes" so popular in Malaysia and Singapore were largely derived from the Malay culinary tradition - lots of coconut, coconut milk, and pandan.] 4) They lived in matriarchal families. That is to say, the daughters remained in the family home with their parents, and the sons-in-law came to live with their wives. The sons of the household all "married out", and went to live in the homes of their wives and their wives' parents. 5) They sent their children to schools where the medium of instruction was English (run by the British colonial government or by Christian religious denominations), whereas the sin-khehs sent their children to schools where the medium of instruction was Mandarin (run by clan associations). [But particularly this last point is a very broad generalization. There were certainly sin-khehs who sent their children to English schools as well.]

Again, all the above is only an overall picture. And a picture which changed over time too. Because of re-sinization (and Westernization), many of these features slowly faded away (say) between the 1930's and the 1970's. For example, Baba menfolk switched very early to Western clothes, so that in my youth (1960's), only the women of my grandmothers' generation wore sarongs - all the men wore trousers and a shirt. In my parents' generation, none of the women wore sarongs anymore. Babas switched from eating with their hands to eating with a fork and spoon, so that in my youth, only my grandparents' generation ate with their hands - and even here, it was all of the women eating with their hands, but only about one quarter of the men. And in my parents' generation, almost all of the women, and all the men, ate with a fork and spoon. Similarly, the large matriarchal families also faded away. Partly because of re-sinization - if a Baba girl married a sin-kheh man, then the man's family might expect that she come and live with them; but largely also due to Westernization - couples just started to live in their own homes anyway, in a nuclear family with just their own children. Similarly, with Malay becoming the language of instruction in government schools in Malaysia (from 1970 onwards), the old Baba/English vs. sin-kheh/Mandarin split also disappeared.

In this way, by the late 1900's / early 2000's, there would probably have been very little left to distinguish a Chinese of Baba descent from a Chinese from sin-kheh descent: no (young) Baba women wore sarongs anymore; nobody ate with their hands; the descendents of sin-khehs were just as fond of curries; matriarchal households had disappeared. As for the old English vs. Mandarin distinction in language - many of the children of my second or third cousins (in the 1980's and 90's) were sent to Chinese school, and could all speak Mandarin (even if not natively). This would have been unthinkable for a Baba family of my generation.

So, that's my attempt to describe "Baba" to you. I should emphasize that this is purely a "layman's" perception of the situation, described from personal experience. Another Baba might have a quite different opinion, and a historian or anthropologist might have a different view again.

If you can be bothered, then the following Wikipedia links might be of interest:
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peranakan (written mostly from an Indonesian point of view, which I didn't cover above at all)
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bukit_Cina

Once again, great to have you here. Hopefully, you'll also tell us things about Wu languages which are relevant to or throw light on Hokkien issues.

amhoanna
Posts: 912
Joined: Sat Sep 18, 2010 12:43 pm

Re: An Interesting interview in Hokkien

Post by amhoanna »

Sim, thanks for the rundown. Fascinating stuff. You should write a book, or an e-book.

The Baba cultural complex was also found up in Phuket and down on Java, in and around Jakarta esp., where the Betawi dialect of Malay shows spectacular traces of Hokkien. Semarang too, I think.

Ransek, in the TWese context, 海口腔 refers to the dialects spoken along the west shore from former Taitiong 台中 County down to poss. the corner of former Tailam 台南 County. These dialects are based on a mix of Coanciu varieties, but the most famous one -- the Lokkang 鹿港 dialect -- is based on Coanciu City.

In the Coanciu context, 海口腔 refers to a dialect spoken in 泉州港, much of Hui'oann 惠安, and poss. elsewhere, I'm not sure where. The first time I heard it, I thought to myself: Wow, this is Manila Hokkien! I find it easier to understand b/c the vowels are generally in line with Amoy, and most of the vocab. overlaps w/ Taiwan. I also have a little exposure to Manila Hokkien.

TWese Hoklo nowadays is more and more Ciangciu-biased. This might be b/c Coanciu-speaking districts have born the brunt of language erosion in the Japanese and Tionghoa 中華 eras (so too near the Straits of Malacca w/ the rise of Manducation). Older TWese in many parts of the island -- the north, esp. -- would've grown up around a mix of dialects and would prob. have an advantage in understanding "PRC Hokkien".

Ngu zi Dewe ñing. 8) I hv the same ethnic background as U: 3/4 Wo (Wu) and 1/4 Mandophone. I can speak Mand., but I can't really speak any Wo language. There are deep ties btw Wo, Hokkien / Teochew, and the languages in btw like Hokciu 福州. Hopefully U can shed some light on these ties for us. I'm impressed that U were able to learn Hoklo just by watching TV. News and political speeches ("High Hoklo" -- my term) would be more accessible b/c the grammar and vocabulary are generally Pan-Chinese. Casual conversations ("Low Hoklo) would be tough b/c much of the vocab. and even grammar is at odds with, say, Cantonese or Wo.

Mark Yong
Posts: 684
Joined: Fri Apr 29, 2005 3:52 pm

Re: An Interesting interview in Hokkien

Post by Mark Yong »

ransek, 儂好 nong hO!

In my previous work-life, I spent a bit of time in-and-out of Shanghai, and have always been very fascinated with the Wu dialect - to the extent that I even purchased 湯志祥’s books/CD's on 上海閒話 Zanhe Eiwo.

Image Image Image

Note that I said that “ Wu dialect”, and not 上海話 Shanghai dialect. As I understand it, up until the 1950’s or so, the 蘇州 Suzhou dialect (which I gather is your dialect?) was treated with greater esteem compared with the 上海話 Shanghai dialect, which is very much a mixture of several 吳 Wu dialects, including that of 寧波 Ningbo. I also understand that over time, the 上海話 Shanghai dialect has gradually lost a number of tonal distinctions that are still preserved in the 蘇州 Suzhou dialect.

What is the current situation with the recent attempts at revival of the 上海話 Shanghai dialect in Shanghai today? And are there more people who are able to read Chinese texts using the Wu standard phonology today?

ransek
Posts: 21
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2007 9:19 pm

Re: An Interesting interview in Hokkien

Post by ransek »

Hi SimL,

Thanks a lot for your detailed explanation! I agree with amhoanna that you should definitely write a book!
And I'm very glad that I joined such a forum. Never expected so much knowledge and great interaction like this!

Now I see Penang Hokkien has a really long history! So do Baba Hokkien and Sinkheh Hokkien somehow "converge" into today's Penang Hokkien?

I got the impression that Baba spoke Malay natively because one of my college roommates is of Malacca Baba background. He told me his dad only spoke Malay and English but sent him to a Chinese school. Also he claimed that Hokkien was rarely spoken in Malacca. I thought it was the case until I met another Hokkien guy (apparently of Sin-khek background) from Malacca who speaks fluent Hokkien and told me the opposite (that Hokkien was widely spoken there). His Hokkien is quite different from Taiwanese or Singapore Hokkien though.

I guess part of the reasons that Malacca Baba speaks Malay natively might be that they lived longer in MSia and intermarried more with Malays. Is my guess somewhat correct?

It was great to know so much about Penang Baba. I will probably visit Penang around Christmas and hope that I will have some chance to explore the culture of Penang. I will probably ask you for some suggestions later.

Again thanks for your warm-hearted welcome and the great stuff you wrote!
SimL wrote:Hi Ransek,

Thank you for sharing about your background.

ransek
Posts: 21
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2007 9:19 pm

Re: An Interesting interview in Hokkien

Post by ransek »

Hi amhoanna,

Thanks very much for the info about Coanciu Hokkien varieties in TW!

From your screen name i thought you were truly a "hoanna" (Taiwanese Aborigines) 8) .
It is sad to see that so many Wu people have given up our mother tongue, both in and out of the Wu region. May I ask which part of Wu you family are from?

And did you grow up speaking Mandarin at home? If so, how did you pick up Taiwanese and become so good at it?

There is a theory saying that Wu and Hokkien belong to the same branch which was the first to split off the big Chinese language family tree. But Wu situated so closely to Mandarin-speaking regions that Wu had a very recent "layer" of northern linguistic influence which is mainly reflected in "literary readings" 文讀音. For example, palatalization of 見組字 occurred in the Wu literary readings, which is rare in Southern Chinese languages. On the other hand, Wu has influenced Mandarin greatly (mainly in vocabulary).

In fact, the similarities between Wu and Hokkien are more noticeable from a very "shallow" perspective. one example is that both have voiced plosives and nasalization. Of course these might be merely coincidence. In Wu the voiced plosives correspond to the voiced initials in Middle Chinese while the ones in Hokkien correspond to nasal consonants in Middle Chinese. Nasalization, on the other hand, might be a quite recent development in both languages. But these similarities already made it much easier for Wu people to learn Hokkien.

Note that up to now I've been talking about Northern Wu. Southern Wu (the Wenzhou speech 溫州話) is a very different language of which I have little knowledge. I heard that they share more similarities with the Min languages (including Minbei, Mindong and Minnan). And a very interesting fact (some of you guys may not be aware of) is that there exist a large Hokkien community (~1.5 million people) in Southern Wu region! And I heard they can understand Taiwanese Hokkien.

I will try to write more about the relationship between Wu and Hokkien later.
Last edited by ransek on Sun Nov 11, 2012 1:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.

ransek
Posts: 21
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2007 9:19 pm

Re: An Interesting interview in Hokkien

Post by ransek »

Hi Mark,

So great to know that you are so interested in the Wu language.

Yes Suzhou Wu is my dialect and you were right about the fact that Suzhou Wu had been the prestige dialcet of Wu region. The reason is that Suzhou was the cultural (and economic) center of Wu region. The popularity of 蘇州評彈 also helped a lot, extending the influence of Suzhou Wu into even non-Wu-speaking regions like Nanjing and even further north. In fact, Suzhou Wu also developed into a literary language. There had been quite a few great literary works written (at least the dialog part) in Suzhou Wu. Also, I read that Chiang Kai-shek corresponded with one of his lovers (might be a prostitute in Shanghai) in a largely Suzhou Wu-based writing.

Shanghai Wu was very recently developed. Before the 1940s, Suzhou Wu held much prestige in the city of Shanghai. In fact, Shanghai Wu is more similar to Suzhou Wu than to its neighboring dialects including 奉賢話, 金山話,松江話, etc. And you are correct that Shanghai Wu is a mixture of Wu dialects. But it is also important to notice that it is a somehow "simplified" version of Wu, not only in tones but also in phonology, vocabulary and grammar. And although most Shanghainese people would not agree, it has become closer to Mandarin even before the "Mandarinization era" in PRC (starting from 1980~1985). Mandarin and northern Chinese culture have become popular in Shanghai in the 1930's. For example, my grandmother, who was born in 1920s and grew up in Changzhou and Shanghai, speaks Mandarin fluently and is a fan of the Peking opera.

Due to the fact that Shanghai Wu is a mixed and simplified Wu, it is easier for most Northern-Wu-speaking people to understand. In fact, speakers of Suzhou Wu can in general understand >98% of Shanghai Wu and even speak some. All we need to do is to know the mapping (or merging) of some vowels and changing some tones.

Shanghai Wu and the northern Wu language in general, is not in "healthy" condition. While most people of my generation (born in late 1980s) still speak Wu fluently, most of them are more fluent in Mandarin and the Wu dialects they speak are very much "Mandarinized" in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. This kind of bad Wu is particularly evident in Shanghai. I held the impression that many Shanghainese in my age speak a corrupted form of Wu, adopting many Mandarin-like sounds and words directly into their Wu speech and making it sound really weird. The older generation, on the other hand, speak the proper version of Shanghai Wu which is very close to Suzhou Wu.

The younger generation (born in 1990s) have worse command of Wu and I heard that the 2000s generation generally could not converse in Wu anymore. One of the main reasons that Wu declined so fast is the mass immigration into major Wu cities (due to the economic boom of Southern-Jiangsu and Shanghai). In my hometown Suzhou, more than half of the population are of non-Wu background. Inside the city proper, the percentage can be even higher. Therefore, Wu-speaking people have literally become the minority. These so-called "new Suzhou people 新蘇州人" and their children took little effort learning Wu simply because there is no such need. I am probably a rare exception in my generation for growing up in a Mandarin-speaking family but still being able to speak Wu fluently.

There has been some efforts to revive Wu throughout the northern Wu region. In the past decades I've seen more TV programs in Wu and more people (mainly Internet users or "netizens") aware of the existence and cultural value of the Wu language. But overall I'm not so optimistic.

As for "reading Chinese texts in Wu", I have to confess that I am not able to do that. Before 1980s, education is largely done in Wu; So people who went to school then would have no problem speaking Wu in any scenario. The Mandarin-educated generations, however, have lost such ability.
Mark Yong wrote:ransek, 儂好 nong hO!

In my previous work-life, I spent a bit of time in-and-out of Shanghai, and have always been very fascinated with the Wu dialect - to the extent that I even purchased 湯志祥’s books/CD's on 上海閒話 Zanhe Eiwo.

Image Image Image

Note that I said that “ Wu dialect”, and not 上海話 Shanghai dialect. As I understand it, up until the 1950’s or so, the 蘇州 Suzhou dialect (which I gather is your dialect?) was treated with greater esteem compared with the 上海話 Shanghai dialect, which is very much a mixture of several 吳 Wu dialects, including that of 寧波 Ningbo. I also understand that over time, the 上海話 Shanghai dialect has gradually lost a number of tonal distinctions that are still preserved in the 蘇州 Suzhou dialect.

What is the current situation with the recent attempts at revival of the 上海話 Shanghai dialect in Shanghai today? And are there more people who are able to read Chinese texts using the Wu standard phonology today?

Locked