Linguists: Local dialect dying out

Shanghai dialect, once a symbol of the vanity and superiority of the notoriously snooty Shanghainese, is dying out quickly, local linguists and scholars said.

Despite a five-year-old program initiated by the local government to save the city's linguistic heritage, today the number of young Shanghai residents who can speak the dialect for more than 5 minutes is decreasing drastically, said Xiao Le, an anchorperson at a Shanghai TV channel.

Starting in kindergarten, students are required to speak standard Mandarin. Even parents are encouraged to communicate with their children in Mandarin, said Qian Nairong, a Chinese language professor at Shanghai University.

As a result, fewer young people can speak "pure" Shanghainese, Qian added.

"I can't help but burst into laughter every time my son tries to speak Shanghai dialect," said Wang Jun, an editor at a local newspaper. "He mixes Mandarin and Shanghai dialect all the time."

Wang's son, now in his mid-twenties, was born in the north, but has lived here since primary school age.

Another factor in the reduction of Shanghai dialect is the constant inflow of immigrants coming to the city from other parts of the country. These people have been nicknamed the "New Shanghainese."

Professor Qian said that native Shanghai residents now account for less than 20 percent of the population in some areas due to the growing number of New Shanghainese.

Most of the New Shanghainese are well educated and usually speak Mandarin, said Qian.

In the past, Shanghai residents tended to look down upon people who are from other parts of the country and who could not speak their language. They used to call them "A xiang" (hillbilly) or "Waidiren" (out-of-towner.) Today, they have to speak Mandarin in order to talk with their new neighbors or colleagues.

To prevent the local tongue from dying out, the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission initiated a "Shanghai Dialect Protection Survey" in 2005. Since then, the city has introduced some Shanghai dialect-based TV programs, dictionaries and maps.

In 2008, Qian even developed a computer spelling input system for the dialect.

Early this year, the city began to recruit locals to record "pure" Shanghai dialect. The program is expected to be completed by early next year at the latest.

But all these measures are too late, Qian said.

The bottom line is that you can survive in this city without speaking the local dialect, but you can't find a good job without speaking English, a netizen wrote in a BBS post.