The city announced this week that it plans to protect the Shanghai dialect. The dialect skills of 7,000 Shanghai students will be surveyed and a “vocal bank” will be created by Fudan University in the attempts to freeze this unique apect of Shanghai culture, package it up like a box of moon cakes and present it to the world for the 2010 World Expo.
As far as we can see, there are three reasons for this. One, says Sun Xiaoxian from the Shanghai Language Works Commission, is the fact that many are worried about the future of Shanghai dialect. Now, young people are encouraged to speak only Mandarin in school and in public. This can be noted within just a few minutes of stepping into a school and looking at the signs in the hallways that read “请讲普通话” (Please speak Mandarin). Though, from our experience, this is rarely monitored, except by Shanghaiist who couldn’t understand them otherwise and wanted to make sure they weren’t talking about us. Nevertheless, like any language or dialect, Shanghai’s is changing, and now the Shanghai hua used by the young is more influenced by Mandarin than that which is used by the elderly in the city.
Secondly, the Shanghai dialect was influenced by foreign languages after the city became a major port in the 1800s. A major influence came from English. The words for beer (beeju), motor, sofa (said in almost the same way), chocolate, coffee (kafi) and microphone sound more like English when spoken in the dialect. Thus, promoting the dialect just proves even more that Shanghai is an international city. Which, of course, makes the city government jump for joy.
The third reason is that the World Expo is coming in 2010, just in case you didn’t know by now. Shanghainese have been told to brush up on Mandarin “to end the confusion,” says China Daily. All people employed in the service industry have to pass a Mandarin test before 2010 and use it to greet customers. After that, they can chat in Shanghainese. People who speak the language poorly will be required to attend remedial classes.
Submitted for approval on September 22 is a regulation seeking to start up a system to improve the Mandarin of the local people. Neighborhood watch groups — a culture police of sorts — will be formed to correct poor speech among the local public as well as mistakes on signs, menus and notices. Lovely.
Shanghainese on Wikipedia
Photo from the New York Times.