By Benjamin Cost
Shanghai Metro authorities have proposed that Shanghai’s local dialect join English and Mandarin as one of the official languages for Metro announcements. The exact reason behind the addition remains yet unclear, and not surprisingly, the fledgling project has sparked a furious debate.
Those who advocate for the Shanghai dialect to be featured among the Metro briefing languages cite local old folks’ language comprehension issues as a central reason for the change:
“I give full support to the new service. Many senior locals are much more sensitive to local dialect. The dialect broadcast for them could be much easier to understand and follow.”
They also argue that including the local dialect in the Metro broadcast would help immerse visitors in Shanghai’s diverse culture.
On the other side of the subway tracks, “dialect-deniers” argue that Shanghainese captions for the elderly and language education isn’t worth the exorbitant resources it would take to implement the service. For such a change to take place, officials would need to revamp the intercom system of the largest subway network in the world!
Plus, many point out that the role of the broadcast is to communicate instructions to the majority of riders, not to entertain the city’s aged populace or its culture-philes. One transit official claimed:
“The obligation of the public transit service producer is to make sure about 80 percent of the passengers are able to understand the broadcast information. There’s no need for change since the current broadcast can already be understood by nearly all the riders.”
Finally, others state that the average subway ride’s brief duration doesn’t allow for three stop announcements to be rattled off before the destination (Unless maybe they’re read by Twista).
Regardless of the cons, however, this week complementary safety broadcasts in Shanghainese are already being offered along several bus routes such as No. 785 in Pudong. The service is also to be temporarily be installed in Line 24 in Songjiang District and Line 11 sometime soon.
The debate is nothing new. Over four years ago, Shanghai Metro officials reportedly “gave the finger” to language watchdogs trying to prohibit them from teaching their staff regional dialects.
Advocates of the local dialect were also up in arms just three months ago, when a Minhang high school student was forced to apologize for speaking Shanghainese in school.
While we can’t speak to the logistics of implementation or all the other reasonable arguments against the move, it would be nice to add at least a hint of local flavor to the cold behemoth of a metro system.