An island on an island

Northeast China is hoary in winter (and the winter lasts at least ten months) and torrid in summer, which means that you have to have a lot of different kinds of clothes, not to mention that you have to wear many layers of them all throughout the winter, which makes it difficult to bathe frequently.

The predominant language there is the northeast topolect of Mandarin, 东北话 (dōngběihuà), and that has some interesting features, which I might from time to time continue to blog about.

But I got sick of having it be 12ºC indoors for five months (and the average outdoor temperature all year is less than 5ºC!) and moved south to an island on an island…. Continue…

Easy, Tiger: Lonely Planet redemption

Up until very recently, I hated Lonely Planet phrasebooks. I own Brasilian Portuguese, Hindi & Urdu (since updated to include Bengali) and Turkish, and have spent considerable time looking at Egyptian Arabic and Mandarin Chinese. They’re characterised by three things in my mind:

1. Poor choices of transliteration systems
2. A chapter on weirdness, e.g. UFOlogy in the Egyptian one and recreational drug use in Brasil
3. The inclusion of the phrase “Easy tiger!” in the chapter about sex. 살살 해요!


Talking language classification in Chinese

Last week I gave a talk on the Wu language and what I predict as the most likely future. Not really knowing my audience going in, I decided it was best to keep things a little simple and explain some things that may be taken for granted.

Some of these things, as I explained them:

· 方言 does not mean dialect¹
· 地方话 means topolect, but still not dialect
· Wu (吴语) is a language, bitches²


Chao on the relationship of dialects to the standard

Qian Nairong 钱乃荣 is a pretty big name in the world of Shanghainese. He’s compiled a dictionary or two and is fairly respected for his work with Wu. And he has a blog.

The following is from a post he wrote at the end of December giving different linguists views of the relationship between dialecs/languages (“fangyan,” basically) and Standard Mandarin. They’re a couple quotes from YR Chao 赵元任. More are available here.


Cabbie English

Just had a brief but interesting linguistic exchange in a taxi. The driver was talking to us in Shanghainese. We were responding in a mix of Shanghainese and Mandarin. At one point the conversation veered off into what follows.

Driver (in Shanghainese Wu): … You said XX road near XX road, right?
Friend #1 (in different Wu dialect): Yeah, XX and XX.
Driver (in Wu): So… if I speak in Shanghainese, can you understand?
Us (in Mandarin): Yes / Yeah / Just can’t speak it.
Driver (in Mandarin): That’s ok. If I spoke in English you wouldn’t be able to understand it.
Driver: “bala bala chashy malagaba gaba. pasha katoo batabatee mala mala mala.”
Us: … ?
Me (Mandarin): Um… this is us up here.
Friend #2: (Wu): Yeah stop up here.
Driver (“English”): zang kayoo mala machee.

That is, “thank you very much.”

Clearly done in jest. At any rate, always interesting to see what English sounds like to non-English speakers.

Unfortunately I didn’t have the recorder running for this, and by the time I got my phone to the right setting, it had mostly passed. His English gibberish was truly priceless.

So you want to learn Chinese — I mean, ALL Chinese

In the discussions that started Sinoglot, my cobloggers and I were all adamant about emphasizing that we’re not a comprehensive resource for the languages of China. We don’t want to mislead folks into even thinking that’s an aspiration: hence the word “eclectic” in our approach to China and language.

But hardly a day goes by that I don’t wish I knew more, e.g. the other day when I came across Evenki, a language spoken along the Russian border by (at least formerly) nomadic folks for whom, as Bruce Humes pointed out, ” ‘Russia’ and ‘China’ are rather abstract terms.”

With my own ignorance in mind, there’s a bit of cold comfort in seeing this rather plaintive question posed on a message board I frequent: Continue…

Growing Up With Shanghai

I don’t plan on making a habit out of duplicating content here that’s also at the Annals of Wu. In fact I have a rule forbidding the practice. But this time I have to break that rule.

Growing Up With Shanghai is an audio project by recorded by Terence LLoren of Shanghai-based Bivouac Recording. As summed up on the title page, it’s “10 Shanghai soundwalks from young Shanghainese who were born and raised during the rapid growth of their city in the 80s and 90s.”

Here’s a little more from the About page:

“Growing Up With Shanghai” is a series of soundwalks with young Shanghainese who were born and raised during the rapid modernization of their city in the 1980s and 1990s. These recordings capture not only their most intimate memories of the locations where they grew up, but also the progress and growth Shanghai has undergone in the past 30 years. The current sounds of Shanghai can be heard behind the dialog and also serve as an audio document for future generations of Shanghainese. All dialogue is in Shanghainese or in their local dialect.

I’ve not yet gotten through all ten of the recordings but what I have heard are solid Shanghainese gold. Photographs by Weina Li accompany the recordings.

Head on over to and check it out.