Pronunciation (Part 1 - Consonants, Basic version)

Wu Chinese phonology (including Shanghainese) is quite different from Mandarin and Cantonese. In comparison with foreign languages, Shanghainese vowels are most similar to French and German; while the consonants are similar to French and English. The phonology presented below is that of the widely perceived modern standard for Shanghainese (Middle Shanghainese, or Standard Shanghainese), with speakers between 20 to 60 years of age. New (Youth) Shanghainese is nearly identical to Standard Shanghainese, except it has merged a few vowels together (which will be explained in the Vowel section).


Shanghainese has three types of plosives: voiced, voiceless unaspirated, and voiceless aspirated.
Being able to distinguish the three types is critical for comprehension. Mandarin and Cantonese do not have voiced consonants; speakers of these languages should not confuse the voiceless unaspirated consonants with the voiced consonants in Shanghainese. Voiced consonants require you to vibrate your vocal cords (and lips) as you pronounce the consonant.
Fricatives and Affricates

Fricatives: Affricates:
Fricative and Affricate Palatals

Palatals can be both postalveolar or alveolo-palatal (postalveolar is far more common).

Fricative palatals: Affricate palatals:

Sonorants naturally are all voiced.

Nasals: Liquid/Flap:
Zero initial

Zero initials are vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and are usually realized with a glottal stop.

Excluding the syllabic continuants, Shanghainese has only 2 consonant endings.

1. The Nasal

There is only one nasal final in Shanghainese (while Mandarin has two: -n, -ng). The nasal final is represented by n, and can be phonetically palatal after i and e, velar after o and a part of the nasal vowel after a and aa (all are allophones). There is no distinction for speakers.

2. The Glottal Stop

The glottal stop is not directly marked on the romanization although it is implied by the letter "e" at the end of a syllable. It is the plosive sound made after "uh" when pronouncing "uh oh" in English. The glottal stop is not actually pronounced during most of normal conversation, and since it always follows a short vowel, the time duration of a syllable with a glottal stop final is about half of a long syllable. The full glottal stop exists only when a syllable is pronounced in isolation and with emphasis. Rhymes e, ie, ae, iae, uae, oe, ioe, yue are all short and would contain a glottal stop. There is no Mandarin equivalent; Mandarin does not have Rusheng. More information in the next section.

Shanghainese has 3 nasal (m, n, ng) syllabic continuants and one rhotic continuant (r/l). See the next section for examples.

Next: Vowels and Rhymes

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