Frequently Asked Questions

Is Shanghainese "non-tonal"?

Like Japanese, Shanghainese is also tonal; but both are very different from strict contour tonal languages such as Mandarin, Cantonese and Thai. Shanghainese is better described as a register language (it has two registers), with the upper register (murmurless) capable of splitting into two pitches (high and low). There is no contour in a polysyllabic Shanghainese word; hence, because the syllables are pronounced leveled (flat), it gives the impression that Shanghainese is toneless. The accent patterns of a polysyllabic word are extremely regular and predictable since the first syllable of an utterance determines the entire pitch pattern for the word; the isolated pitches of all subsequent syllables are irrelevant within the same utterance. The implication is that only the first syllable of a Shanghainese word need be marked as having either a high or low pitch; the remaining syllables in the word will be pronounced according to a specific pattern derived from the first syllable (it doesn't matter what the remaining syllables are phonologically or semantically). No other Chinese dialect outside of the Wu family can do this. See for more information.

Why is Shanghainese much easier to romanize than say Mandarin or Cantonese?

Because of its extensive tone sandhi, Shanghainese can be phonemically and systematically romanized with little actual usage of tonal diacritical marks. The possibility of a Shanghainese romanization serving as a fully independent script is much higher than Mandarin (Hanyu Pinyin) and Cantonese (Jyutping, Yale), because the Mandarin and Cantonese problem of representing multiple tones for each and every syllable does not exist for Shanghainese. By nature of its polysyllabic phonology, tones for syllables beyond the first in a Shanghainese word do not need to be marked, while they remain required for other Chinese dialects in order to orthographically distinguish words that are phonemically distinguished. Since Shanghainese is also more word-centric (e.g., word-based accent patterns, stress, and brief pauses between words) than both Mandarin and Cantonese, romanizations that space whole words (and not each syllable) will be more naturally read than Chinese characters (which is syllabic and do not have word spacing).

Does Shanghainese have stress?

Yes. Shanghainese stress is usually on the first syllable of each word (left-prominent). The one exception is the case where the accent pattern is L-H-H-H; for example, in the word "Niesithin" (radiator), the stress occurs on the second syllable (si) of the word (Shen et al., 1987). Stress can be used to parse words in Shanghainese.

How do I input the acute accent and umlaut on my computer?

If you have Windows, the most convenient way is to add the United States-International Keyboard in your settings. To do that, go to Control Panel --> Regional and Language Options --> Languages Tab --> Click "Details" (Text Services and Input Languages box then comes up) --> Click "Add" (Add Input Language box comes up) --> Select Keyboard layout/IME menu, scroll down and find "United States-International". In the future, you will see an EN on the taskbar, when you click the EN, you have an option of choosing "English (United States)" or "United States-International", choose "United States-International." When you press the ' apostrophe key on your keyboard, no letter will appear until you enter another key. If you enter a vowel following the apostrophe, that vowel will automatically have an acute accent on top. So ' + e --> é; for umlaut: " + u --> ü. See;en-us;306560&sd=tech for more information and directions.

For the acute accent on the Macintosh, enter Option + e + the vowel. For the umlaut, enter Option + u + vowel.

Why focus on Shanghainese and not other prestigious Wu dialects such as Suzhou?

In 1978, Hu stated that the Shanghai dialect is becoming the lingua franca of Wu dialects. Although this claim sounds somewhat exaggerated today, the Shanghai dialect is, without peer, the most influential Wu dialect in the area. The phonologies for the "New Varieties" of most Northern Wu dialects have all moved closer to urban Shanghainese. Surrounding Wu speakers have little trouble picking up Shanghainese when they come to live in Shanghai. The Shanghainese tone sandhi patterns are also highly regular and basic compared to many other Wu dialects, making it the ideal Wu dialect to be first introduced with for non-Wu speakers. This site, however, has no intention to suggest that Shanghainese should serve as the standard for all Wu dialects; on the contrary, we strongly believe in preserving diversity for all languages and dialects, regardless of the number of speakers or their economic strength. For this reason, we refrain from calling Shanghainese directly as Wu and we make no attempt to assume universality for other Wu dialects; all dialogues, vocabulary and recordings are thus in Shanghainese and recorded by native Shanghainese speakers. In the future, we will add phonology charts for other Wu dialects as comparison with Shanghainese, and we hope that other Wu dialects will be represented on the internet by others.

Why not use IPA?

The original plan for the site had been to transcribe everything into the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) so that visitors do not have to learn a new romanization system. The idea was later dropped for several reasons: 1. User compatibility issues (many visitors cannot display the IPA symbols correctly in their browsers); 2. IPA is itself unfamiliar to many visitors; 3. Transcriptions using IPA are difficult to recognize and remember; 4. IPA is poorly suited for indexing and sorting; 5. IPA is extremely clumsy in tonal representation and forces syllable partitioning. Because of these shortfalls, IPA is only used as an optional aid to explaining the romanizations presented on the site.

Can you talk more about the romanization used on this site?

The site romanization system (Lumazi) adopts both from IPA and Hanyu Pinyin; and when neither was suitable, a couple phonemes took on French (eu) and English (au, sh, ch, soft g) spellings. Consonants for the most part follow IPA conventions (except tz and the palatals). The Hanyu Pinyin consonant system was not used because Shanghainese has lenis voiced consonants in addition to fortis aspirated and fortis unaspirated voiceless consonants; Mandarin does not have voiced consonants. The Shanghainese unaspirated voiceless consonants are identical to the French voiceless consonants not before r. Much effort was made to make the romanization of the vowels and rhymes as similar to Hanyu Pinyin as possible. Hanyu Pinyin's simplification rules (-uei --> -ui, -iou --> -iu, -yü --> -yu) and i and u zero-initial addition of y- and w- were also adopted by Lumazi. Romanization of the Rusheng (short) rhyme was the most controversial; e was chosen for the following reasons: 1. Schwa may be directly represented with just the "e"; 2. Historical pronunciations of two Rusheng rhymes involving the schwa (ie, üe); 3. Orthographic similarity with Hanyu Pinyin for many characters; 4. The consonant glottal stop final does not actually exist for most of normal conversation. Other possibilities for romanizing the glottal stop include using -q, -h or -k. Lumazi distinguishes the Shanghainese tones; the high tone is marked with an acute accent and the low pitch on the sonorant murmurless syllable is marked with a circumflex accent. Only the initial syllable is marked because systematic tone sandhi determines the remaining syllables' accent pattern. Word boundaries is based on the lexical item, which is usually one tone sandhi utterance. Syllable partitioning between two open syllables (ni'ei, niei) or between an open syllable and a nasal (an'a, a'na) is achieved by using a silent r before the second zero-initial (w before u, y before i and ü), i.e., ni'ei = nirei, an'a = anra.

Why not use Hanyu Pinyin? Wouldn't it be more familiar?

Mandarin does not have voiced consonants. Shanghainese has 7 voiced consonants (b, d, g, v, z, zhi /Z/, gi /dZ/) that are not found in Mandarin, but found in English and French. Additionally, Mandarin voiceless unaspirated consonants (/p/ b, /t/ d, /k/ g) are lenis; while Shanghainese voiceless unaspirated consonants p, t, k are fortis (identical to French p, t, k). Lenis consonants in Shanghainese, French and English are voiced; while in Mandarin they are voiceless unaspirated. Using the Hanyu Pinyin system (3-way distinction of bb/b/p) is no more efficient than the Lumazi consonant system of b/p/ph. While the Lumazi consonant system is nearly identical to IPA and the Romance languages, using the Hanyu Pinyin consonant system is not phonetically warranted nor does it actually achieve the fleeting goal of paralleling Mandarin orthography.

We have however tried to follow Hanyu Pinyin conventions for the vowels and rhymes, as many of the spellings also exist in major languages using the Latin alphabet and were phonetically justifiable.

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