Shanghai Dialect

Shanghai dialect is a dialect spoken in the city of Shanghai and the surrounding region.Shanghainese is a representative dialect of Northern Wu; it contains vocabulary and expressions from the entire Northern Wu area (southern Jiangsu, northern Zhejiang). With nearly 14 million speakers, Shanghainese is also the largest single coherent form of Wu Chinese. It once served as the regional lingua franca of the entire Yangtze River Delta region.

Shanghai dialect has very different pronunciation from Mandarin and Cantonese, including several sounds that are not found in any other Chinese dialect. Although the bulk of vocabulary is the same, there is also considerable variation in words and phrases.

As people have become more appreciative of its unique value – and perhaps more sensitive to conservation issues generally – Shanghai dialect has undergone something of a revival. Public lessons are now conducted in some kindergartens and language organizations, while several TV programs  have regained popularity.

Some slight taste of the dialect might be gleaned from the following examples:

-- In Shanghainese, you don't ‘drink’ beverages or ‘smoke’ cigarettes, you ‘eat’ (chi) them both! -- An effeminate man can be described as having ‘a woman’s voice’ (niang niang qiang). -- The Mandarin expression ‘bu san bu si’ (‘neither three nor four’, meaning ‘dubious’) becomes ‘bu er bu san’ (‘neither two nor three’) in Shanghai dialect. -- In Mandarin, one ‘shou bu liao’ (‘can't stand’) something intolerable, but in Shanghai dialect, one ‘chi bu xiao’ (‘can't digest’) it. -- In Shanghainese, a thief is described as ‘zei gu tou’ (‘bad to the bone’). -- The Shanghainese expression ‘qing ni chi sheng huo’, literally meaning ‘giving you the treat of your life’, is actually a threat to beat you senseless. -- To be ‘lin bu qing’ in Shanghai dialect is to be clueless and stubborn. -- In Shanghai dialect, you never ‘wash’ your face, hair or anything else, instead you ‘beat’ (da) them.

English Chinese pinyin Shanghainese
 Hello                 ni hao                nong haw
 Goodbye                 zai jian                tseh way
Thank you                 xie xie               shya shya
Sorry               dui bu qi            tay ver ch'ee
you're welcome               bu ke qi           ver k'uk ch'ee
correct/right                   dui                    tay
toilet                 ce suo                  ts'i soo
turn left               zuo zhuan               tsoo tsoe
turn right               you zhuan
              yew tsoe
go straight                 zhi zou               zuk tsew
hotel                 jiu dian                jew tee
airport              fei ji chang           fee jee zang
train station             huo che zhan           hoo ts'oo zeh
metro                  di tie                dee t'ik
taxi              chu zu che           ts'uk tsi ts'oo
How much?            duo shao qian?                jee dee?
too expensive                  tai gui                t'uk jyu
cheap                  pian yi                bee nee
too big                   tai da                t'uk doo
too small                  tai xiao                t'uk shyo
beer                    pi jiu                 bee jew
water                    shui                    si
tea                    cha                   zoo
settle the bill                  mai dan                mah teh
bar/pub                   jiu ba                 jew pa
restaurant                can guan                veh tee
police                   jing cha                 jin ts'uh