Shanghai steps up efforts to save local language

Shanghai steps up efforts to save local language

As the use of Shanghainese wanes, the local government steps up effort to preserve local voices
Saving Shanghainese -- main
The Shanghai government says "nong hao" to Shanghainese. Question is, are there are true speakers left?

It's a far cry from the 1990s when speaking Shanghainese was looked down upon and banned in schools in favor of standard Mandarin. Starting this week, the Shanghai government begins work with Chinese linguists to build and preserve a database of the city's local language.

The team is picking out “pure” speakers of Shanghainese to impart local legends, chat about traditions and even sing local operas, all on tape so that future generations will have a record of the language, reports to Xinhua.

The two-year project, the third attempt in the city, is part of a larger project across China to preserve as many local dialects as possible as the country’s linguistic diversity declines.

Similar initiatives have already been completed in Jiangsu and Yunnan provinces. Yunnan is home to 25 ethnic groups other than Han Chinese, each with their own language. China has more than 80 languages and an unaccounted number of local dialects.

The Shanghai government will set up 12 stations around the city to collect Shanghainese, said Li Yuming, a senior official with the Ministry of Education.

The database will not only help the city preserve the language, it will help record the changes to it as local dialect speakers come into contact with the city's migrant population, said Shen Xiaoming, vice mayor of Shanghai, at a press conference about the project.

"The Shanghai dialect sounds differently when it is uttered by younger Shanghai residents born in the 1980s and 1990s, while traditional records such as dictionaries have difficulties in recording such distinctions," said Shen.

Earlier projects to record Shanghai's local language ran into major problems when the city couldn't find enough what it deemed "true" Shanghainese speakers.

During the last recruitment process, two of 13 recruitment sites were able to find “pure” Shanghainese speakers -- that’s out of an estimated 14 million people who speak the language (Shanghai has an official population of 23 million).

If the current push in Shanghai and other cities around China is successful, officials hope to have a nationwide database of local languages and dialects within the next decade.