Shang­hai kinder­gartens to pro­mote lo­cal di­alect

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By WANG HONGYI in Shang­hai wanghongyi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Chil­dren in 20 kinder­gartens in Shang­hai will be en­cour­aged to speak their lo­cal di­alect in a pi­lot pro­gram by the city’s ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties start­ing this year. The move rep­re­sents a change in the pol­icy that pro­moted the sole use of Pu­tonghua, or stan­dard Man­darin.

The move is part of the city’s ef­forts to pro­tect the di­alect, which is at risk of ex­tinc­tion, es­pe­cially among young peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to the work­ing plan for 2014 of the Shang­hai Mu­nic­i­pal Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion.

Pro­tect­ing the di­alect is one of the ma­jor tasks for the city’s lan­guage au­thor­i­ties, along with pro­mot­ing Pu­tonghua and reg­u­lat­ing the use of for­eign lan­guages, said Yuan Wen, deputy di­rec­tor of the com­mis­sion.

In 1992, China be­gan to pro­mote the use of Pu­tonghua in a na­tion­wide cam­paign that en­cour­aged its use in classrooms. Stu­dents and teach­ers had to speak Pu­tonghua in class, oth­er­wise the school’s an­nual as­sess­ment would be in­flu­enced.

Un­der the pi­lot pro­gram, chil­dren in 20 kinder­gartens in the city are en­cour­aged to speak the Shang­hai di­alect dur­ing breaks and while play­ing games.

Ac­cord­ing to an online sur­vey by news por­tal Sina.com, more than 60 per­cent of re­spon­dents sup­port the pi­lot pro­gram.

“The mother tongue is the first lan­guage a per­son learns from birth. I grew up with the di­alect, but my son doesn’t speak it. I used to in­sist on speak­ing the di­alect with my son at home, but he soon shifted to Pu­tonghua, which was spo­ken in kinder­garten,” said Wang Yajing, a Shang­hai res­i­dent.

“With less peo­ple speak­ing the di­alect it will grad­u­ally dis­ap­pear. It’s nec­es­sary to work out ways to pro­tect it,” she said.

The di­alect can trace its roots to the Wu di­alect, one of China’s old­est spo­ken lan­guages, in use for more than 3,200 years. It was spo­ken in ar­eas around Shang­hai with its own gram­mar and vo­cab­u­lary.

Be­fore the 1990s, the di­alect was widely used as the ma­jor lan­guage in Shang­hai, equiv­a­lent to Can­tonese in Hong Kong. Any­one speak­ing Pu­tonghua in Shang­hai would be thought of as “pro­vin­cial”.

Over the past decades, the coun­try’s fi­nan­cial hub has wit­nessed dra­matic de­vel­op­ment. The large in­flux of peo­ple from other cities and coun­tries has marginal­ized the city’s na­tive tongue. About 40 per­cent of the city’s 23 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion were not born in Shang­hai and the use of Pu­tonghua has ex­panded.

A re­port by the Shang­hai Academy of So­cial Sciences some years ago showed only 60 per­cent of Shang­hai stu­dents could fully un­der­stand the lo­cal di­alect.

Lin­guists, schol­ars, po­lit­i­cal ad­vis­ers and res­i­dents ral­lied to res­cue the di­alect from ex­tinc­tion.

I grew up with the di­alect, but my son doesn’t speak it. I used to in­sist on speak­ing the di­alect with my son at home, but he soon shifted to Pu­tonghua, which was spo­ken in kinder­garten.”

WANG YAJING, SHANG­HAI RES­I­DENT

teaches the di­alect’s us­age through lo­cal folk­tales, rhymes, rid­dles and car­toons.

“This can be a fun and ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence,” said the text­book’s au­thor Qian Nairong, also the di­rec­tor of the Re­search Center of Lin­guis­tics at Shang­hai Univer­sity.

“Re­gional di­alects are one of the pil­lars for lo­cal cul­ture,” Qian said.

Pub­lic ser­vices in Shang­hai also pro­mote the di­alect.

Bus an­nounce­ments are made in the di­alect as well as in Pu­tonghua and English, while Shang­hai Air­lines uses the di­alect to an­nounce pas­sen­ger in­for­ma­tion.

The city’s long-run­ning News Workshop TV pro­gram started a Shang­hai di­alect ver­sion in 2012, be­com­ing the first TV news pro­gram in China to be broad­cast in the di­alect.

But con­cerns have been raised, es­pe­cially among the city’s mi­grant pop­u­la­tion.

“I think the ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties should con­sider the feel­ings of mi­grant chil­dren be­fore im­ple­ment­ing the pro­gram. When other chil­dren com­mu­ni­cate in the lo­cal di­alect, mi­grant chil­dren may feel alien­ated. I’m not sure whether it’s good for their psy­cho­log­i­cal growth,” said a woman sur­named Liu.

Po­lit­i­cal ad­viser Qian Cheng, who is deputy di­rec­tor of the Shang­hai Comic Troupe, is among the group who are stand­ing up to save their di­alect.

“I have vis­ited schools and found that many chil­dren have dif­fi­culty speak­ing the di­alect, and many can­not speak it at all,” Qian said.

Ear­lier this month, Qian and sev­eral other po­lit­i­cal ad­vis­ers pro­posed that the city gov­ern­ment should pro­mote the di­alect among chil­dren dur­ing its an­nual ses­sion.

“It’s not merely the chil­dren who can­not speak the di­alect. Even teach­ers were un­able to speak it prop­erly,” said po­lit­i­cal ad­viser Wu Xiaom­ing, who is vice-pres­i­dent of the Shang­hai Film Group.

In 2012, the first Shang­hai di­alect text­book was in­tro­duced in ex­tracur­ric­u­lar classes and hobby groups.

The book, Learn­ing to Speak the Shang­hai Di­alect for Pupils,

Cheng Yuli con­trib­uted to the story.

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