Asian Geographic - - On Assignment -

The story of Hakka is one of mi­gra­tion, where hak and ka trans­late re­spec­tively to ‘guest’ and ‘fam­ily’. Fol­low­ing in­va­sions of their home­land from other eth­nic groups in the 17th cen­tury, the Hakka peo­ple mi­grated south­ward from north­ern China. Con­fronted with eth­nic vi­o­lence, the spirit of ngang gi­ang flour­ished in the Hakka peo­ple – val­ued qual­i­ties of dili­gence and strength in the face of ad­ver­sity.

The move spawned sev­eral vari­a­tions of the Hakka di­alect, of­ten as­sim­i­lat­ing fea­tures of lan­guages spo­ken lo­cally. The five ma­jor Hakka di­alects – namely Hailu, Raop­ing, Zhaoan, Six­ian and Dabu – are spo­ken by an es­ti­mated 60 mil­lion peo­ple world­wide. Its speak­ers are mainly dis­trib­uted across China, Tai­wan, South­east Asia, South Africa and In­dia, where Hakka-speak­ing peo­ple have set­tled.

There are pro­nun­ci­a­tion dif­fer­ences be­tween the five Hakka di­alects and some are not mu­tu­ally in­tel­li­gi­ble. Most Hakka di­alects are spo­ken with six tones. How­ever, some – such as the Changt­ing di­alect – are spo­ken with no tones at all (sim­i­lar to English). Mi­gra­tion and sub­se­quent ge­o­graph­i­cal prox­im­ity has in­flu­enced vari­a­tions be­tween di­alects – for in­stance, com­mon­al­i­ties in vo­cab­u­lary can be found in the She and Min lan­guages, which orig­i­nate from Guang­dong Prov­ince in south­ern China.

Soft, melo­di­ous strands of jazz in­ter­wo­ven in Shang­hainese lyrics are a spe­cialty of Coco Zhao. A Shang­hainese jazz vo­cal­ist, his avant­garde cre­ations have sparked re­newed in­ter­est in the di­alect. Shang­hai jazz dates back to the 1930s in the city’s deca­dent cabarets and dance halls. It was later deemed in­de­cent by the Com­mu­nists and out­lawed.

The city flour­ished eco­nom­i­cally in the mid-19th cen­tury and the Shang­hainese di­alect gained pres­ti­gious sta­tus as a re­sult. Thus, many Shang­hainese phrases have ref­er­ences to roy­alty. For ex­am­ple, lei-sei refers to the blue robe donned by schol­ars in the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties. It may also re­fer to a per­son’s ca­pa­bil­ity or the fea­si­bil­ity of a task. Wear bright colours as it con­veys pos­i­tive mean­ings such as luck, wealth and fame. Red is es­pe­cially favoured.

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