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.