Annals of Wu

a sinotibetoburman linguistics blog

Shanghai Dialect For Foreigners books - learning

I swear I'd already written a review of this on an earlier version of the site back in 2007, but now I can't seem to find it. So this is actually the second time I'm reviewing this book. Let's get right to it.

Shanghai Dialect for Foreigners is a great way to get into Shanghainese if you're comfortable with IPA and don't need too much help with tones.

The following is a quick sample of some of the dialogue to give an idea of the transcription:

    A: 侬好!
    noŋ hɔ!

    B: 侬早!我来撘浓介绍,搿为是王先生。
    noŋ ʦɔ! ŋu le təˀ noŋ ʨia zɔ, gəˀ ɦue zɿ ɦuaŋ ɕi saŋ.

    A: 侬好,王先生,我姓李。
    noŋ hɔ, ɦuaŋ ɕi saŋ, ŋu ɕiŋ li.

    C: 侬好,李先生。
    noŋ hɔ, li ɕi saŋ.

If you're comfortable with that, and with the non-standardness of the IPA, then you'll be fine. The book also comes with a CD of the dialogues, and the audio quality is tolerable. That's a major plus over the many phrasebooks you'll find which lack audio.

But as I mentioned above, you're not going to get much help with tones. This is actually pretty problematic unless you're really out there pounding the pavement talking to people in your daily life. Tone contours are not described, and not provided for vocabulary within a given lesson. This means you basically have to sort it out yourself.

That's not entirely a problem since you do know a few important features from the transcription; entering tone syllables are marked and voicing distinctions are given, and with only 5 tones in Shanghainese, it's not actually impossible to figure out which is which to some degree just based on the pronunciation. And since Shanghainese is basically a pitch-accent system rather than a strictly tonal one, you can get by.

Description of pronunciation is thorough, which is nice for those less comfortable with IPA.

This is actually one of the very first books I picked up on Shanghainese when I started my collection.

As an added bonus, rumour has it you can find a bootleg pdf online if you dig around a little bit, not that I condone that sort of thing.


    Title:Shanghai Dialect For Foreigners
    Author:Xú Ziliàng
    Publisher: Shanghai Haiwen Audio-Video Publishers


    Shanghai Dialect: An Introduction books - learning

    In Shanghai Dialect — An Introduction to Speaking the Contemporary Language, Lance Eccles gives a very solid introduction for learners of the dialect. While there are a number or errors — in addition to the fact that the book represents a late 1980's variety of the dialect and therefore has a number of things that are no longer considered current — it may soon replace Kiso Karano Shanhaigo as my favourite.

    The reason is simple: He provides every discussion and vocabulary term in four systems: Sinitic characters; pinyin, IPA transcription; English translation. If you don't read IPA, you can go by his pinyin, but if you do then it's right there, and pretty clearly transcribed. There are some anomolies in the transcription, but nothing too significant.

    I think my favourite part of the book is how tones are managed. Having been used to hanyu pinyin with tones represented as dialects, the most bothersome thing of learning Hakka has been the post-syllabic tone marks. This is consistent with zhuyin fuhao so it's understandable why Taiwan's MOE does this. But I really don't like it. For example in transcribed Hakka it's common to see something like

      ngai heˇ rhi` lam
    That's fine, but I don't like it because if I am just reading pinyin (for example if it's unfamiliar vocabulary) then I tend to forget about the tone until the end. It feels like I have to slow down and read the word in my head then go back and say it out loud once I've gotten to the tone.

    With Eccles book, tone marks precede the transcription, as follows:

      `igeq ´zï sameqzï ´a
    I'm possibly imagining it, but it feels like this gives me time to process the contour I'm about to pronounce before I have to start saying it. It feels like I can read it faster. Not a very good sample size, I admit. But there it is.

    The Good
    • Tone is done beautifully. Only what you need to know it marked. Honestly this is one of the most well done books I've seen as far as how tone is dealth with. That alone would make it worth having.

    • Has IPA and romanisation side by side. Makes it easy to learn either the romanisation system or the relevant IPA.

    • Very practical dialogues that use the vocabulary as well as show examples of the more important grammar you'd need without fretting too much on grammar for grammar's sake like many books do.

    The Bad
    • The book is from 1993, and the Shanghainese that's represented in the dialect is that spoken in the 1980s. That's really not much of a strike against the book, however. You can easily adapt from what you learn to what's said. The changes aren't going to be significant enough for most learners to need to worry about.

    If you can track down a copy, I do recommend it. Completely worth it.
    1. Eccles, Lance. Shanghai Dialect: Contemporary Language. Dunwoody 1993


    Title:Shanghai Dialect: An Introduction To Speaking The Contemporary Language
    Author:Lance Eccles
    Publisher: Dunwoody Press


    Shanhaigo Jōyō Dōon Jiten books - learning

    Maybe less exciting than 基礎からの上海語, but still useful: Miyata Ichirō's dictionary of Shanghainese homophones. It's still a bit expensive at 3200 yen, but then maybe Japan just isn't down with cheap books the way the PRC is. I could see this costing 30RMB at Xinhua. But no.

    As the title suggests, 上海語常用同音字典 is essentially a list of syllables with each followed by a list of the individual characters which share that pronunciation. Tones are included in the Chao numerals, and aside from the ubiquitous ᴇ, everything's given in IPA.

    There are a couple nice features that make this worth having. In addition to the index-by-stroke, there is also an index arranged by hanyu pinyin for the Mandarin pronunciation of the characters. So you're not sure how 但 should be pronounced and you're too lazy to go by stroke, you look up "dan" and get page 65, [tᴇ]. What's more, in most cases if a character has different pronunciations in different environments, that's provided as well (e.g. 大家 vs 大夫).

    Tone sandhi is discussed in the first few pages as well, which is nice.

    It's a great quick reference that provides another set of representations alternative to the Qian Nairong dictionaries.

    If I have a break from working on Phonemica this month, I'll get into why that's a good thing to have.


      Title: 上海語常用同音字典
      Shanhaigo Jōyō Dōon Jiten
      Author: 宮田 一郎
      Miyata Ichirō
      ISBN: 9784332800125


      Kiso Karano Shanhaigo books - learning

      I picked up a couple good books in Osaka last month. This is a quick introduction to one of the two.

      This is a fantastic book. This is easily my favourite of all the different books which set out to teach you Shanghainese. It has a few great things going for it, which I'll explain below. First though, it's worth mentioning that this book cost a solid 6000円 (~370RMB, ~NT$1820, US$60). It's not cheap. Still, I was happy to pay it. Here's why:

      1. IPA. The book skips over all the annoying romanisation systems that other similar books use, saving you from having to learn one more way to read Shanghainese. The International Phonetic Alphabet (though with A and E in place of the more standard glyphs) is all you'll see. Of course, you need to be comfortable with IPA in the first place, but honestly learning IPA once is unquestionably better than re-learning multiple unique systems. Having to learn a new romanisation system pretty much kills my desire to use any such book.

      2. Well formatted spaced dialoges where syllables line up between characters and pronunciation. I'm a big span of how white space is used in this text. A lot of similar books are over-designed. Here you don't feel like any space is wasted and it makes the price tag all the more acceptable since the book is dense with good information.

      3. Appropriate vocabulary in an appropriate order. The dialogues follow ones you'd actually hear on the streets of Shanghai. No complaints there.

      4. Tones done in a non-stupid manner. Lots of these kinds of books either skip tone entirely or give you too much information, either showing the underlying tone for every syllable or, even worse, showing the underlying and post-sandhi tones for each syllable. That's great for a dictionary. Terrible for this kind of self-study textbook.

      The (not quite) bad:

      1. It's in Japanese. But actually, even if you don't read Japanese, that's not much of an issue if you have any background in Chinese languages because you can still easily tell what's going on on each page.

      2. Lots of information. This is also not really bad. This is the kind of book that I feel can be useful beyond the time it'd take to go through the lessons. There's lots of information on the underlying goings-on of the language and it doesn't shy away from linguistics. Really this means it's a steeper learning curve than a book like "Shanghai Dialect for Foreigners" that you might find in the subway bookshop. But in the end I think that's a good thing.

      Well worth the 6000 yen.


        Kiso Karano Shanhaigo
        Go Etsu



        A semi-academic linguistics blog about Sinotibetan, previously focused primarily on Wú, a Sinitic language spoken in the Yangtze Delta region. Topics now include historical linguistics, documentation, language rights, sociolinguistics and learning materials, as well as acting as the dev blog for Phonemica from time to time.

        I'm a linguist based in Asia, working on documentation and historical development of Sinotibetan. In addition to academic research, I'm heavily involved in Phonemica, an organisation that promotes crowd-sourced preservation of local languages.

        I'm currently in the field, so getting in touch isn't easy. However you can try to email me at the following address and I'll respond as soon as I'm able:

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