Wu Chinese

The Wu languages (traditional Chinese: 吳語; simplified Chinese: 吴语; Wu romanization and IPA: ngu1 ngiu2 [ŋŋ̍.ȵy], Mandarin romanization and IPA: wu23 [u.yː]) is a major group of Sinitic languages spoken primarily in Shanghai, Zhejiang Province and the part of Jiangsu Province south of the Yangtze River, which makes up the cultural region of Wu. The Suzhou dialect was the prestige dialect of Wu as of the 19th century and it formed the basis of Wu's koiné dialect, Shanghainese, at the turn of the 20 century. Speakers of various Wu languages sometimes inaccurately labelled their mother tongue as "Shanghainese" when introduced to foreigners. The languages of Northern Wu are mutually intelligible with each other, while those of Southern Wu are not.

RegionShanghai, Zhejiang, Southeastern Jiangsu, parts of Anhui and Jiangxi provinces
EthnicityWu, a major subgroup of Han Chinese
Native speakers
80 million (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3wuu

Historical linguists view Wu of great significance because it distinguished itself from other varieties of Chinese by preserving the voiced initials of the ancient Middle Chinese and by preserving the checked tone as a glottal stop.[2] The phonological divergence between Wu and other Chinese is significant, for instance, the phrase "Shanghainese language" (上海閒話; 上海闲话) is pronounced as [zã.hᴇ.ɦᴇ.ɦʊ] in Wu and [ʂaŋ.xai.ɕjɛn.xwa] in Beijing Mandarin. Wu and the Suzhou dialect in particular is perceived as soft in the ears of Mandarin speakers; hence there is the idiom "the tender speech of Wu" (吳儂軟語; 吴侬软语).

The decline of Wu began from around 1986, when students were banned from speaking "uncivilized dialects" during class, a term used by the State Language Commission to refer all Chinese languages other than Standard Beijing Mandarin. In 1992, students in Shanghai were banned from speaking Wu wherever and whenever on campus.[3] Since the late 2000s, Wu mostly survived as a "kitchen language" among the elderly housewives and as the performing language of folk art, including Pingtan, Yue opera and Shanghai opera. As of now, Wu has no official status, no legal protection and no official-sanctioned romanization of Wu.[4]