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April 7, 2010

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Call goes out: Language, please

The city of Shanghai does not want to lose its linguistic heritage and is sparing no effort to that end.

A huge citywide program launched in 2006 to preserve local dialects will move up a step next month when a recruitment drive aimed at recording native speakers begins.

The entire program - under the umbrella of the city's language work committee - is expected to be completed by the end of this year or early next year, recording various pronunciations and the history of changes to the dialects.

A map will be produced marked with the locations of the branches of Shanghai dialect in the city's 13 different areas. The voices of native speakers would be recorded for posterity.

"Local residents who are interested in becoming speakers for the program should send applications via the established online platform," said Zhang Ripei, an official with the language committee.

Zhang said after the first round successful candidates had to pass an interview with linguists to test their pronunciation before being recruited.

The committee will also start to talk with senior citizens to look for suitable speakers if they fail to receive enough applicants among the younger brigade.

Qian Nairong, a linguist of the various Shanghai dialects from Shanghai University, said the program was playing a vital part in keeping the local tongue from dying out.

Qian said some branches of the dialect in suburban areas had already become extinct or changed into other forms.

"The program and the map will not only presentthe current situation of the Shanghai dialect, but also provide valuable records for our offspring," said Qian.

Before the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, people across the country spoke various dialects. China then made Mandarin the official spoken language taught in schools and used for most television and radio broadcasts.

"We talk to our son in the Shanghai dialect every day as a way for him to practice his hometown tongue," said Luo Xiaoyi, 31, father of a boy, 4.

"The kids have started to learn Mandarin at kindergarten but we hope that ourson can have a good command of both Mandarin and the Shanghai dialect," he added.


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