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December 18, 2010

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Seeking city dialect speakers

NOT enough native Shanghainese speakers can be found for a project to record the city's dialect, causing it to fall behind schedule, local authorities said yesterday.

The city dialect preservation project, which was scheduled to be completed by the end of the year or early next, has found ideal candidates at only two of its 13 recruitment sites.

Qian Nairong, a Shanghai University linguist who studies Shanghai dialect, said the urbanization of areas such as Fengxian's Nanqiao Town and Nanhui's Huinan Town - bringing an influx of new residents - and the general mobility of the population are making it difficult to find suitable candidates who should have been born and raised in the area where the dialect originates.

The program, launched by the city's language work committee, aims to record various pronunciations and the history of changes to the dialect and produce a map of the locations of the branches of Shanghai dialect in 13 areas.

Some 50 people, 25 around the age of 30 and the remainder in their 50s, are wanted to contribute their voices.

Since recruitment has ground to a halt, Qian told Shanghai Daily yesterday that they are considering other methods to locate candidates.

Besides the difficulties of finding the pure pronunciations of Shanghai dialect, more and more young people - especially those born in and after the 1990s - no longer speak a Shanghai dialect.

Zhu Zhu, a local resident, said her five-year-old daughter only speaks Mandarin, even at home. "At her kindergarten, children and teachers all communicate in Mandarin, and even English is learned instead of Shanghai dialect."

The nanny Zhu's family hired is not from Shanghai and talks to the little girl in Mandarin, which the mother believes is another reason why her daughter is unfamiliar with the local language.

Qian said this situation is common now. "Kids and students have few opportunities to speak Shanghai dialect in schools, and some are even only allowed to speak Mandarin. So they get used to speaking Mandarin."

And since the TV and radio stations have cut back the number of programs using Shanghai dialect, people even cannot often hear the local language, according to Qian.

He proposed that the stop-calling systems of some bus routes should also be broadcast in Shanghai dialect as a trial.

And a new trend which has seen some students picking up the Shanghai dialect in universities should be encouraged as a cultural phenomenon or tradition, Qian said.


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