Published November 28, 2019
This video was recorded by Kristen Tcherneshoff in Changsha, a city in the province of Hunan, China. Wu Chinese is a group of Chinese varieties primarily spoken in Shanghai city and the provinces of Zhejiang and southern Jiangsu, and is one of the most internally diverse Sinitic groupings. Because of this diversity, there is low mutual intelligibility among Wu varieties. Wu Chinese is thought to have developed out of the Jiangsu city of Suzhou, where the Wu lingua franca originated, eventually spreading across the region and resulting in a standardized form known as Shanghainese that developed in Shanghai. Shanghainese also came to be the written language of many provinces, forming a diglossic relationship with other regional spoken varieties, and was originally written in Chinese characters but was later Romanized in the 1800s. Many English speakers incorrectly call the general Wu grouping "Shanghainese" (after the standard variety), whereas Shanghainese represents only one form among many. Wu Chinese has retained many of the features present in Old Chinese and has become critical in establishing proto forms for historical linguists. Although Wu Chinese was once a prevalent language across the Yangtze River valley during the Sui Dynasty in the 7th and 6th centuries CE, it has not enjoyed official linguistic status or state support in modern times, and numbers of Wu speakers are in decline due to the influence and state use of Mandarin. Wu Chinese was reported as being spoken by over 77 million people in 1984, though that number is now in decline. It is a Sinitic language within the Sino-Tibetan language family.