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Wu Dialects in China
Study on Wu Dialects in China
Oct, 2016



Wu is a diverse group of Wu dialects spoken in most of Zhejiang province, Shanghai, southern Jiangsu province, as well as smaller parts of Anhui, Jiangxi, and Fujian provinces in China.

Wu is mutually unintelligible with other varieties of Chinese. There are countless regional variations in Wu. Major Wu dialects include those of Shanghai, Suzhou, Wenzhou, Hangzhou, Shaoxing, Jinhua, Yongkang, and Quzhou. The traditional prestige dialect of Wu is the Suzhou dialect, though due to its large population, Shanghainese is today sometimes considered the prestige dialect.



The modern Wu language can be traced back to the ancient Wu and Yue peoples centered around what is now southern Jiangsu and northern Zhejiang. The Japanese Go-on pronunciation of Chinese characters (obtained from the Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period) is from the same region of China where Wu is spoken today. Wu Chinese itself has a 2,600 year old history, dating back to the Spring and Autumn Period.

Among speakers of other Chinese languages, Wu is often subjectively judged to be soft, light, and flowing. The actual source of this impression is harder to place. It is likely a combination of many factors. Among speakers of Wu, for example, Shanghainese is considered softer and mellower than the variant spoken in Ningbo, although some Wu speakers still insist that old standard Suzhou dialect is more pleasant and beautiful than the dialects of Shanghai and Ningbo.

Many Wu dialects are diverse and not mutually intelligible with each other. However, all Wu dialects including Oujiang can understand the Taihu dialect, while Taihu speakers find the other dialects unintelligible or intelligible only to a small extent.

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