14 Nov 2005
Edited by 叶盼月 (上海交通大学出版社, 1994)
Review by: John Pasden
Xue Shuo Shanghai-hua is one of the best textbooks on Shanghainese out there, from a linguist’s point of view. Recognizing the need to distance Shanghainese pronunciation from Mandarin pronunciation, it has always used IPA as a pronunciation guide, and it is the only textbook on Shanghainese I have seen that gives a complete treatment of Shanghainese’s tones and sandhi. Furthermore, it provides tone information for all vocabulary introduced throughout the book. For the student of tones that just “needs to know,” this book satisfies. IT also comes with three cassette tapes.
I should also mention that the second edition is a huge improvement over the first edition. Although the first edition was every bit as scholarly as the second and one of the first widely available books on Shanghainese for foreigners, atrocious typesetting made the book appear a mere haphazard collection of hand-typed pages. The second edition represents a very necessary revision.
The book’s 204 bilingual (English/Mandarin) pages are broken down into 16 lessons and three appendices (Words with Variant Pronunciaiton in Shanghainese, Comparison of Initials and Vowels in Shanghainese and Mandarin, Word List). The first lesson contains seven pages devoted to pronunciation, relying heavily on linguistic terminology. Nevertheless, this is the only full textbook explanation of tone sandhi that I have seen. The beginnings of lessons 2, 3, and 4 provide additional pronunciation information, making for a total of 15 pages devoted to pronunciation.
The lessons themselves are of the standard format: (1) Vocabulary, (2) Grammar, (3) Dialogue, (4) Exercises, (5) Listening/Speaking, (6) Supplementary Vocabulary. The text is a bit dry and predictable, with the occasional instance of awkward English. Special care seems to have been taken in providing good exercises, however.
Unfortunately, I was not able to listen to the cassette tapes. Judging from the quality of the rest of the book, I would expect a thorough audio treatment of the material, pronunciation in particular.
You may not have a blast with this set of materials, but I think you would be hard-pressed to find something better — particularly in a classroom or tutor situation. The non-linguist or DIY student is likely to get bored with this textbook, however.[For a more complete listing of materials for studying Shanghainese without extensive reviews, see the Sinosplice weblog entry: Shanghainese study materials]