Dict.cn does Shanghainese

Shanghainese dialogs on Dict.cn

I was recently informed (thanks, Mark!) that Dict.cn, one of the popular, free online Chinese-English dictionaries, now offers Shanghainese content. I was pleasantly surprised to see a big list of mini-dialogs in Shanghainese! The bad news is that the dialog text is in characters ( for , etc.), and there’s no IPA or other phonetic transcription. They only have one speaker doing the audio, but there’s audio for every sentence (tip: mouse over the little speaker rather than clicking on it), so that’s not bad.

I asked my wife what she thought about the speaker’s accent. She said it was 新派上海话 (the form of the dialect spoken by modern young Shanghainese), and she felt that the female speaker was too (cutesy-sounding). But, hey… it’s Shanghainese.

I also recently did a little research on Shanghainese lessons in Shanghai. Interestingly, some of the schools that I know used to offer Shanghainese classes no longer do. Is the demand dropping? Have any readers out there taken Shanghainese lessons at a local university?


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Rafa 穆凡 Says: March 5, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    Hey John, do you know why they say 个是萨宁啊?for “这是啥人?“ but when they say 外国人 (sth like nga ko ning, right?) why here they use 人 for [ning] instead of 宁?why not also the characters 这是啥人 for [ge si sa ning]?
    I thought in Shanghainese it could be used mostly the same characters like in Mandarin with some small changes like 啥 instead of 什么, just like other Chinese dialects to, but what’s with the 个是萨宁??
    Do you know what I mean? perhaps I made it sound more messy than what it is

    • Rafa,

      No, I don’t know, but I’m guessing it’s most likely the simplest explanation: lack of standardization. I doubt it’s indicative of a phonological distinction…

    • esotericlinguist Says: January 20, 2014 at 11:26 am

      Unfortunately, the lack of education in Shanghainese results in people not sure of how Shanghainese should be written, even if they can speak fluently. The proper representation of “geh zi sanin?” is 箇是啥人?

      The Shanghainese word for “this” is etymologically derived from 個, so 箇 is an appropriate character to use, and it has also been used in colloquial Cantonese in the past, although it has almost fallen out of common usage. 啥 is common across a broad range in China for ‘what.’ Finally, 人 has two pronunciations in Shanghainese depending on context; sometimes it is pronounced “nin” and sometimes “zen” (this z here is English z, not Hanyu Pinyin z). While people a couple generations ago would have been well aware that both are written 人, some younger people these days who have had Putonghua-only education their entire lives equate 人 with “zen” out of analogy with PTH “ren,” and write “nin” with 宁 instead. Others may alternatively be aware that they are both 人 but still sporadically use 宁 to immediately highlight that they are writing Shanghainese rather than Putonghua, if isn’t obvious from the entire sentence/phrase.

      If you are interested in Shanghainese there is a free Android app with medical phrases in Shanghainese here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.robtheis.android.phrasebook.cs.md

  2. Lee Hofweber Says: March 22, 2012 at 5:55 pm


    A bunch of videos on how to speak 上海话

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