I wrote about Shanghainese here; alas, the site I built that post around seems to have bit the dust long ago (it was truly excellent—I wonder what happened?), but you can get a start on learning the language with a charming set of little video lessons available from China Daily here. Having learned the hard lessons of internet mortality, I expect this won’t be around indefinitely, so enjoy it while it’s there! (Via jiawen at MetaFilter.)
Note that in the sixth video, we not only learn how to say “the Bund” (the riverfront stretch of the old city) in Shanghainese (na te), we get reinforcement for the fact that the name in English is pronounced as an English word: /bʌnd/, not (as I have heard clueless radio announcers say it) /bund/ (BOOND), as if it were an exotic transliteration. This is because it is from Hindi band (from Persian, ultimately from Avestan *banda-), where we have the Hindi/Urdu “short a” that is pronounced as the central vowel /ʌ/ (as in but). The announcers’ error is the same one that makes “Poonjab” out of Punjab (Urdu Panjāb < Persian panj ‘five’ + āb ‘water’), in which the first syllable should be pronounced just like pun.


  1. To add to the pronunciation confusion,
    there is a name of an old Zionist socialist party in pre-1917 Russia, called “The Bund”, which was pronounced “Boond”,_Poland_and_Russia

  2. The Annals of Wu: Voices From The Yangzi Delta is an excellent blog on Shanghainese and Wu generally.

  3. At least they don’t say “poondit” or “boongalow” or “poonch”.

  4. getting rid of the schwa seems to be the first rule of American foreign-language overcorrection, regardless of language.

  5. One of my favorite silly Shanghainese jokes is “Hello Moto” (the default start-up sound on Motorola phones in China). “Moto” sounds quite a bit like “dummy” in Puxi Shanghainese (never lived in Pudong, but I know that they spoke somewhat differently), and when a friend would start to say something ridiculous, “hello, moto” would be the jocular response. Bonus points if one can a) say it in the same manner, or b) play the recording from the phone instead.

  6. Three cheers for Ewokhua! Actually a lot of English words have made their way into Shanghainese.
    馬達(motor)、臘克(lacquer)、克羅米(chromium)、泡立水(polish)、馬賽克(mosaic)、水門汀(cement)、水汀(steam)、戤司(gas)、吉普(jeep)、摩托車(motorcycle)、卡(car)、派力司(palace)、開司米(cashmere)、檸檬(lemon)、色拉(salad)、土司(toast)、布丁(pudding)、三明治(sandwich)、白脫(butter)、咖啡(café or coffee)、可可(cocoa)、咖喱(curry)、阿司匹林(aspirin)、來蘇爾(lysol)、凡士林(vaseline)、課程(course)、戳子(chop)、麥克風(microphone)、披耶那(piano)、梵啞鈴(violin)、薩克斯風(saxophone)、倍司(bass)、沙蟹(show hand)、道勃兒(double)、司到婆(stop)、脫去包(touch ball)、搞兒(goal)、捎(shoot)、派司(pass)、維納斯(venus)、沙發(sofa)、派隊(party)、德律風(telephone)、撲落(插撲)(plug)、司答脫(start)、違司(waste)、司的克(stick)、行(hong)、康白度(comprador)、台頭(title)、嘜頭 (mark)、克拉(color)、聖(saint)、安琪兒(angel)、磅(pound)、打(dozen)、聽(tin)、朱古力(chocolate)、牛軋(nugget)、厄戤(again)、派(pass)、哈夫(half)
    卡車(Camion)、卡片(card)、啤酒(beer)、酒吧(bar)、沙丁魚(sardine)、雪茄煙(cigar)、雪紡綢(chiffon)、卡賓槍(cabine)、加農炮(canon)、來複槍(rifle)、米達尺(meter)、法蘭盤(flan)、杏利蛋(omelet)、司必靈鎖(spring [disambiguation needed])、道林紙(dauling)、拍紙薄(pad)、高爾夫球(golf)、華爾茲舞(waltz)、茄克衫(jacket)、車胎(tire)、派克大衣(parka)、貝雷帽(béret)
    冰淇淋(ice cream)、蘇打水(soda water)、羅宋湯(Russian)、求是糖(juice)、霓虹燈(neon light)、俱樂部(club)、維他命(vitamin)、引擎(engine)、幽默(humor)、烏托邦(utopia)
    發嗲(dear)、軋朋友(get)、着台型(dashing)、坍招式(juice)、開大興(dashy)、骯三(on sale)、蹩腳(bilge)、邋遢(litter)、癟三(beggar san)、賴三(lassie)、赤佬(cheat)、戇大(gander)、小開(kite)、大班(banker)、瘟生(one cent)、噱頭(shit)、接翎子(leads)、嘎山河(gossip)、發格(fuck)

  7. minus273 says

    When I see the “n-” for the Bund here, I believed they had a such bad Shanghainese speaker that mangles even an initial [ŋ]. Now I’m relieved — just a transcription error on the screen, the pronunciation is correct.

  8. can you clarify: English “bund” is from Hindi “band” which ultimately is from Old Iranian perhaps via Persian (though Avestan isn’t the ancestor of Pers.) ?

  9. According to the most up-to-date etymology I have, Middle Persian borrowed it from Avestan.

  10. Bathrobe says

    Quite a few of those are not unique to Shanghainese. The following are perfectly acceptable putonghua:
    马达 (motor), 马赛克 (mosaic), 吉普 (jeep), 摩托车 (motorbike), 柠檬 (lemon), 色拉 (salad, more normally 沙拉), 土司 (toast), 布丁 (pudding), 三明治 (sandwich), 咖啡 (coffee, café), 咖啡 (café or coffee), 可可 (cocoa), 咖喱 (curry), 阿司匹林(aspirin), 凡士林 (vaseline), 课程(course — this is not from English), 戳儿 (chop), 麦克风(microphone), 薩克斯 (sax), 沙发 (sofa), 派队
    (party), 行 (shop — not from English), 圣(saint — not from English), 磅 (pound), 打 (dozen), 听 (tin — good Beijing speech!), 朱古力 (chocolate), 卡车 (Camion), 卡片 (card), 啤酒 (beer), 酒吧 (bar), 沙丁鱼 (sardine), 雪茄 (cigar), 卡宾枪 (carbine), 来复枪 (rifle), 高尔夫球 (golf), 华尔兹舞 (waltz), 冰淇淋(ice cream), 苏打水 (soda water), 霓虹灯 (neon light), 俱乐部 (club), 维他命 (vitamin), 引擎(engine), 幽默 (humor).

  11. Bathrobe says

    That Wikipedia article also makes the baffling claim that “English is well known for being the primary source of loan words in Shanghai dialect, a dialect of Taihu Wu Chinese, which arose from the Shanghai variant of Chinese Pidgin English.” The claim that “Shanghai dialect is a dialect of Taihu Wu Chinese, which arose from the Shanghai variant of Chinese Pidgin English” is particularly hard to unravel.

  12. Wow, that needs serious rewriting.

  13. KCinDC, they do say Punsch in German and, as a result, пунш in Russian.

  14. Yes, I was thinking about the German Punsch. For the Shanghai “bund” they’d have to write “Band”, if the Germans were going to pronounce it as Language says we should. A better spelling in English would be “bunned”, as when people throw buns.

  15. They’ve banned the bandying of buns on the Bund.

  16. The claim that “Shanghai dialect is a dialect of Taihu Wu Chinese, which arose from the Shanghai variant of Chinese Pidgin English” is particularly hard to unravel.
    This is actually an easy case. This is Wiki, and I think Wiki is a tremendous tool, but it’s like buying fruits and vegetables. You always have to keep an eye out for the bad ones.

  17. John Cowan says

    So band, bend, bind, bond, bund are an etymological quintuplet, exceeded in size only (as far as I know) by dish, desk, disc/disk, discus, dais, disco, and much prettier. The only thing that would make it better is if we still pronounced bind with a short vowel.

    Boswell on Johnson’s accent:

    I saw here [in Litchfield, where Johnson was born], for the first time, oat ale; and oat cakes not hard as in Scotland, but soft like a Yorkshire cake, were served at breakfast. It was pleasant to me to find, that Oats, the food of horses [from Johnson’s dictionary entry on the word], were so much used as the food of the people in Dr. Johnson’s own town.

    He expatiated in praise of Lichfield and its inhabitants, who, he said, were ‘the most sober, decent people in England, the genteelest in proportion to their wealth, and spoke the purest English.’ I doubted as to the last article of this eulogy: for they had several provincial sounds; as there, pronounced like fear, instead of like fair; once pronounced woonse, instead of wunse, or wonse. Johnson himself never got entirely free of those provincial accents. Garrick sometimes used to take him off [parody him], squeezing a lemon into a punch-bowl, with uncouth gesticulations [Johnson was a ticqueur], looking round the company, and calling out, ‘Who’s for poonsh?’

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