Shanghai kindergartens to promote local dialect

By Wang Hongyi in Shanghai ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-02-07 10:03:00

Children in 20 kindergartens in Shanghai will be encouraged to speak their local dialect in a pilot program by the city's education authorities starting this year. The move represents a change in the policy that promoted the sole use of Putonghua, or standard Mandarin.

The move is part of the city's efforts to protect the dialect, which is at risk of extinction, especially among young people, according to the working plan for 2014 of the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission.

Protecting the dialect is one of the major tasks for the city's language authorities, along with promoting Putonghua and regulating the use of foreign languages, said Yuan Wen, deputy director of the commission.

In 1992, China began to promote the use of Putonghua in a nationwide campaign that encouraged its use in classrooms. Students and teachers had to speak Putonghua in class, otherwise the school's annual assessment would be influenced.

Under the pilot program, children in 20 kindergartens in the city are encouraged to speak the Shanghai dialect during breaks and while playing games.

According to an online survey by news portal, more than 60 percent of respondents support the pilot program.

"The mother tongue is the first language a person learns from birth. I grew up with the dialect, but my son doesn't speak it. I used to insist on speaking the dialect with my son at home, but he soon shifted to Putonghua, which was spoken in kindergarten," said Wang Yajing, a Shanghai resident.

"With less people speaking the dialect it will gradually disappear. It's necessary to work out ways to protect it," she said.

The dialect can trace its roots to the Wu dialect, one of China's oldest spoken languages, in use for more than 3,200 years. It was spoken in areas around Shanghai with its own grammar and vocabulary.

Before the 1990s, the dialect was widely used as the major language in Shanghai, equivalent to Cantonese in Hong Kong. Anyone speaking Putonghua in Shanghai would be thought of as "provincial".

Over the past decades, the country's financial hub has witnessed dramatic development. The large influx of people from other cities and countries has marginalized the city's native tongue. About 40 percent of the city's 23 million population were not born in Shanghai and the use of Putonghua has expanded.

A report by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences some years ago showed only 60 percent of Shanghai students could fully understand the local dialect.

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