Wu Chinese

ngu1 ngiu2
Wu (Wú Yǔ) written in Chinese characters
Native toChina and overseas communities with origins from Shanghai, Jiangsu and/or Zhejiang
RegionCity of Shanghai, Zhejiang, southeastern Jiangsu, parts of Anhui and Jiangxi provinces
EthnicityWu peoples
Native speakers
80 million (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3wuu
Idioma wu.png
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Wu Chinese
Simplified Chinese吴语
Traditional Chinese吳語

Wu (Shanghainese: [ɦu˨ ɲy˦]; Suzhou dialect: [ɦoʊ˨ ɲy˦]; Wuxi dialect: [ŋ˨˨˧ nʲy˨], Changzhou dialect) is a group of linguistically similar and historically related varieties of Chinese primarily spoken in the whole city of Shanghai, Zhejiang province and the southern half of Jiangsu province, as well as bordering areas.

Major Wu varieties include those of Shanghai, Suzhou, Wuxi, Changzhou, Ningbo, Hangzhou, Shaoxing, Wenzhou/Oujiang, Jinhua and Yongkang. Wu speakers, such as Chiang Kai-shek, Lu Xun and Cai Yuanpei, occupied positions of great importance in modern Chinese culture and politics. Wu can also be found being used in Pingtan, Yue opera, and Shanghai opera, the former which is second only in national popularity to Peking opera; as well as in the performances of the popular entertainer and comedian Zhou Libo. Wu is also spoken in a large number of diaspora communities, with significant centers of immigration originating from Shanghai, Ningbo, Qingtian and Wenzhou.

Suzhou has traditionally been the linguistic center of Wu and was likely the first place the distinct variety of Sinitic known as Wu developed. Suzhou dialect is widely considered to be the most linguistically representative of the family. It was mostly the basis of the Wu lingua franca that developed in Shanghai leading to the formation of standard Shanghainese, which as a center of economic power and possessing the largest population of Wu speakers, has attracted the most attention. Due to the influence of Shanghainese, Wu as a whole is incorrectly labelled in English as simply, "Shanghainese", when introducing the language family to non-specialists. Wu is the more accurate terminology for the greater grouping that the Shanghainese variety is part of; other less precise terms include "Jiangnan speech" (江南話), "Jiangzhe (JiangsuZhejiang) speech" (江浙話), and less commonly "Wuyue speech" (吳越語).

The Wu group (Southern Wu in particular) is well-known among linguists and sinologists as being one of the most internally diverse among the Sinitic groups, with very little mutual intelligibility between varieties across subgroups. Among speakers of other Sinitic languages, Wu is often subjectively judged to be soft, light, and flowing. There is an idiom in Mandarin that specifically describes these qualities of Wu speech: 吴侬软语, which literally means "the tender speech of Wu". On the other hand, some Wu varieties like Wenzhounese have gained notoriety for their high incomprehensibility to both Wu and non-Wu speakers alike, so much so that Wenzhounese was used during the Second World War to avoid Japanese interception.[citation needed]

Wu dialects are typified linguistically as having preserved the voiced initials of Middle Chinese, having a majority of Middle Chinese tones undergo a register split, and preserving a checked tone typically terminating in a glottal stop,[3] although some dialects maintain the tone without the stop and certain dialects of Southern Wu have undergone or are starting to undergo a process of devoicing. The historical relations which determine Wu classification primarily consist in two main factors: firstly, geography, both in terms of physical geography and distance south or away from Mandarin, that is, Wu varieties are part of a Wu–Min dialect continuum from southern Jiangsu to Fujian and Chaoshan.[citation needed] The second factor is the drawing of historical administrative boundaries, which, in addition to physical barriers, limit mobility and in the majority of cases more or less determine the boundary of a Wu dialect.

Wu Chinese, along with Min, is also of great significance to historical linguists due to their retention of many ancient features. These two languages have proven pivotal in determining the phonetic history of the Chinese languages.

More pressing concerns of the present are those of language preservation. Many[who?] within and outside of China fear that the increased usage of Mandarin may eventually altogether supplant the languages that have no written form, legal protection, or official status and are officially barred from use in public discourse. However, many analysts[who?] believe that a stable state of diglossia will endure for at least several generations if not indefinitely.


Speakers of Wu varieties are mostly unaware of this term for their speech since the term "Wu" is a relatively recent classificatory imposition on what are less clearly defined and highly heterogeneous natural forms. Saying one speaks Wu is akin to saying one speaks a Romance language. It is not a particularly defined entity like Standard Mandarin or Hochdeutsch.

Most speakers are only vaguely aware of their local variety's affinities with other similarly classified varieties and will generally only refer to their local Wu variety rather than the dialect family. They do this by affixing '' Wo (speech) to their location's endonym. For example, 溫州話 Wēnzhōuhuà is used for Wenzhounese. Affixing 閒話 xiánhuà is also common and more typical of the Taihu division, as in 嘉興閒話 Kashin'ghenwo for Jiaxing dialect.

  • Wu (simplified Chinese: 吴语; traditional Chinese: 吳語; pinyin: Wúyǔ, 'Wu language'): the formal name and standard reference in dialectology literature.
  • Wu dialects (simplified Chinese: 吴语方言; traditional Chinese: 吳語方言; pinyin: Wúyǔ fāngyán, can be interpreted as either "dialects of the Wu language" or "Chinese dialects in the Wu family"): another scholastic term.
  • Northern Wu (simplified Chinese: 北部吴语; traditional Chinese: 北部吳語; pinyin: Běibù Wúyǔ): Wu typically spoken in the north of Zhejiang, the city of Shanghai and parts of Jiangsu, comprising the Taihu and usually the Taizhou divisions. It by default includes the Xuanzhou division in Anhui as well, however this division is often neglected in Northern Wu discussions.
  • Southern Wu (simplified Chinese: 南部吴语; traditional Chinese: 南部吳語; pinyin: Nánbù Wúyǔ): Wu spoken in southern Zhejiang and periphery, comprising the Oujiang, Wuzhou, and Chuqu divisions.
  • Western Wu (simplified Chinese: 西部吴语; traditional Chinese: 西部吳語; pinyin: Xībù Wúyǔ): A term gaining in usage[4] as a synonym for the Xuanzhou division and modeled after the previous two terms since the Xuanzhou division is less representative of Northern Wu.
  • Shanghainese (simplified Chinese: 上海话/上海闲话; traditional Chinese: 上海話/上海閒話; pinyin: Shànghǎihuà/Shànghǎi xiánhuà): is also a very common name, used because Shanghai is the most well-known city in the Wu-speaking region, and most people are unfamiliar with the term Wu Chinese. The use of the term Shanghainese for referring to the family is more typically used outside of China and in simplified introductions to the areas where it is spoken or to other similar topics, for example one might encounter sentences like "They speak a kind of Shanghainese in Ningbo." The term Shanghainese is never used by serious linguists to refer to anything but the variety used in Shanghai.
  • Wuyue language (simplified Chinese: 吴越语; traditional Chinese: 吳越語; pinyin: Wúyuèyǔ; "the language of Wu and Yue"): an ancient name, now seldom used, referring to the language(s) spoken in the ancient states of Wu, Yue, and Wuyue or the general region where they were located and by extension the modern forms of the language(s) spoken there. It was also used as an older term for what is now simply known as Wu Chinese. Initially, some dialectologists had grouped the Wu dialects in Jiangsu under the term 吳語 Wúyǔ where the ancient Wu kingdom had been located and the Wu dialects in Zhejiang under the term 越語 Yuèyǔ where the ancient Yue kingdom had been located. These were coined however for purely historical reasons. Today, most dialectologists consider the Wu dialects in northern Zhejiang to be far more similar to those of southern Jiangsu than to those of southern Zhejiang, so this terminology is no longer appropriate from a linguistic perspective. As a result, the terms Southern and Northern Wu have become more and more common in dialectology literature to differentiate between those in Jiangsu and the northern half of Zhejiang and those in southern Zhejiang and its Wu-speaking periphery.
  • Jiangnan language (simplified Chinese: 江南话; traditional Chinese: 江南話; pinyin: Jiāngnánhuà): meaning the language of the area south of the Yangtze, used because most of the Wu speakers live south of the Yangtze River in an area called Jiangnan.
  • Kiang–Che or Jiang–Zhe language (simplified Chinese: 江浙话; traditional Chinese: 江浙話; pinyin: Jiāngzhèhuà): meaning "the speech of Jiangsu and Zhejiang".
Other Languages
Afrikaans: Wu
አማርኛ: ዉ ቻይንኛ
العربية: وو (صينية)
ܐܪܡܝܐ: ܠܫܢܐ ܕܘܘ
asturianu: Chinu wu
Bân-lâm-gú: Ngô͘-gí
башҡортса: У (тел)
brezhoneg: Woueg
català: Wu (llengua)
čeština: Wu (jazyk)
Deutsch: Wu (Sprache)
español: Chino wu
Esperanto: Vua lingvo
euskara: Wu txinera
فارسی: چینی وو
Fiji Hindi: Wu Chinese
français: Wu (langue)
Gaelg: Wuish
galego: Lingua wu
贛語: 吳語
客家語/Hak-kâ-ngî: Ǹg-ngî
한국어: 우어
hrvatski: Wu kineski
Bahasa Indonesia: Bahasa Wu
íslenska: Wu-kínverska
italiano: Lingua wu
Kiswahili: Kichina cha Wu
Latina: Lingua Wu
latviešu: Vu valoda
lietuvių: Vu kinų kalba
മലയാളം: വു ചൈനീസ്
मराठी: वू चिनी
مصرى: وو
Bahasa Melayu: Bahasa Wu
Mìng-dĕ̤ng-ngṳ̄: Ngù-ngṳ̄
монгол: Ү хэл
Nāhuatl: Hutlahtōlli
Nederlands: Wuyu
日本語: 呉語
norsk nynorsk: Wukinesisk
پنجابی: وو
Piemontèis: Lenga Cinèisa, Wu
polski: Język wu
português: Língua wu
română: Wu (limbă)
русский: У (язык)
sardu: Lingua wu
Simple English: Wu Chinese
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Wu kineski
suomi: Wu-kiina
svenska: Wu (dialekt)
Tagalog: Wikang Wu
Türkçe: Wu Çincesi
українська: Уська мова
ئۇيغۇرچە / Uyghurche: ۋۇ تىلى
Tiếng Việt: Tiếng Ngô
文言: 吳語
吴语: 吴语
粵語: 吳語
中文: 吴语