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Apology for using dialect

(Shanghai Daily)

08:22, September 05, 2011

A Shanghai high school student's story of being ordered to write an 800-word letter of apology for speaking her local dialect in class has sparked a public outcry about the fast-disappearing dialect.

The Minhang High School student said her teacher lectured her for 30 minutes in class after she responded to a question in Shanghai dialect.

"We can only speak Mandarin in class according to local student norms," she wrote in the letter. "I'm sorry that I have made such a serious mistake in class."

The student uploaded a copy of her unfinished letter to weibo.com over the weekend asking for help to add more words.

The letter was soon forwarded by thousands of people with many criticizing the teacher and saying that the school should be working to promote a language which is facing extinction.

With the promotion of Mandarin nationwide and an influx of Mandarin-speaking professionals from out of town, Shanghai dialect is being spoken by fewer and fewer people.

Many children are not able to speak their mother tongue and the Shanghai Huju Opera Theater company has had trouble finding speakers of pure and coherent Shanghai dialect.

Many Shanghainese are complaining about the disappearance of the dialect, a matter of pride and exclusivity for them but one that some consider annoying and discourteous to out-of-town people.

"Though Mandarin is the official language in school, it's unreasonable to forbid Shanghainese to speak any Shanghai dialect," said Jim Zhou, a local man in his 30s.

He was against what the teacher had done and said teachers should help students understand the benefits of using the Mandarin instead of forcing them to use it.

Some recalled the times when Shanghai dialect was popular in the classroom and some called on schools to train non-local teachers in the dialect and add lessons to teach Shanghai dialect to students.

Some urged the student to publish the name of her teacher but she refused.

Not expecting her plea for help to arouse such an outpouring of anger online, the student deleted her post in case she got into trouble at school. But she was too late to avoid the letter being forwarded many times.

A poll on Kaixin001.com had attracted more than 24,000 participants by yesterday evening, with the majority criticizing the teacher and expressing concern for the future of the Shanghai dialect.

Some posters were trying to organize a visit to the school today to protest and they were also planning to call the school principal's office line with their views, expressed in Shanghai dialect.

School officials yesterday denied the claims after they had investigated the case.

"Most of our teachers are Shanghainese," said an official surnamed Li.

"The non-local teacher referred to in the post came to the city in 1982," he said.

"He's been working here for about 30 years. It's not possible that he has a bias against local dialect."

Li said that the school had never forbidden Shanghai dialect in class.

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