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Introduction to Nanjinghua

Nanjing-talk which is also called Nanjingese or Nánjīnghuà (南京话) is quite similar to Mandarin Chinese.  The distinct differences in pronounciation are not a large enough hurdle to prevent a fluent Mandarin speaker from understanding Nanjing-talk.  Nevertheless, Nanjing-talk contains unique grammar and phrases that only somebody who has been in Nanjing for some time would understand.

This article is meant to be an overview of Nanjinghua for people that already speak Mandarin, read pinyin and (obviously) read English.  It will be updated from time to time.


In Nanjing-talk there is no "standard".  "Old Nanjing-talk" is different from "new Nanjing-talk" and there is even differences between different districts of Nanjing.  Finally, a person can speak pure Nanjing-talk or they could speak something that is close enough to Mandarin that it could be debated whether it’s actually Nanjing-talk or more like Mandarin with an accent.
Nanjing-talk uses the same 4 tones as Mandarin but with some important differences:
- It has a fifth tone that is high and drops quickly.  Below we’ll note that tone with a "5" after it.
- The fourth tone and first tone are usually reversed.
Words and Phrases
Here’s a few common words and phrases. The Mandarin is on the left and Nanjing-talk on the right.
多少钱? (Duōshǎo qián ?)  = Duo a qian?  In this phrase “shao” is replaced by “a” to create an all-important question: "How much money?"
要辣油吗? (Yào làyóu mā?) = A you layou a? In this phrase “yao” is replaced by “you” and the “ma” is replaced by an “a” at the beginning and end of the phrase.  The double “a” structure is used to create questions such as this one: "Want hot sauce?"
你喜不喜欢?(Ní xǐ bù xǐhuan?) = Ni a xihuan a? Again, the double "a" structure is used to make a question.
下不下? (Xià bù xià ?) = A xia?  This time the second "a" was left out, however it is still a question: "get off (the bus or vehicle)?".
没有 (Méiyǒu) = mede  This phrase is used very frequently.  The “me” is pronounced the same as “么” from “什么” (shēnmè).  The de is pronounced just like “的”.
没有事 (Méiyǒu shì) = mede si  Again, this phrase is used very frequently. Note that 事 is pronounced "si".
Changing Vowels
喝 (hē) = ho5 "ho" is often spoken in the "fifth tone" of Nanjing-talk.  Example) "Wo dou shi ho." = "All I do is drink."
黑 (hēi) = he Example) "Heren!" = "Black person!" - If not "老外" (lǎowài), this is what may be spoken when a black person is spotted.
的 (de) = di Example) "Shi ta di." = "It’s his/hers."
白 (bái) = be "Be" is read in the fifth tone.  Example) "Ta chuan di shi be xiezi." = "He/she is wearing white shoes."
More Phrases
干什么事? (Gàn shénmè shì ?) = Gan me si a


 The "Drink Wontons" song (He hundun, 喝混沌) was ultra-popular with teenage Nanjingers in 2006.  It remains a great example of Nanjing-talk.  This link shows a video version of it.