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Wu (simplified Chinese: 吴语; traditional Chinese: 吳語) is a grouping of linguistically similar and historically related varieties of spoken Chinese also known as a dialect family. Chinese varieties classified as Wu are primarily spoken in Zhejiang province, the municipality of Shanghai, and southern Jiangsu province.

Wu speakers such as Chiang Kai-shek, Lu Xun, and Cai Yuanpei occupy places of great significance in modern Chinese culture. Wu can also be found in the language of Shaoxing opera which is second in national popularity only to Peking Opera as well as in the performances of the nationally popular entertainer Zhou Libo. Wu is also spoken in a large number of diaspora communities, with significant centers of immigration originating from Qingtian and Wenzhou.

Suzhou has traditionally been the linguistic center of the Wu languages and was likely the first place a distinct variety of Chinese known as Wu developed.

Because of the influence of Shanghainese, Wu is often inaccurately referred to in English as simply "Shanghainese" when introducing the dialect family to non-specialists.

The dialect family especially Southern Wu is well-known among linguists and sinologists as being one of the most internally diverse among the spoken Chinese language families with very little mutual intelligibility among varieties within the family. Among speakers of other Chinese varieties, Wu is often subjectively judged to be soft, light, and flowing. There is an idiom in Chinese that specifically describes these qualities of Wu speech: Wú nóng ruǎn yǔ (吴侬软语), which literally means "the tender speech of Wu."

While some Wu varieties like Wenzhounese have gained notoriety for their 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.

More pressing concerns of the present are those of dialect preservation. Many within and without the country fear that the increased usage of Mandarin may eventually supplant the languages altogether which have no written form, legal protection, or official status and are officially barred from use in public discourse.

[Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_Chinese]

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