The Wu language (吴语/吳語) is a member of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. About 80 million people in the world speak the Wu language.
The Wu language divides into Northern Wu and Southern Wu dialects. This textbook will teach Northern Wu (Suzhou Dialect) for historical and cultural reasons, both spoken and written.
Wu grammar is in many ways simpler than European languages and mostly identical to Mandarin Chinese (for example, you will see no tenses, plurals, or subject-verb agreement), but there are also plenty of pitfalls that will trip up the unsuspecting beginner (for example, you will encounter tones, measure words, and discourse particles, which do not feature as strongly in European languages.) Wu uses the Chinese writing system, and the complexity often daunts newcomers, as Chinese is one of the few systems in the world that does not use an alphabet or a syllabary; instead, thousands of characters are used, each representing a word or a part of a word. However, most complex Chinese characters are composed of only a few hundred simpler characters and many contain phonetic hints. The Western perception of Chinese writing as having thousands of distinct and idiomatic symbols each representing a word is false. Chinese writing is surprisingly mnemonic, granted it is not as simple as Spanish writing. The government of China has developed a system of writing Wu pronunciation in the Roman alphabet, known as Wuyu Pinyin or Ghounyu Phin'in (吴语拼音/吳語拼音, "spelling according to sounds in the Wu language"). Ghounyu Phin'in is used to write out Wu words phonetically in an effort to help learners of Wu with their pronunciation. This wikibook will teach you Ngnyu Phin'in first, before any actual sentences. All examples and new vocabulary will always be given together with Ghou'nyu Phin'in.
There are two character sets: Simplified Chinese characters (简体字/簡體字) and Traditional Chinese characters (繁体字/繁體字). Traditional characters trace their lineage back through thousands of years of Chinese history, and continue to be used in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and among many overseas Chinese. Simplified Chinese characters were the result of reforms carried out in Mainland China to increase literacy rates and is now used there and in Singapore and Malaysia. The two systems share many of the same characters unchanged or with systematic predictable reductions in stroke; however, some changes are not as formulaic. As a result, most native Chinese speakers are able to write in only one of the two systems, though they can usually read both. You are recommended to do the same. It is considered easier for people who learn Traditional to read both sets than people who learn Simplified only, but Simplified characters may be less intimidating for beginners. In this wikibook, all examples and vocabulary are given in both systems, and you are encouraged to choose one system and stick with it throughout.
Chinese characters have also been used in the past by other neighbouring Asian countries, and are still being used by some of them today. Some older Koreans still know how to read and write Chinese characters, but although the younger generation are taught Chinese characters or hanja, they are rarely used and unnecessary for literacy in Korean, with the native alphabet, hangul. Chinese characters are occasionally used for abbreviations, to clarify technical vocabulary (as Chinese serves roughly the same role in Korean that Latin serves in English), and to write family and many personal names. The Japanese still preserve many Chinese characters or kanji today and use them along with two syllabaries to write the Japanese language.