Dialects of the Japanese language

From Academic Kids

The Japanese language, in addition to to Standard Japanese (Hyōjungo, 標準語), based on Tokyo speech, has dozens of geographic dialects.

Contents

List of dialects

There are disputes among linguists on classification of Japanese dialects, and the list below is just an example.

Kansai dialect

See main article: Kansai-ben

The most well-known dialect outside of Tokyo, Kansai-ben (関西弁 (http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/関西弁), ben dialect), also known as Osaka-ben, is a dialect spoken in the Kansai region of Japan, and most notably in the city of Osaka. It is characterized as being both more melodic and more "harsh" by speakers of the standard language.

Technically Kansai-ben is not a single dialect, but a group of related dialects of the region. Each major city represents a particular dialect with thousands of years of history. Thus there are specific dialects such as Kyōto-ben, Kobe-ben, Nara-ben, Wakayama-ben, etc. However, since Osaka is the largest city of the region, and since its speakers have gained the most media exposure in the last century, the typical Japanese person tends to associate the dialect of Osaka with the entire Kansai region. This of course grates on the nerves of speakers of non-Osakan Kansai dialects, but no particular effort is underway to correct the misassumption.

Since Kansai-ben is the most common atypical dialect of Japanese, it has become a favorite with Japanese authors, manga and anime artists, and the like as the choice for representing a somewhat "different" character from the norm. Most English translations of anime, when attempting to represent Kansai-ben speakers, often use as a substitute, either voice actors with American Southern accents, or occasionally Brooklyn accents. Neither is a particularly exact substitute, but the cross-language semantic differences are difficult to capture.

Kansai-ben is strongly associated with Manzai and comedy in general. Some believe this is because Yoshimoto Kogyo, one of the country's main comedy television production companies, is based in Osaka, and thus Kansai comedians are better promoted. In Azumanga Daioh, Ayumu Kasuga is called "Osaka" as a joke as she is not a typical quick witted Kansai-ben speaker.

Many common words in Kansai-ben are formed by contraction of Standard Japanese words. Two of the more prominent examples are chigau "to be different, wrong" which is contracted to form chau, and omoshiroi "interesting, funny" which contracts to omoroi. These contractions follow the similar inflection rules as their standard forms, so that chau is politely said chaimasu in the same way as chigau is inflected to chigaimasu.

In other cases, Kansai-ben uses different words entirely. The verb hokasu corresponds to Standard Japanese suteru "to throw away", and metcha corresponds to the Standard totemo "very".

Some Japanese words gain entirely new meaning when used in Kansai-ben. Baka, which is used as "idiot" in most regions, becomes "complete fool" and a stronger insult than aho. Most Kansai-ben speakers cannot stand being called baka but don't mind being called aho.

Common phrases famous as Kansai dialect include:

  • akan(あかん) a mild expletive, also used in place of Standard dame
  • aho(アホ) idiot, fool; used affectionately
  • baka(馬鹿/莫迦) idiot; not used affectionately, stronger than aho
  • doaho(ドアホ) idiot; stronger than baka
  • donkusai(どんくさい) stupid, clumsy, inefficient, lazy; literally "stupid-smelling"
  • honnara(ほんなら) in that case, if that's true; also used to indicate leaving as with Standard de wa or ja
  • tanomu(頼む) please; contrast Standard tanomu "to help"
  • ya(や) copula, equivalent to Standard da
  • yaru(やる) to give; considered a vulgar form of "to give" or "to do" in Standard Japanese
  • nā(なぁ) sentence final particle, meaning varies depending on tone
  • nan ya(なんや) "what?" or "what's going on?"; also meaning "me?" or "did you call my name?"; approximately equivalent to Standard "nani?"
  • nan ya nen(なんやねん) "what are you doing?" or "what are you saying?"
  • nande ya nen(なんでやねん) "you gotta be kidding!"
  • nen(ねん) equivalent to Standard sentence final particle ne
  • shindoi(しんどい) or shindo tired, exhausted

Hakata dialect

Hakata-ben is the dialect of Fukuoka. Throughout Japan, Hakata-ben is famous, amongst many other idiosyncrasies, for its use of -to? as a question, e.g., "What are you doing?", realized in Standard Japanese as nani o shite iru no?, is nanba shiyotto? in Hakata.

Examples of Hakata-ben include:

  • asoban instead of asobou; "let's have fun"
  • batten instead of demo, kedo "but"
  • da ken instead of da kara "therefore"
  • yokarōmon instead of ii deshō "good, don't you think?"
  • bari instead of totemo "very"
  • shitōtchan instead of shiterunda "I'm doing it"
  • ~shitōkiyo instead of shite kinasai "please do ~; used with children"
  • yokka yokka instead of sō desu ne "yeah; is that so?"

Most other dialects in Kyushu share much in common with Hakata-ben, but the dialect of Kagoshima is strikingly different from other Kyushu dialects.

Hokkaido dialect

Hokkaido-ben is the dialect of Hokkaido Prefecture. Hokkaido's residents are (relatively) recent arrivals from all parts of Japan, and its dialect reflects these varied influences. Features of Hokkaido-ben include a distinctive vocabulary and less prounounced differences between masculine and feminine speech. The following are some examples of words and phrases common in Hokkaido that are uncommon in standard Japanese:

  • dabe isn't it (desho ne)
  • besa is (da,desu)
  • o-ban desu good evening
  • shibareru freezing cold weather, hard freeze
  • namara very
  • kowai I am tired.
  • (gomi o) nageru discard (trash)
  • waya dreadful
  • menkoi cute
  • hankakusai fool
  • zangi fried chicken nuggets
  • dosanko Hokkaido native, 3 or more generations

Fukui dialect

Fukui-ben is the dialect of Fukui prefecture. Speakers of Fukui-ben tend to talk in an up-and-down, sing-songy manner.

Examples of Fukui-ben include:

  • hoya hoya, meaning hai (yes) or so desu yo (that is true)
  • mmmmm-do, instead of ē-to (let's see, or well)
  • tsuru tsuru, meaning "very," or "a lot" (as in, "tsuru tsuru ippai," or this glass is very full, almost overflowing)
  • jami jami describes poor reception on a TV. The usual term is suna arashi "sandstorm."

Some speakers of Kansai-ben and Kanto-ben may look down on Fukui-ben as being rural. A rough analogy would be an American from deep Alabama or Mississippi talking with someone from the West Coast or East Coast.

Other dialects

  • Tohoku-ben is considered by some to be a slow and "clumsy" dialect famous for dawdling.
  • Tosa-ben in Kochi prefecture.
  • Toyama-ben is spoken in Toyama prefecture. Instead of the standard, shitte imasuka? or colloquial shitteru? for "Do you know?" Toyama-ben speakers will say, shittorukke? Other regional distinctions include words like kitokito for fresh and delicious.
  • Nagoya-ben is a dialect spoken in and around the city of Nagoya. It is similar to Kansai-ben in intonation, but to Tokyo-ben in accent. Instead of "shitteru?" Nagoya residents will say "shitttoru?" They attach unique suffixes to the end of sentences: "-gaya" when surprised, "-te" for emphasis, "-ni" to show off one's knowledge, and "-dekan" for disappointment. Some Nagoya words: "ketta" for "jitensha", "tsukue o tsuru" to 'move a desk', "dera-" or "dora-" for "sugoi" or "tottemo". A Tokyo resident: "Sou ni kimatteru janai" Nagoya resident: "Sou ni kimattoru gaya." "Gan" is not typical Nagoya-ben. It is rather slang used by the younger Nagoya residents.
  • Mikawa-ben is spoken in the east half of Aichi prefecture while Nagoya-ben is in the west half. The two dialects are very similar for people from other areas of Japan. But Mikawa and Nagoya people claim that the dialects are completely different. Mikawa people also claim that Mikawa-ben is the basis of Tokyo Japanese because it was made up in Edo period by samurai from this erea.
  • Kobe-ben is a variation on Kansai-ben, most notable for conjugating verbs with an ending -ton (nani shite iru? "What are you doing?" becomes nani shiton?)
  • Kyoto-ben is a very soft and melodic Kansai dialect variation. Where Kobe dialect would say -ton, Kyoto dialect uses -taharu or -teharu (e.g. nani shitaharu no?). The sentence endings -yasu and -dosu are also common in Kyoto. See Kansai-ben for more.
  • Satsuma-ben, the dialect of Kagoshima prefecture, is often called "unintelligible" because of distinct conjugations of words and significantly different vocabulary. It is rumored that Satsuma people deliberately used obsolete or quirky words to prevent spies from knowing what they talked about. Instead, as the furthest place from Kyoto, it is likely that divergences in dialect were accumulated in Satsuma making it sound strange.

Dialects or languages?

The decision to call one way of speaking a dialect and another a language is sometimes a difficult one. While linguists generally consider mutual intelligibilty to be the best test, even this has its problems. Also, politics, history, religion, and other cultural factors can cloud the picture.

In recent years, the majority of specialists working on the languages spoken in Japan have come to agree that the speech of islands of Okinawa comprises a separate branch of the Japonic family. In this view, Japonic is split into two groups: Japanese, spoken throughout the Japanese islands, and Ryukyuan, found in the islands of Okinawa, south of Kyushu. Even so, there is great diversity within Japanese, and even greater within Ryukyuan, and many native speakers from one area of Japan can find the speech of another area virtually unintelligible.

The Ainu language of the Ainu is another language once spoken in Japan. At this time, very few experts in Japanese or Ainu consider them to be related. Ainu, once spoken in northern Japan, Hokkaido, and the islands around Hokkaido, including Sakhalin, is nearly extinct.

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