Japanese Dialects: As with any language, Japanese has its share of regional dialects. The lingua franca of Japan is called hyōjungo (標準語, lit. "standard language"), and while it was based initially on Tokyo speech, the language of Japan's capital has since gone in its own direction to become one of Japan's many 弁(-ben), or dialects.
Eastern Japanese Dialects
The residents of Hokkaido Prefecture are (relatively) recent arrivals from all parts of Japan, and this combination of influences has resulted in a set of regionalisms sometimes called Hokkaido-ben. Hokkaido-ben appears to have been influenced most significantly by Tohoku-ben, not surprising due to Hokkaido's geographic proximity to north eastern Honshu. Characteristics of Hokkaido-ben include speech that contains fewer gender-specific differences, a rich vocabulary of regionalisms, and alternatives to "desu". There is a tendency toward rapid, abbreviated speech patterns, as is not uncommon in other rural areas of Japan. Overall, Hokkaido-ben is not dramatically different from what is called standard Japanese. Most native speakers of Hokkaido-ben can easily switch to standard Japanese when the situation calls for it. However, Hokkaido-ben is different enough that the prepared ear has an advantage in understanding it.
Here are some examples of words and phrases common in Hokkaido that are less common in standard Japanese:
-be or -bee as volitional suffix (common to Tohoku-ben)
dabe - isn't it (desho)
(tebukuro o) haku - wearing gloves, using the verb traditionally reserved for shoes
sa - often used instead of ne (final particle soliciting confirmation or agreement)
dabe sa -- (roughly) indeed, isn't it? (desho ne)
o-ban desu - good evening (common to Tohoku-ben)
shibareru - freezing cold weather, hard freeze
namara - very
kowai - I am tired.
(gomi o) nageru - discard (trash) literally, "to throw" trash
waya - dreadful
menkoi - cute
futtsuku - sticking to, adhering to
tekkurikaeru - stumble and fall (skiing)
bakuru - swap, trade
hankakusai - fool
zangi - fried chicken nuggets
dosanko - Hokkaido native, 3 or more generations
Tōhoku-ben is spoken in Tōhoku, the northeastern region of Honshu. Toward the northern part of Honshu, Tōhoku-ben can differ so dramatically from standard Japanese that it is rendered with subtitles. It is considered by some to be a slow and "clumsy" dialect with connotations of dawdling or idleness.
A notable linguistic feature of Tōhoku-ben is its neutralization of the high vowels /i/ and /u/, so that the words Sushi, "susu" (ash), and "shishi" (lion) are rendered homophonous, where they would have been distinct in other dialects. It is for this reason that Tōkoku-ben is somewhat pejoratively referred to as "zuzu-ben".
In addition, all unvoiced stops become voiced intervocalically, rendering the pronunciation of the word "kato" (trained rabbit) as [kado]. However, unlike the high vowel neutralization, this does not result in new homophones, as all voiced stops are pre-nasalized, meaning that the word "kado" (corner) is roughly pronounced [kando].
Ibaraki dialect, Ibaraki-ben, is characterized by dakuten insertion, effecting a voiced syllable. For example, byōki, illness, becomes something like byōgi. Also characteristic of Ibaraki-ben in many areas is a decreased distinction between i and e sounds, so that iro enpitsu becomes ero inpitsu among many speakers. The final particles ppe, be, and he are perhaps most well-known. They derive from literary beshi (now beki in standard Japanese). The pitch accent of Ibaraki dialect is also fairly different from standard Japanese, typically rising at the end of statements and falling in questions. Below are a few words which are rather ubiquitous among speakers of the Ibaraki dialect:
anme - related to literary aru mai, and to nai darō in standard Japanese, meaning "(I suppose) not". Its opposite is appe, from aru and ppe
arutte - walking (instead of aruite)
daiji - daijōbu in standard Japanese, meaning "alright", and unrelated to the identically-pronounced standard word for "important"
dere(suke) - lazy foolish person
goja((ra)ppe) - silly foolish person
medo - hole
-me - suffix for small animals (e.g. hē-me, "fly"; kan-me, "turtle"); used differently from the abusive -me in standard Japanese
odome - child
The speech of modern Tokyo is often considered to equate standard Japanese, though in fact Tokyo dialect differs from hyōjungo in a number of areas. Noticeable earmarks of Tokyo dialect include the frequent use of さ (sa, roughly analogous to "like" as used in American English slang), じゃん (jan, a contraction of ja nai, "Isn't that right?") and つう (tsuu) in place of 言う (iu, "to say" or "is called"). It is also not uncommon for Tokyo dialect to change the -る (-ru) stem of the present progressive to -ん (-n), as in つってんのー (tsutten nō, "[someone] is saying") vs. 言っているのよ (itte iru no yo) of standard Japanese.
Edogawa-ben, the fast-fading dialect of old families from Eastern Tokyo around the Edogawa river, is another example of a Tokyo dialect that differs from standard Japanese. This dialect is primarily known for the inability to pronounce or distinguish some phonemes which are considered wholly distinct in all other Japanese dialects. Most famous is the decreased distinction between "hi" and "shi", so that "hidoi" (terrible) becomes "shidoi", and "shichi" (seven) becomes "hichi". Though it also includes a few distinctive words, today it is largely indistinguishable from the standard speech of Tokyo other than the phonemic difference.
dashikan - bad, no good
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 "shitte iru?" Nagoya residents will say "shittoru?" 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 area.
Toyama-ben is spoken in Toyama prefecture. Instead of the standard, shitte imasuka? or colloquial shitte iru? for "Do you know?" Toyama-ben speakers will say, shittorukke? Other regional distinctions include words like kitokito for fresh and delicious.
Other distinctions include the negative past tense being formed differently from standard Japanese as follows:
Standard Japanese: konakatta (did not come) Toyama-ben: konda (did not come)
Standard Japanese: inakatta (was not) Toyama-ben: oranda (was not) (n.b.,Toyama-ben uses "oru" instead or "iru" to express "existence")
Standard Japanese: tabenakatta (did not eat) Toyama-ben: tabenda (did not eat)
Standard Japanese: shinakatta (did not do) Toyama-ben: senda (did not do)
The distinction made is that the negative past tense in Toyama-ben is formed by adding to the stem of the verb the "nu" suffix, indicating a negative, followed by a "da" indicating the past tense or completed action. "Nu" becomes "n".
Fukui-ben is the dialect of Fukui prefecture. Speakers of Fukui-ben tend to talk in an up-and-down, sing-songy manner. It is considered a relatively rural dialect, yet it is not without its own rough, home-spun elegance.
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."
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Kansai-ben (関西弁) is a dialect spoken in the Kansai region of Japan. Though sometimes erroneously referred to as Osaka-ben (in reference to Osaka, the second-largest city in Japan and the economic force of the Kansai region), Kansai-ben features a number of regional differences: to draw a broad generalization, Osaka-ben can be considered "brash," Kyoto-ben "lilting" and Kobe-ben "melodious."
Osaka-ben belongs to the kansai family of dialects. The terminology is confusing, as people often use Kansai-ben interchangeably with Osaka-ben. Even those in the know may confuse true Osaka-ben with Kansai-ben.
Kyoto-ben is a soft and melodic Kansai variant. Traditional Kyoto dialect uses -taharu or -teharu (e.g. nani shitaharu no?) in its sentence endings, though -yasu and -dosu are also common. See Kansai-ben for more. To end a verb in -taharu is also often considered to be more formal and is almost exclusively used by women. Ending a verb in -taaru is said to have the same effect but useable by men, though it is not very common.
Kobe-ben is notable among Kansai dialects for conjugating the present progressive with the verb ending -ton or -tō. For example, while the phrase "What are you doing?" in standard (and casual) Japanese would be Nani shite iru? in Kobe-ben it would be Nani shiton? or Nani shitō? Like Osaka-ben, Kobe-ben uses the inflectional ねん (nen) to add emphasis, such that 何言っているんだよ (Nani itteirundayo, "What (the heck) are you saying?") of standard Japanese could become 何いうとーねん (Nani iutōnen) in Kobe-ben.
Tosa-ben is used in Kochi prefecture.
Gachakon (ガチャコン） is the local slang word for the Omitetsudo (ja:近江鉄道), a local train. It is named such because it is said to go "gacha gacha gacha" as one rides it. -taharu is also used commonly in Shiga prefecture. One must not mistake, though, there are many differences in speaking patterns between Kyoto and the cities of Shiga Prefecture.
Examples of Miyazaki dialect include;
テゲ (tege) as opposed to とても (totemo) very
サミ (sami) as opposed to さむい (samui) cold
こせん (kosen) as opposed to でしょう (deshou) -isn't it?
今日はテゲサミこせん (Kyō wa tege sami kosen): Today's really cold, isn't it?
じゃがじゃが (jagajaga) That's right
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 ii yo "It's fine."
sogyan kanji instead of sonna kanji "Like that."
wakaran bai instead of wakaranai yo "I don't understand / don't get it."
umaka/samuka/atsuka instead of umai/samui/atsui "tasty/cold/hot"
Most other dialects in Kyushu share much in common with Hakata-ben, but the dialect of Kagoshima is strikingly different from other Kyushu dialects.
Satsuma-ben, the dialect of Kagoshima prefecture, is often called "unintelligible" because of distinct conjugations of words and significantly different vocabulary. As the furthest place from Kyoto, it is likely that divergences in dialect were accumulated in Satsuma making it sound strange.
There are several different dialect regions within Kagoshima prefecture.
There is a story, told both inside and outside Kagoshima, that Kagoshima dialect was consciously and deliberately developed as a way of protecting against spies from other parts of Japan during the Edo period.
In recent years, the majority of specialists working on the languages spoken in Japan have come to agree that the speech of the Ryukyu Islands (the islands of Okinawa Prefecture and some of the islands of Kagoshima Prefecture) is not a dialect of the Japanese language; rather, it 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 Ryukyu Islands, 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.
There has also developed in the Ryukyus a dialect which is close to Standard Japanese, but which is influenced by Ryukyuan languages. For example, "deeji" may be said sometimes instead of "taihen", or "haisai" instead of "konnichiwa".
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