Sunday, August 29, 2010

What'd he say?

Touhoku-ben. A very interesting dialect. One of my Japanese Language professors told me that it's probably the most difficult hougen (dialect) in Japan. Having done some research, and talking to people here about it, it indeed is something unique. It's also pejoratively called "zuzu-ben" because many different sounds in standard Japanese are all pronounced "zu" in Touhoku-ben. In case you didn't know, Touhoku is the north eastern region of Japan (tou = east, hoku = north). Apparently, some of the different provinces here have slightly different hougen, so one might call the dialect here "Miyagi-ben," or "Shikama-ben," depending on how spread out the usage is of a particular hougen.

One afternoon (early evening) after work, I was hanging around after school, and upon seeing a stranger I said, "Konnichi wa," and he replied, "Oban desu." Oban desu? Did I mishear him? I heard "Oban desu" during the Obon festival, too; I thought they were saying "Obon desu." I went home and looked up "oban" on Jim Breen's WWWJDIC: Online Japanese Dictionary Service, and according to Jim Breen, "oban" means "old maid; frump; hag." So, was that guy calling me an old hag? Or was he saying, "Watch out for that old hag behind you!" to warn me that I might get attacked by a crazy old Japanese lady? No, of course not. He must have said something in a Miyagi/Touhoku dialect. Jim Breen's website is a pretty expansive resource filled with tons of words; but it must not have any hougen in it. So I thought about it for a bit..."Konban wa" is the usual saying for "good evening," which literally means "as for this evening." So I realized that his saying "oban desu" is something similar: the prefix "o" has the role of making the word polite or making it refer to "yours". So literally, he said "it is the night/evening."

At school the other day, someone was showing me how to get lunch ourselves, and he said "jubun." I knew what he meant..."jibun" means "oneself." And "jubun" means...well, nothing, in standard Japanese. But again, hougen rears its (not so ugly) head.

There are other interesting words or phrases or conjugations that I've come across as well. These will be the words of the day:

1) The conjugation 「ーあいん」 "-ain" which is equivalent to the 「てください」 "te kudasai" conjugations, which are requests. For example, 食べてください "tabete kudasai" becomes 食べらいん. Basically, the final "u" sound of any verbal is dropped, and replaced with "-ain." Note that it is a very irregular conjugation; usually, "ru" verbals like 食べる "taberu" or 寝る "neru" drop the final "ru" when conjugating. But in Touhoku-ben, you only drop the final "u". So, verbals like 飲む "nomu" or tsukuru 作る "tsukuru" become 飲まいん "nomain" and 作らいん "tsukurain," respectively.

2) んだよねぇ。 "ndayonee." Hahaha, yes, this dialect has words that start with ん "n," which in standard Japanese, is only ever in the MIDDLE or at the END of a word. Anyday, "ndayone" means something like そうですねぇ "sou desu nee," which itself is difficult to translate. Basically, an English equivalent could be "Yeah, it's like that, isn't it."

3) はらくっつい。 "Hara kuttsui." This means the same thing as おなかがいっぱい "onaka ga ippai," or "I'm full." I learned this last night, actually, when I went out with some friends to grab some "Tantanmen," which is a Chinese noodle dish. We were stuffed, so I said "ippai" and another guy responded with an energetic "hara kuttsui!" Good times. :-)

Fun side note--after dinner, we stopped by a convenient store ("combini") and grabbed some halo-halo, a Filipino dessert. It wasn't real halo-halo, but it came pretty close. I was happy to see some Filipino influence here, even if it was just that small thing. ^_^


  1. I was just told today by a student that 書いておいてくれ "kaite oite kure" sounds strange. Or rather, that "it is not said around here." This conjugation is an informal request/command, for those who don't study Japanese. I asked "So how about just 'kaite kure?'" "No," she said, "It's not used here." She was referring to "kure". So I asked what they would say around here, and she said, 書いでけろ "kaidekero".

    One of the quirks with Touhoku-ben is that sounds that are normally voiceless become voiced. So T's sound like D's, S's sound like Z's, and so on. Hence the change from "te" to "de" in "kaite" and "kaide," though I'm not sure where "kero" comes from. All I can think of is that it's an alternative of "kure".

    Delving deeper into the linguistics of it, one may guess that "kero" is a contraction of "kurero". See, most "-ru" verbals have the conjugation of "-ro" when it's a command; so for example, "taberu" becomes "tabero," which means "Eat it!" Now the thing with "kureru," is that its imperative (command) form is irregular. So rather than becoming "kurero," like most "-ru" verbals, it becomes contracted to simply "kure."

  2. Wow what an extra confusing thing to add to your experience! I won't be able to understand you at all when you get back lol. You'll be talking in touhoku-ben and I'll be responding in Kansai-ben hahaha.

    Kudos on figuring all the linguistics of it out though, it's really interesting so thanks for adding it to your blog! You should go into linguistics studies =P

    P.S. did you mean to say it becomes contracted to simply "kero"? (not kure?)

  3. No no, I meant that normally it gets contracted to "kure." I should have added "normally" up there, hahaha.

    I'll try to learn a bit of Kansai-ben, too! Teach me! haha :-D

    I enjoy linguistics! It's really fun. I consider myself a "linguist," although I've only officially taken one linguistics course, but I've learned a good deal about it from studying Japanese (and teaching English).

  4. I wish I could remember the Hokkaido-ben that my host father taught me. Apparently it is a big mix of all of the dialects in Japan, since the cities in Hokkaido are relatively new additions compared to the rest of the country.

    I only know one word in Kansai-ben (well technically I think it is just Kyoto-ben but I am not sure)and that is 'おおきに' which is equivalent to ありがとう. I know that the Japanese students I met up with today told me some other Kansai-ben words but I don't remember them.

    You would probably make Akiko san really sad if you picked up on these words and used them. Because, you know, she was always like "Speak standard, beautiful Japanese!!!" Haha

    But hooray for learning new dialects! :D