, like any language
with a large number of speakers scattered
over a wide area, has a number of dialect
s, known as ben
(弁) in Japanese.
However, unlike the widely varying and mutually unintelligible
(which would be different languages if not for politics and
a unified orthography
), the differences between Japanese dialects are for
most part quite minor and on par with the regional dialects of English
in the United States
. In fact, Japanese dialects are slowly converging,
since thanks to the advent of mass communications
all Japanese now understand
and speak standard Japanese, and new vocabulary
is instantly disseminated
throughout the country.
Standard Japanese (標準語, hyôjungo) as spoken by TV newscasters
is based on the Kanto dialect
spoken in Tokyo and the great eastern plain that surrounds it.
While hyôjungo is pretty much carved in stone, there is also a Tokyo
dialect (東京弁, Tokyo-ben) that reflects the way the youth of the great city
speak; probably the easiest identifying feature is the use of -jan
("right? isn't it?") instead of "-ja nai".
The next most important dialect is undoubtedly the Kansai dialect
(aka the Kinki dialect, Jp. 関西弁 Kansai-ben), spoken in western Japan in cities such as Osaka, Kobe
and Kyoto. (See the node for details and examples.) This in turn is split into several subdialects, most notably the
gruff Osaka dialect (大阪弁, Ôsaka-ben) favored by Japanese comedians
and gangsters, and the effete remnants of Imperial court splendor
mouldering as Kyoto language (京言葉. Kyô-kotoba) -- and note that Kyotoites
insist on calling it a language, although the only difference most mortals
will encounter is the use of Oideyasu for "Come in!" instead of the
And that's it as far as respectable dialects go: speaking anything else will
brand the speaker as a country bumpkin, or actually a country potato
(inaka no imo), as the Japanese like to say. But them potatoes are
a hardy lot and their dialects prosper just the same...
The dialects of Tohoku, up in the northeast of the main island Honshu,
are collectively known as Tohoku-ben (東北弁). The dialects are also somewhat
derisively dubbed zuuzuu-ben, since its speakers like to substitute s with
z. Other noteworthy oddities include the use of the particle sa to
mean direction and the nonstandard helper verb -bee (from. beku)
to indicate intention, as in Tôkyô sa ikubee, "I'm going to Tokyo".
Going down south, Shikoku has a large variety of
dialects, the best known of which is Tosa dialect
(土佐弁, Tosa-ben, Tosa being the old name for the modern-day
prefecture of Kochi). The dialects are all clearly
related to Kansai-ben, but add on additional weirdness
like tacking on the particle -ken at the end of
every other sentence.
Hopping down one more island, Kyushu's dialects
are positively infamous and
the dialect of southern Kagoshima (薩摩弁, Satsuma-ben)
is widely considered to one of, if not the most, incomprehensible dialects of
Japanese. Merely dissecting a typical phrase like sojantai, ata n yuugotsu
("yes, you're right!") would take up several pages...
But there is one more Japanese dialect that should, in fact, really be called
its own language:
Okinawan aka Ryukyuan (Jp. 琉球語 Ryukyugo, Ok. Uchinaguchi), spoken by the
inhabitants of Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands, an island chain that trails the
southernmost bits of the main Japanese islands. Originally an independent
kingdom, the islands were annexed by Japan in 1879 and the Imperial
government of the time went out of its way to suppress any vestiges of a separate
identity. The language survived best on the more remote islands such as the
tiny Yonaguni, whose dialect even other Okinawans have trouble with.
And that's it. Note that the Ainu language spoken on Hokkaido
is linguistically unrelated and thus not a dialect of Japanese at all.