Thursday, February 07, 2008
Spoken by roughly 20 million people (greater than the population of either Belgium or Holland) Kansai dialect is the standard form of speech in western Japan. This area includes Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Shiga, Wakayama, and Mie Prefectures. It is the main linguistic and cultural counter balance to "hyojungo," or standard Japanese, which is spoken in the Tokyo area of eastern Japan.
Kansai dialect is highly influential because of its association with Osaka comedians, Kobe mobsters, and Kyoto geisha--and can be heard frequently on television.
The rivalry and tension, linguistic and otherwise, between Tokyo and Osaka is one of the great dramas in Japanese life.
The basic difference between the language of Tokyo and, say, Osaka has to do in part with word endings.
In Tokyo, "ikanai" （行かない）equals "I/you/he don't/doesn't go." In the West of Japan, you would say "ikahen" or "ikimahen." In the past tense, too, things are different in Kansai. In Tokyo: "tabenakatta" （食べなかった）means "I/you/he didn't eat." Kansai: "tabehenkatta" or "tabenkatta."
Another difference is the use of the verb to be. In Kanto, which is where Tokyo lies, you say "iru" whereas in Osaka it becomes "oru."
A third difference is the "da" vs. "ya" divide. In Kanto, you would say "da" while in western Japan it is a hearty "ya." For example, in Yokohama: "sou da" (that is so). In Kobe, it is "sou ya."
A fourth difference is the often used "honma" (really). In Tokyo, that should be "honto."
In addition to intonation, many other differences exist. Kansai people freely mix eastern and western Japanese verb forms and word endings depending upon the situation; Tokyoites do not mix, and consider non-standard Japanese a bit crude.
Last, there is also great variety within Kansai speech. Kyoto dialect, for example, has quite distinctive verb endings that are not used in other parts of Kansai.
If you are just beginning Japanese language study, it is better to get "standard" (eastern) Japanese under your belt; if you start spouting off Kansai dialect to your Tokyo neighbors, they may consider you a bit of a hillbilly. For those of you living in Kansai, however, you will have to add Kansai dialect to your linguistic repertoire as it is the de facto "standard" speech there.
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