Japan is the land of four seasons. Known for its diversity and love of seafood, this country brings a lot to the plate for a traveler, student, and even a businessman. If you had the chance to spend some quality time in Japan, you’d agree that the cultural ambiance is something to behold. Especially where the language is concerned, it’s easy to get all confused and no one can stop you from enjoying the perks of being in Japan.
Surprisingly, the Japanese language is malleable. It easily influences a third party with its sophistication and elegance. Each language has a certain core that gives it some distinct personality. Therefore, the reason Japanese is popular is you can learn it whenever you want to.
Let’s begin with a short lesson on Japan
Located in East Asia, Japan is an island country. Comprising about 6,852 islands brings a real treat in the shape of various languages and dialects. Japan as a country was mentioned, for the first time, in the record of the Paleolithic period – China influenced major areas in Asia. The real change began in Japan during the isolation from western countries. From being an unknown language to becoming a popular language in the 21st century, the Japonic language family has grown with more than 127 million speakers.
How did the Japanese language unfold?
The majority population resonates with the ethnic Japanese. Although most do speak Nihongo, still there are several languages in Japan that remain unintelligible to foreign ears. No written records are saying that “Nihongo is the official language of Japan”. However, from historical records, it was found that the Chinese language influenced Japanese. The use of Kanji characters is evidence enough that Japanese borrowed words from other languages.
Guess what? The Japanese language still uses Chinese and Arabic numerals. This brings one theory into motion that every language has cousins in foreign languages.
According to the latest statistics, Japanese is the 9th most spoken language around the world with 128.2 million speakers.
Dialects practically overrun Japan – Time to overview the variety of spoken dialects
Similar to other languages, Japan is home to various dialects too. There happens to belong to two sets Japanese language families, Japonic and Ainu languages, comprised of:
- Ryukyuan languages
- Ainu languages
- Orok languages
- Nivkh languages
To better understand the Japonic family, let’s further divide the dialects;
- The Japanese language consists of Hachijo, Eastern, Western and Kyushu
- Ryukyuan languages include Northern Ryukyuan languages including Amami, Kunigami, and Okinawa and Southern Ryukyuan languages such as Miyako, Yaeyama, and Yonaguni.
However, Ainu languages consist of three dialects, one of the dialects Hokkaido Ainu remains in use only.
Note: Two dialects of Ainu language, Sakhalin Ainu and Kuril Ainu, are already extinct.
The current status of Japanese dialects
Today, the language taught in schools and used on television commercials or some other marketing platforms is known as Standard Japanese. Just like London evolved with the standardized British English (spoken by the high-class Londoners) similarly the language evolved for the high-class citizens of Tokyo in 1868.
Now that standard version is currently in use. Because of globalization and modernization, regional dialects’ use decreased and some of them became inferior. After WWII, Standard Japanese became the official language in use.
Besides this version, there are 7 major Japanese dialects you ought to know.
- Hakata Ben
Spoken around Fukuoka city, Hakata Ben is popularly spoken in the surrounding areas as well. It is a typical dialect of the “suburbs” and commonly appears in the regional news alongside Standard Japanese. For instance;
- Grammar point: だ、じゃ turns into や
- Standard Japanese: 犬だね (いぬだね) it’s a dog, isn’t it?
- Hakata Ben: 犬やね (いぬやね)
- Osaka Ben
Most commonly spoken in the major parts of the Kansai region, it is also known as “Kansai dialect”. Compared to Standard Japanese, it is considered as more melodic and harsher. One of the most prominent factors about this dialect is that it omits the use of particles.
- Grammar point: Final Particle ね turns into な
- Standard Japanese: 寒いね (さむいね) it’s cold, isn’t it?
- Hakata Ben: 寒いな (さむいな)
- Hiroshima ben
Quite a popular in-demand movie “The Yakuza” used the native dialect, Hiroshima Ben. This dialect is native to the Chugoku region commonly resonated with the Japanese mafia. Thanks to the release of the movie, the dialect got recognized all over Japan.
- Grammar point: ない turns into ん
- Standard Japanese: 食べない (たべない) I don’t eat.
- Hiroshima Ben: たべん (たべん)
- Kyoto Ben
Kamigata dialect is a part of Kansai and Osaka Ben. Technically, it is a traditional dialect of Kyoto and it is widely popular for politeness and softness. Geisha culture has highly influenced the elegance part of the dialect. It was a standard language until the Meiji Restoration.
Although the accents are quite peculiar even in modern days. For instance;
- Grammar point: final particle よ turns into え
- Standard Japanese: 行きますよ (いきますよ) I’m going
- Hiroshima Ben: 行きますえ (いきますえ)
- Nagoya Ben
Nagoya city is particularly known for its native dialect. The City of the Aichi Prefecture, it’s a perfect blend of eastern and western Japanese dialects. Therefore, the accent hits home with the Standard Japanese.
- Grammar point: Final Particle よ turns into に
- Standard Japanese: 美味しいよ (おいしいよ) It’s tasty
- Hiroshima Ben: 美味しいに (おいしいに)
- Sendai Ben
A part of the Tohoku Ben dialect, this dialect is commonly spoken in Sendai, the capital city of the Miyagi prefecture.
Closest cousin in the family language of Tohoku Ben, it is more of a native regional dialect as compared to other dialects found in Japan. Also, it is a commonly used dialect in the mainstream media.
- Grammar point: Particle を turns into ば
- Standard Japanese: 雑誌を買った (ざっしをかった) I bought a magazine.
- Hiroshima Ben: 雑誌ば買った (ざっしばかった)
- Hokkaido Ben
When people from the Tohoku and Hokuriku region migrated, this dialect formed after the settlement in the Hokkaido region. It’s quite a unique dialect seeing as it is a mixture of varying sets of characteristics.
- Grammar point: よね？ / でしょう？turns into っしょ
- Standard Japanese: 行くよね (いくよね) I’m going.
- Hiroshima Ben: 行くっしょ (いくっしょ)
Japanese dialects are profounding and cool! You get to learn a lot by learning in-depth about these native dialects. So if you are a language nerd this is the right place to test your language learning skills.