Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Kansai-ben (Crystal)

Living right in the middle between Osaka and Kyoto, I have plenty of exposure to Kansai-ben, the Western dialect of Japanese. Although Kansai-ben is not uniform across the region – Osaka-ben, for example, is specific to the city of Osaka, though it is also considered to be a part of the broader Kansai-ben. There are of course several other dialects, but the main contrasting one is the Eastern dialect: Kanto-ben, which is considered Standard Japanese.

Unfortunately, my Japanese is not at a level where I can really pick up its usage in everyday life unless I’ve been taught to look for it. All too often I get asked, “Have you heard this word?” and the answer is always no. I mean, I’ve probably heard it in the background, but it has just remained part of the vast abyss of sentences I couldn’t even begin to understand unless they were slowed way down and preferably written.

However, I have picked up some pieces here and there. The professor of my Spoken Japanese class is a big fan of Kansai-ben (even though he’s from Hokkaido), and really enjoys teaching it to us, along with slang. Recently we had a day in class where all we did was study Kansai-ben.

Part of what distinguishes Kansai-ben is its vocabulary. One that’s pretty recognizable even to foreigners is aho, which means “idiot, fool.” In the east, baka is used instead, but in the west, baka is a much more severe insult.

There are many different Japanese dialects (source: www.sakura-house.com)

There are other substitutions: akan for dame (forbidden), okan for okaasan (mother), kyousan for takusan (a lot), ookini for arigatou (thank you), and lots of others. The one I hear all the time is meccha, which means “very.” At Kansai Gaidai’s Halloween Costume Contest yesterday, I was constantly surrounded by cries of “Meccha kawaii!” (too cute!) “Meccha kakkoii!” (so cool!). Along with the different vocabulary, there are also different stress patterns.

But there are also differences in grammar. One of the easiest is that the negative verb ending –nai become –hen in Kansai-ben. In most verbs, it’s a pretty straightforward substitution, but shinai (doesn’t do) becomes seehen or shiihin, and konai (doesn’t come) becomes keehen or koohen or kiihin. Some other word endings that are a little more difficult to explain include ten, non, and yano.

I asked a few people some quick questions about the usage of the dialect. The two native speakers of Kansai-ben both immediately told me they were very proud to speak to Kansai-ben. There doesn’t seem to be as much pressure for speakers to change their accents; it’s not eradicated in schools or anything like that, though Standard Japanese must be used for written assignments, and some more casual/slangy Kansai-ben would still be considered casual/slangy, and therefore inappropriate. But it’s used all the time in advertisements, speeches by politicians, etc.

However, Kansai-ben does entail some stereotypes when heard by outsiders. Osaka-ben especially is associated with comedians and entertainers. For some Tokyoites, the accent can be grating, though this view seems to be fading away. A girl not from Kansai who I asked about it told me that since coming to the area for school, she has come to really love the accent and think it’s cute.

This makes an appropriate final blog post for me, as I’ll be conducting my research this semester on attitudes toward Kansai-ben and its usage. I’m particularly interested in the pride that speakers feel toward it, and whether they ever feel pressure to hide it when visiting elsewhere. I look forward to conducting interviews and doing research about this during the second half of my semester here in Japan.

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