Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Japanese dialects

A couple people asked about the T-shirts from Saturday's post. The T-shirts are 25oo yen, but I'm afraid since the dollar is high now, that that really brings the cost up... Even considering that all proceeds will go to Northern Japan's animals converting it to American dollars ($33), it ends up being a big expense for a simple cotton T-shirt. If anyone is really interested let me know and I can send one for you....


Tetsu and I spent the evening watching a couple of DVD's. I wanted him to see Blindside which I'd seen in the States a couple of years ago. And we also watched a Japanese movie with the story taking place in the Southern part of Japan. Thus it took a bit of effort for me to follow the Japanese.

When you think of Japan you figure everyone speaks Japanese, right. True. But did you know that there are different dialects in Japan? Much like there are accents of English; British, Australian, American and also New York accent or Southern accent; in Japan, it is fairly easy to tell where a person is from even with a short conversation. And not only are there accents, there are different inflections and even completely different words and phrases used. Accents, intonations, inflections, different words, different phrases, it all gets very confusing especially for a foreigner like me. (But even for native Japanese.)

When I first came to Japan I lived in the northern city of Morioka and the dialect spoken there was very countrified, the words blending together and even odd little attachments to certain words. Different from any Japanese that I'd ever studied in college! But most people all over Japan can speak standard Japanese so I was able to get along (and interestingly never picked up the Morioka dialect myself). But a few weeks after marrying Tetsu and listening to him and his mother chat over breakfast, I realized I couldn't understand a word my husband was saying! What had I done! How could I be married to someone I couldn't even understand!

For the next couple of years Tetsu was transferred here and there throughout northern Japan and every prefecture had its own dialect, and I was in limbo every time. In some cities only the older obaachans and ojiichans (grandmas and grandpas) spoke the dialect but in some places that was all the housewives and even children spoke. What an impossible language (and that's not even including the mind boggling writing system!)

Our family has lived in Tochigi-prefecture for the past 20 years but occasionally I can still recognize a difference from standard Japanese. And my children have reported that if they meet people from other parts of Japan that their Tochigi-dialect will be pointed out (but my children can't hear it.)

Even after over 30 years in Japan I stumble in the Japanese language. My conversation is fair, my comprehension good, my reading ability about jr. high level, my writing ability left back in the first or second grade of elementary school!!! At least Tetsu understands me, and me him. That's the important thing.

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