hogen

Five words that sound completely different across Japanese regional dialects

If you’re American, do you usually drink at the “water fountain,” the “drinking fountain,” or (my personal favorite, all you Rhode Islanders) the “bubbler”? And how about that fizzy fountain beverage–what do you call it in your neck of the woods?

In the same way that the above-mentioned drink is known variously to American speakers of English as soda, pop, or coke, Japanese speakers also use different terms for the same thing depending on where they live. In fact, Japanese regional dialects, known as hōgen (方言), can differ so much from the standard Japanese (hyōjungo [標準語]) spoken in the Tokyo area and national media, that subtitles are often necessary when someone speaks with a thick local accent on TV. It’s not just the pronunciation that differs; often the form of words and syntactical structures are completely distinct.

To show you what we’re talking about, we’d like to introduce five examples of words that look and sound completely different from standard Japanese when said in regional dialects. If you’re a speaker of Japanese and you use one of these words when speaking to someone from a different part of the country, you may be met with a blank stare if your terms for the same thing are mutually unintelligible.

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Well, the combination of the first two was working out well, apparently. (For those of you who don’t know, there are many regional dialects / accents in Japan. The most easily found is likely the Kansai dialect, due to the huge number of comedians and entertainers you can see on TV.) In any case, following the logic of [cute girls] + [dialects] = [cute], they created a late-night TV program featuring these girls doing various  things in their respective dialects (PG-rated, presumably). Due to the skyrocketing popularity of the TV show, the next natural step was to … promote men’s electric shavers. Read More