Osaka-Ben

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Why study Osaka-ben?

First, let’s take a look at the Kansai region.

The Kansai region consists of seven prefectures, Nara, Wakayama, Mie, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo and Shiga. The major cities of Kansai are Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto. With the mercantile spirit of Osaka, the rich history of the ancient capitals of Kyoto and Nara, and the modern, international style of Kobe, Kansai abounds in history and culture. Kansai is also home to two of the most iconic castles in Japan, Osaka castle, the biggest castle in Japan, and Himeji Castle, a beautiful white castle, the best example of an original Japanese castle (many other castles were severely damaged during WW2, having to be rebuilt with concrete, while Himeji Castle remained largely unscathed and except for a few small areas, is still constructed from stone and wood). With a population of 24, 406000 people, Kansai accounts for 19.1% of Japan’s total population, and produces 18.5% of Japan’s GDP.

Kansai is one of the 2 major regions of Japan, the other being Kanto (The greater Tokyo-Yokohama area). Together, Kansai and Kanto lead Japan in terms of both economy and population. Kansai and Kanto are very often compared and contrasted with each other, and a friendly rivalry exists between the two regions.

And now Osaka...

Osaka could be dubbed the capital of Kansai, being the biggest prefecture in terms of both population and economy. Osaka has a population of 8800000 people, 7% of the total population of Japan and 36% of the total population of the Kansai Region. Osaka prefecture has one of the strongest economies in Japan. Osaka’s economy is so powerful that it could be compared to the national economies of Australia and Holland.

At last, let’s talk about Osaka-ben!

The group of related dialects spoken in Kansai is referred to as “Kansai-Ben”. While there are differences among the individual dialects of the area, it can generally be said that any two kansai dialects are closer than any one kansai dialect is to hyoujungo (standard Japanese). Osaka being the biggest city in Kansai, it is little surprise that Osaka-ben is the most widely spoken dialect in Kansai. Despite minor differences between dialects, a firm grasp of Osaka-ben will enable you to easily understand and speak the majority of other Kansai dialects. In fact, many words in Osaka-ben are used in the entire southern half of Japan, and some are even found as far away as Kyushu!

Furthermore, Osaka is famous for its manzai(漫才) comedians. Osaka is fiercely proud of its dialect, and Osaka’s comedians, unlike comedians from many other parts of Japan, speak and perform their acts in their native dialect. Due to this, Osaka-ben has gained nation-wide recognition, and speakers of Osaka-ben have a reputation for being humorous and entertaining. In fact, Tokyo people often imitate Osaka-ben when attempting to add a little humor to a conversation.

So back to the start: why learn Osaka-ben?

  • Osaka-ben and closely related dialects are spoken by over 24,406000 people.
  • Learning Osaka-ben will enable you to easily speak and understand many related dialects.
  • Osaka-ben is the most widely recognised and understood dialect in Japan.
  • It’s fun!

Features of Kansai-ben

This list is not exhaustive.

Pronunciation

The pitch accent used in Kansai is completely different from Standard Japanese. A person from Kansai is instantly identifiable to natives (and often to non-natives) even if they are using standard grammar and vocabulary if they retain their pitch accent. Not only do the accents fall in different places, but the pitch patterns themselves are different. For example, Standard Japanese accent never allows a word to start with two or more low morae, but Kansai-ben often does.

Kansai-ben tends not to use silent vowels, so です, -ます, etc. will usually have the "u" pronounced, even by men.

Grammar

These are not necessarily strict rules; sometimes people speak in a mix of Kansai-ben and Standard Japanese, and not all Kansai dialects have the same features.

  • や may be used instead of だ. Its past tense is やった and its negative is ちゃう (from ちがう), past tense ちょうた.
  • へん may be used instead of ない to negate verbs. 食べへん, 見へん, 話さへん. For past negative, add かった after へん.
  • The negative of ある may be あらへん rather than ない.
  • まへん may be used instead of ません to form polite negations.
  • In Kyoto, どす may be used instead of です.
  • Verbs that end in "u" may conjugate differently in the て and た forms.
    • Standard: 買う (かう), 買った (かった); 言う (いう), 言った (いった); 吸う (すう), 吸った (すった)
    • Kansai-ben: 買う (かう), 買た (こうた); 言う (う), 言た (ゆうた); 吸う (すう), 吸た (すた)

Vocabulary

  • あかん is used instead of 無理 or だめ
  • ほんま is used instead of 本当

Particles

  • のう - used at the end of sentences like な and ね in Standard Japanese. May be characteristic of old men's speech; younger people may use な.
  • わ - used by men as well as women in Kansai.

Misc

Vowels that are long in Standard Japanese may be short in Kansai or vice versa, especially the final vowels of words.

ちゃった - this contraction of てしまった is used only by women in Kansai. Men should stick to てしまった or てしもうた.

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