Many people in Japan lead a double life — linguistically speaking, that is. In their community, they speak the hogen (dialect) of their city, town or village, while outside it they may be accustomed to use hyojungo (standard Japanese). Their native language, in the true sense of that word, is their dialect, not hyojungo.

Take Kyoto-ben (Kyoto dialect). A Kyoto woman who works in a large office with people who were born in various parts of Japan would speak standard Japanese. When she phones her son, however, who didn’t go to school because of the flu, she switches back into Kyoto-ben. “Kaze do? Yo natta? (or “Kaze do? Yoku natta?” in standard Japanese). In response to being asked if his condition has improved, the boy says, “Akan yo” instead of the standard “Dame da,” both of which mean, “I feel bloody rotten!”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.