People in Aomori Prefecture, especially in the western Tsugaru area, are known for their strong dialect, often leading outsiders to joke about needing a translator.

But for health care professionals, the issue is no laughing matter. Misunderstanding patients could lead to incorrect medical decisions, and the longer it takes for doctors and nurses unfamiliar with the dialect to deal with patients, the longer the wait will be for others.

In an effort to tackle the problem, Hirosaki University in Aomori and Tohoku Electric Power Co. this month started analyzing the voice data of 6,700 phone calls, covering 900 hours of calls the utility's customer center has fielded from across the Tohoku region. They have also started collecting conversation data from 12 residents in their 20s through 70s in the town of Ajigasawa located in the southwestern part of the prefecture.