Technically, Kansai-ben is not a single dialect, but a group of related dialects of the region. Each major city represents a particular dialect, such as Kyoto-ben, Kobe-ben, Nara-ben, Wakayama-ben, etc. Kansai-ben has over one thousand years of history. Since Osaka is the largest city of the region, and since its speakers have gained the most media exposure in the last century, non-Kansai-ben Japanese speakers tend to associate the dialect of Osaka with the entire Kansai region. Thus anyone habitually saying akan or honma to a Tokyo-jin (someone from Tokyo) is probably going to be labelled as an Osaka-ben speaker and probably an Osaka-jin (someone from Osaka) whether they are from Osaka or not.
Since Kansai-ben is the most widely known nonstandard dialect of Japanese, it has become a favorite with Japanese authors, manga and anime artists, and the like, as the choice for representing a somewhat "different" character from the norm. The use of Kansai-ben is closely associated with manzai and comedy in general throughout most of non-Kansai Japan. This is due both to the prevalence of comedians from Osaka in Japanese media as compared to people from other cities and regions (which is in turn due at least in part to the Yoshimoto Kogyo agency, based in Osaka), and to the willingness of Osaka comedians to use their own dialect while on stage. Because of this association, speakers of Kansai-ben are often viewed as being more humorous or wittier than the average Tokyo-jin. Tokyo people even occasionally imitate Kansai-ben to provoke laughter or inject humor into a situation.
Historically, nearly every village in the Kansai area had a style of speech which differed somewhat from its neighbors; it was once possible for well-travelled people to identify the particular area from which a speaker came. Due to the increasing influence of the Tokyo and Kantō dialects over the last four hundred years, the intraregional differences have been declining across all of Kansai. Nevertheless, citizens of each major city and prefecture still take some pride in their particular dialectical variation, and this pride has preserved a number of differences between each area in the region.
The primary dialects of Kansai-ben can be roughly divided into cities. There is Osaka-ben, the most famous and well known. Following it are Kyoto-ben, known for its indirectness and politeness, and Kobe-ben known for its -tō/-ton verb conjugation.
The geminated consonants found in Standard Japanese verbal inflections are usually replaced with long vowels in Kansai-ben. Thus, for the verb iu "to say", its past tense in Standard Japanese itta or yutta "said" becomes yūta in Kansai-ben. This particular verb is a dead giveaway of a native Kansai-ben speaker, as most will unconsciously say yūte instead of itte or yutte even when well practiced at speaking in Standard Japanese. Other examples of geminate replacement are waratta "laughed" becoming warōta, and moratta "received" becoming morōta or even mōta.
The -te shimau verb gerund + auxiliary form (to finish something, or to do something in unintentional / unfortunate circumstances) found in Standard Japanese exists in Kansai-ben, but is contracted to -temau rather than the -chimau or -chau of Tokyo speech. Thus shichimau or shichau becomes shitemau. Furthermore, as the verb shimau is affected by the same sound changes as in other verbs ending in -au, the past tense of this form is rendered as -temōta or -temota rather than -chimatta or -chatta: wasurechimatta or wasurechatta ("I forgot [it]") in Tokyo speech is wasuretemōta or wasuretemota in Kansai-ben.
Oddly, long vowels in inflections of Standard Japanese are typically shortened in Kansai-ben. This is particularly noticeable in the volitional conjugation of verbs. For instance, ikō "let's go" is shorter in Kansai-ben as iko; shō, the contracted form of shiyō "let's do" in Standard Japanese, is simply sho in Kansai-ben. The common phrase of agreement, sō da "that's it", is said so ya in Kansai-ben.
A frequent occurrence in Kansai-ben is the use of h in place of s in suffices and inflections. Some palatalization of s is apparent in most Kansai speakers, but it seems to have progressed further in morphological suffixes than in core vocabulary. This process has produced the Kansai -han for Standard -san "Mr.-, Ms.-", -mahen for -masen (formal negative form), and -mahyo for -mashō (formal imperative mood), among other examples.
Furthermore, the same process that reduced the Classical Japanese terminal and attributive endings (-shi and -ki, respectively) to -i, also has reduced the (-masu stem) ending -ku to simply -u, yielding such forms as hayō (contraction of hayau) for hayaku ("quickly"). Dropping of the consonant from the final mora in all forms of adjective endings has been a frequent occurrence in Japanese over the centuries (and is the origin of such forms as arigatō and omedetō), but Kantō speech preserved -ku while reducing -shi and -ki to -i, thus accounting for the discrepancy in the standard language.
|Tokyo||sareru, nasaru||o-ii ni naru, ossharu||o-tabe ni naru, meshiagaru||go-ran ni naru||-terassharu|
Another difference in sentence final particles which strikes the ear of the Tokyo-ben speaker is the nen particle. This is much the same as the Standard Japanese no da or n'da (no da = no ya > ne ya > nen).
The emphatic particles zo and ze heard so often in the mouths of Tokyo men are nowhere to be heard in the Kansai region. Instead, the particle de is used, especially in the phrase akan de, equivalent to Tokyo's ikenai yo. It probably arose from the same variation which gave rise to the Western Japan replacement of z- with d- in words such as denden for zenzen "never, not at all". However, despite the similarity with ze, the Kansai de does not carry nearly as heavy or rude a connotation, influenced by the lesser stress on formality and distance in the Kansai region.
|Osaka||ikahen or ikehen|
|not doing||not seeing||not coming|
|Kyoto||shiihin or seehen||miihin||kiihin*|
|Osaka||seehen||miihen or meehen||keehen*|
|Do||Not do||Go||Not go||Eat||Not eat|
|Normal||sei see||suruna sun'na suna||ike||ikuna||tabei tabee||taberuna taben'na|
|Soft||shi shii||shina||iki ikii||ikina||tabe tabei tabee||tabena|
|Original||suru (為る)||iku (行く)||taberu (食べる)|
Some Japanese words gain entirely different meaning or are used in different ways when used in Kansai-ben. One such usage is of the word erai (usually used to mean "great" or "high-status" in the standard language) in the sense of "terrible," e.g. erai kotcha (< *koto ya), "it is a terrible/difficult thing/matter". The Standard equivalent would be taihen na koto da.
Another widely recognized Kansai-specific usage is of aho. Basically equivalent to the Standard baka "idiot, fool", aho is both a term of reproach and a term of endearment to the Kansai speaker. Baka, which is used as "idiot" in most regions, becomes "complete fool" and a stronger insult than aho. Where a Tokyo citizen would almost certainly object to being called baka, being called aho by a Kansai person is not necessarily much of an insult. Being called baka by a Kansai speaker is however a much more severe criticism than it would be by a Tokyo speaker. Most Kansai-ben speakers cannot stand being called baka but don't mind being called aho.
|akan, akimahen (keigo form)||dame, ikemasen, shimatta||wrong, no good, must, oh no!||abbreviation of "rachi ga akanu" (埒が明かぬ)||Tabeta(ra) akan. = "(You) must not eat." : Tabena akan = "(You) must eat."|
|aho||baka||silly, idiot, fool||often used friendly with a joke||Honma aho ya nā. = "(You) are really silly."|
|chau||chigau, dewa nai, janai||that isn't it, that isn't good, nope, wrong||reduplication chau chau is often used for informal negative phrase||Chauchau chau n chau? = "It isn't a Chow Chow, is it?" (a famous pun with Kansai-ben)|
|dabo||baka||silly, idiot, fool||used in Kobe and Banshu; harder than aho|
|dekka, makka||desu ka, masu ka||keigo copula||desu, masu + ka (interrogative particle); somewhat archaic||Mōkarimakka? = "How's business?"|
|denna, manna||desu ne, masu ne||keigo copula||desu, masu + na; somewhat archaic||Bochi-bochi denna. = "So-so, y'know."|
|desse, masse||desu yo, masu yo||keigo copula||desu, masu + e (change from yo); somewhat archaic||Ee toko oshiemasse! = "I'll show you a nice place!"|
|dessharo, massharo||deshō, darō||keigo copula||desu, masu + yaro; somewhat archaic||Kyō wa hare massharo. = "It may be fine weather today."|
|donai||donna, dō||how (demonstrative)||konai means konna (such, like this), sonai means sonna (such, like that), anai means anna (such, like that)||Donai deshita? = "How did it go?"|
|do||excessively (prefix)||often used with bad meanings||do-aho! = "(You are) excessively fool!"|
|dotsuku||naguru||to clobber somebody||do + tsuku (突く; prick, push)||Anta, dotsuku de! = "Man, I'll clobber you!"|
|donkusai||manuke, nibui||stupid, clumsy, inefficient, lazy||literally "stupid-smelling"|
|ee||yoi, ii||good, proper, all right||Kakko ee de. = "(You) look cool."|
|egetsunai||akudoi, iyarashii, rokotsu||wicked, vicious, obnoxious||Egetsunai yarikata = "Vicious way"|
|gotsui||ikatsui, sugoi||rough, huge||gottsu means "very" or "terribly" as metcha.||Gotsui kii = "Huge tree"|
|gyōsan||takusan||a lot of, many||also yōsan and yōke||Gyōsan tabei ya. = "Eat heartily."|
|hokasu||suteru||to throw away, to dump||also horu||Sore hokashitoite. = "Dump it, please."|
|hannari||hanayaka, jōhin||elegant, splendid, graceful||Hannari shita kimono = "Elegant kimono"|
|honnara, hona||(sore)dewa, (sore)ja, (sore)nara||then, in that case, if that's true||often used for informal good-by.||Hona mata. = "Well then."|
|honma||hontō||true, real||Sore honma? = "Is that true?"|
|ikezu||ijiwaru||spiteful, ill-natured||Ikezu sen toitee na. = "Don't be spiteful to me, please."|
|jibun||omae, anta, kimi, etc.||you, yourself||Means "(my)self" or "(do something) by oneself" in Standard Japanese; also usage as a second-person pronoun is specific to Kansai.||Ore, Misudo iko omoten nen. Jibun wa? = "I think I'll go to Mister Donut. What about you?"|
|kamahen, kamehen||kamawanai||never mind, it's doesn't matter||abbreviation of "kamai wa senu"||Kamahen, kamahen. = "It doesn't matter, it's OK."|
|kanan||iya da, tamaranai||can't stand, unpleasant, unwelcome||abbreviation of "kanawanu"|
|kattā shatsu, kattā||wai shatsu||dress shirt||kattā is a pun of "cutter" and "katta" (won, beat, overcame).|
|kettai-na||kimyō-na, hen-na, okashi-na, fushigi-na||strange||Kettai-na fuku ya na. = "It's strange clothes."|
|kettakuso warui||imaimashii haradatashii||damned, stupid, irritating||kettai + kuso "shit" + warui "bad"|
|kii warui||kanji ga warui, iyana kanji||be not in a good feeling||kii is a lengthen vowel form of ki (気).|
|maido||dōmo||commercial greeting||original meaning is "thank you always"||Maido, irasshai! = "Hello, may I help you?"|
|makudo||makku||McDonald's||abbreviation of "Makudonarudo" (McDonald's' Japanese pronunciation)||Makudo iko. = "Let's go to McDonald's."|
|metcha, messa, mutcha||totemo, chō||very||mostly used by younger people; abbreviation of "mecha-kucha" and "mucha-kucha"||Metcha omoroi mise shitten nen. = "I know a really interesting shop."|
|nā||nē||sentence final particle||meaning varies depending on context and voice inflection|
|nanbo||ikura||how much, no matter how||Sore nanbo de kōta n? = "How much did you buy it for?"|
|nen||no da, n da, no yo||sentence final particle||also neya, ne and nya. neya is rather manlike style, ne is short style of neya or nen and nya is sometimes used in Kyoto.||Nande ya nen! (stereotype in Manzai) = "You gotta be kidding!", "Why/What the hell?!"|
|ōki ni||arigatō||thanks||abbreviation of "ōki ni arigatō" (thank you very much, ōki ni means "very much"). Of course, arigatō is also used. Sometimes used ironically to mean "No thank you".|
|oru||iru||there is/are [humans/animals]||more informal or arrogance than iru||Doko ni oru n? = "Where are (you)?"|
|sakai (ni)||kara, node||because||somewhat archaic; also yotte (ni)||Ame ya sakai kasa saso. = "Because it's rainy, let's open an umbrella."|
|shānai||shōganai, shikataganai||it can't be helped|
|shibaku||naguru, tataku||to beat somebody (with hands or rods)||Shibaitaroka! (< shibaite yarō ka) = "Do you want me to give you a beating!?"|
|shindoi||tsukareru, tsurai, kurushii||tired, exhausted||change from shinrō (辛労; hardship). shindoi has become to be used in all over Japan in recent years.||Aa shindo. = "Ah, I'm tired."|
|shōmonai||tsumaranai, omoshirokunai, kudaranai||dull, unimportant, uninteresting|
|ten||ta no da, ta n da, ta no yo||sentence final particle||the past form of nen||Kinō Umeda itten. = "I went to Umeda yesterday."|
|uchi||watashi, atashi||I (girls)||Uchi no koto dō omoteru non? = "How do you think about me?"|
|ware||temee, omae, kisama||you (swearword)||Means "I" or "me" in archaic Standard Japanese; also usage as a second-person pronoun is specific to Kansai.||Itemaudo ware! = "I'll finish off you!" (a conventional fighting talk)|
|wate||watashi||I||archaic; watashi > watai > watee > wate||Wate ni makashitoki! = "Leave it to me!"|
|waya||mucha-kucha, dainashi, dame||going for nothing, fruitless||Sappari waya ya. = "It's no good at all."|
|wai||ore||I (men)||archaic; washi > wai|
|yan||jan||copula||abbreviation of yanka; somewhat up-to-date|
|yan'na, yan'ne||dayona, dayone||copula||yan + na, ne; mostly used by younger people|
|yanka, yanke||dewa naika, janaika||copula||yanke is used more by men|
|yaru||yaru, ageru||to give (informal)||used more widely than in Standard Japanese|
|yasu||kudasai, nasaimase||keigo copula||archaic; mostly used in Kyoto||Oide yasu/Okoshi yasu. = "Welcome."|
The idea behind mōkarimakka is that supposedly Osakans are all engaged in some sort of mercantile activity, since Osaka was historically the center of the merchant culture throughout the Edo era and earlier. Certainly the phrase developed among shopkeepers, and today can be used to greet a business proprietor in a friendly and familiar way, but it was probably never a universal greeting and certainly is not today. It can however be used in a joking manner with any Osakan, and will at least result in a smile and a few laughs, along with the mā, bochi bochi denna response.
The latter phrase is also specific to Osaka, in particular the term bochi bochi. This means essentially "so-so", i.e. getting better little by little or not getting any worse. Unlike mōkarimakka, bochi bochi is used in many situations to indicate gradual improvement or lack of negative change. For the foreigner used to the repetitive question "Can you really understand Japanese?", responding with bochi bochi ya nā is sure to astound and amuse listeners. Also, bochi bochi can be used in place of the Standard Japanese soro soro, for instance bochi bochi iko ka "It's about time to be going".
In Kyoto-ben, the honorific suffix -san which in Standard Japanese is reserved for people (and other animate objects in children's speech) can be used for well-known inanimate locations as well.
In and around the Ise city (midsouth of Mie), some variations on typical Kansai-ben vocabulary can be found, mostly used by older residents. For instance, the typical expression ōkini for "thank-you" is sometimes pronounced ōkina in Ise. Near the Isuzugawa River and Naikū shrine, some old men use the word otai in place of the first-person personal pronoun washi.
Another famous feature is that the negative verb ending of Wakayama-ben is -yan instead of Standard Kansai-ben -hen. For example, dekehen or dekihen in Osaka becomes dekiyan in Wakayama.
Of course, there are differences between Kyoto and Shiga. In Nagahama, used a local friendly copula -yansu. For example, "Nani shite yansu n?" means "What are you doing?". In Hikone, used a local emphasis final particle hon. For example, "Ashita wa hareru hon" means "Maybe, it will be fine tomorrow".
The Book Club; Junichiro Tanizaki's "The Makioka Sisters." Translated from the Japanese by Edward Seidensticker (1957). Presented by Kunio Francis Tanabe.
Mar 04, 2001; After the Great Kanto Earthquake that demolished much of the Tokyo neighborhood where Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965) lived, the...