Aomori dialectPosted: October 18, 2009
Recently, before I left Ireland to move back to the US, I was finishing up the Culture Class series on Japanesepod101.com. Among the later lessons in that series was a coverage of the infamous Aomori Dialect, which is a well-known and difficult dialect in the remote, northernmost prefecture of Aomori.
Actually, there are two dialects in Aomori, both difficult for other Japanese to understand: Tsugaru dialect (津軽弁) spoken around Aomori City, and Nambu dialect (南部弁) spoken around the city of Hachinohe. The lady who spoke on the JPod lessons was a native speaker of Nambu Dialect. Both are called pejoratively “zu-zu” dialect by other Japanese speakers because of the way the sounds “i” (ee) and “u” (oo) blend together, as well as many words end in ず (zu) or something similar.
Additionally, Aomori dialect is very clipped compared to standard Japanese so 私 (watashi, “me”) becomes “warashi” or even shorter. Also, polite Japanese or differences between gender are largely absent. The word お前 (omae, “you”) is abrasive in standard Japanese, but in Aomori dialect the related word おめ (ome) is perfectly normal and not rude.
What first struck me when I heard it in on the JPod lessons was how much it sounds like Korean to me. This may sound strange, but where I grew up, we had a lot of Korean families living there, and many of my friends were Koreans, so I got used to hearing it all the time.1 The words weren’t the same, but the tonal quality in the dialogue and certain sounds really, really reminded me of Korean. I don’t believe this is due to any borrowing from Korea, since Northern Japan is far removed from Korea, but may represent a kind of convergence of sounds. Since Korean and Japanese are believed to have a common ancestral language, I don’t think this idea is too far-fetched. As Aomori dialect is a more abbreviated version of standard Japanese, maybe the common root-sounds become more apparent.
Anyway, Aomori dialect is certainly not something you would use much, if ever, as a student of Japanese, but just an interesting example of how a single country and culture can develop such unusual dialects.
1 I learned a bit of Korean then, which I can still remember. I have wanted to continue studying, but resources in the West are difficult until recently. I did try the KoreanPod101.com site recently, and liked it. Weeks later, some of the words still stick in my head, which is a good sign. Sadly, I have trouble learning even one language right now, especially with work and parenting, so I have to put off further Korean lessons for the time being, but after the JLPT test this year, I hope to dabble a little more.