Forefront of research Takashi Kobayashi

Another perspective of the areas damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake “Dialects save people, and people save dialects”

In order to save a dialect, they published “Introduction to the Kesennuma Dialect for Supporters.”

Six months after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck the Pacific coastal area of Tohoku on March 11, 2011. On August 27, 2011, the Center for the Study of Dialectology of Tohoku University published a booklet titled “Introduction to the Kesennuma Dialect for Supporters” (Introduction to the Kesennuma Dialect).

Professor Kobayashi and the students had visited the Kesennuma area for three years before the disaster and interviewed about 90 people to investigate the dialect.Immediately after the disaster, they saw the devastation in the stricken area, and quickly compiled the results into a practical pocket book.The following message entitled “To the Readers of this brochure” gives the reason for publishing this brochure.

This brochure has been prepared mainly for those of you who have come from outside the Kesennuma area to lend your support to the people of Kesennuma, such as volunteers, medical personnel and government workers.
You may be bewildered by the dialect you hear for the first time in your exchanges with the local people.
In order to better understand the dialect of Kesennuma, please use this brochure.

This brochure briefly introduces the dialect of Kesennuma based on the field survey interviews of outside supporters about the Kesennuma dialect.
It explains what kind of dialect the Kesennuma dialect is and describes:

1. Pronunciation

  • (1) “Shi” sounds like “su.”
  • (2) The sounds “ka, ki, ku, ke, ko” and “ta, chi, tsu, te, to” are heard as “ga, gi, gu, ge, go” and “da, ji, zu, de, do,” respectively.
  • (3) “Ki” sounds like “chi.”

2. Grammar

  • (1) “... sa” (meaning “to” in standard Japanese)
  • (2) “... pe/... ppe” (meaning “would ...(guess)” and “will ... (will)”)
  • (3) “... kko” (an endearing term used for naming small things around us)

3. Words easily mistaken

  • (1) “nageru” (used for “throw away” but means “throw” in standard Japanese)
  • (2) “dakara/hondakara” (“that’s right”; “because” in standard Japanese)
  • (3) “kowai/kowe” (“tired”; “scared” in standard Japanese)
  • (4) “waganne” (“I can’t do it”; “I can’t understand” in standard Japanese)

Let’s use these words! “Recommended Kesennuma speech”:

  • - Good evening: “Obandesu”
  • - Goodbye: “Sainah,” “Matadain,” and “Osuzukani”
  • - That’s right: “Hodegasu”

When showing a diagram of the human body, the following words indicate “illnesses and feelings”:

  • “ambea” (healthy)
  • “sabuki” (cough)
  • “harapiri” (acute diarrhea)
  • “fukesame” (frequent change in symptoms)
  • “kozasu” (to aggravate an illness)
  • “sukkoguru” (to graze your skin)
  • “izui” (to feel strange)
  • “haka haka” (to run out of breath)
  • “afura afura” (to feel woozy and ill)
  • “nedasorane” (could not get a good night’s sleep (with all the noise)
  • “seraserasuru (seserapoi)” (to have a scratchy throat)

As described in the message, the brochure was compiled so that outside supporters and the local people could communicate smoothly with each other and have a comfortable and pleasant relationship. In view of the devastation in the Kesennuma area that might have lead regional collapse, this measure was a practical tool to “save the disaster-stricken area and its supporters through understanding of the local dialect.”

At present, although this is the only book published by the Center for the Study of Dialectology, the dialect spoken in Kesennuma share some similarities with the dialects spoken in other areas of the Tohoku region, and is also similar to the dialect spoken along the southern coast of Iwate Prefecture as well as Miyagi Prefecture. Therefore, this book can be used for the dialects in a wider area.

Recently, the Kesennuma City Government requested more books from our laboratory, so we provided them with the necessary number of books out of our remaining stock.

The dialect used in the Tohoku region became famous throughout Japan because of the popularity of the TV drama “Ama-chan” in which the dialect is used.

In the drama, the interjection “jeje,” which was said whenever characters were surprised, impressed, or wanted to emphasize something, was a new and fresh sound to the audience, leading to its popularity.

This “jeje” is from the dialect spoken in northern Iwate Prefecture to the coastal area of southern Aomori Prefecture. From central Iwate Prefecture where Morioka is located to the inland area of southern Aomori, the word changes to “jaja,” and from the southern part of Iwate Prefecture to the Oshika Peninsula, it changes to “baba.” Across the Ou Mountain Range in Akita Prefecture, people use “ba.” The term “ba” is a corrupted form of “aba,” which originated from mono no aware (pathos and impermanence of things).

Because “Introduction to the Kesennuma Dialect” is focused on the dialect used in daily activities in disaster-stricken Kesennuma, interjections and onomatopoeia are omitted. However, in dialect studies, interjections and onomatopoeia are as important as nouns, verbs, and adjectives for showing differences in dialects.

The dialects in the Tohoku region can be aptly characterized as “a culture of sound and voice.” Compared with other areas in Japan, these dialects excel in expressing people’s feelings, describing what they are looking at, or what they are currently feeling by realistically using interjections and onomatopoeia. This is why you can hear many kinds of interjections and onomatopoeia in Tohoku.