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I have tried to ask people this type of question on many occasions and the answer is always the same, but people are notoriously bad at evaluating their own language, so I ask here:

Apart for pitch, which I know will differ significantly from region to region, what kinds of phonetic or phonological differences are there between the different dialects of Japanese, particularly between Kansai and Tokyo?

For instance, I'm always told that if a person from Osaka spoke with Standard Pitch Accent, they would sound exactly like a person from Tokyo, that there is essentially no other difference. Except I know there are slight differences, such as with devoicing. Does anyone know more about this?


EDIT: I'd like to be more specific. In a context where a native speaker of Kansaiben says a word or phrase that either sounds the same in standard Japanese, or where he happens to use standard Japanese, provided he gets the pitch right, are there typically any sounds that would tend to be pronounced differently and that would give away that person as a non-native speaker of Tokyouben, for instance?

If an American from New York and another from New Orleans say the same phrase they are unlikely to sound the same, even if they naturally used the exact same words. I'm wondering if the same concept of "accent" can apply to the pronunciation of particular sounds within Japanese dialects, specifically Kansaiben.

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I would use intonation (changing of pitch), rather than pitch. –  Jeemusu Oct 1 '12 at 3:25
    
No. Japanese has pitch accent whereby every mora surfaces as either high or low, which differs from intonation, which every language has. –  alexandrec Oct 17 '12 at 13:23
    
I think you need to be more specific in your definition of the word pitch, and what it encompasses. I've never studied linguistics, so I don't know a lot of the technical terms, I didn't even know what a mora was until I looked it up. Anyhow, pitch can change in Japanese words on a mora-for-mora basis, I was pretty sure that this was called intonation. Could be wrong. –  Jeemusu Oct 17 '12 at 13:56
    
Japanese has pitch accent, English has stress. French has neither. All three languages have intonation; it's a different thing entirely. You can say boku with raising intonation or not, depending on your intent, but boku will always remain HL. –  alexandrec Oct 17 '12 at 17:49

5 Answers 5

There are some significant differences between Kansai-ben and what you see in textbooks, I'm not sure where you would get the idea that the only difference was in pitch emphasis. There are some very significant pitch-differences, but that's not the only change. (Personally, I felt the pitch changes were much easier to notice in Kyoto, but that might have been just me)

Probably the most noticeable aspect of kansai-ben to the new learner is swapping copula だ for や.

Volitionals tend to be clipped (many extended おう-sounds actually tend to be clipped). The end of words where the vowel sound changes (such as on 形容詞) will often be turned into an extension of the first vowel sound in informal language. On the other hand, several short words end up being extended, such as is shown in the second half of this video focused on the simple body-part words.

The hyoujungo pauses introduced by small-っ will sometimes be replaced with a long vowel in kansai. This change will also often include a vowel change from before the っ of い or あ to う or お.

There is also some vocabulary which is simply unique to the area.

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Some guys will jump on you anytime soon for confusing Tokyoben and Hyojungo. –  oldergod Sep 30 '12 at 23:45
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The OP is not asking about vocab or grammar, but explicitly about "differences in pronunciation". –  dainichi Oct 1 '12 at 1:46

As you have already picked up on, the intonation (change in pitch) of words is vastly different.

A common example is the pronunciation of the word 日本.

Osaka:
Starts high, and pitch lowers
にほん【HLL】

Standard:
Starts low, and pitch raises and then lowers
にほん【LHL】

However this is not the only difference between Kansai-ben and Standard Japanese, here are some other differences regarding pronunciation.

  • Speakers tend to pronounce the usually silent う at the end of words such as です/ます.
  • There is a tendency to replace the M sound in some words with a B sound. A common example is the word さむい which is pronounced さぶい or even just さぶ。
  • The extended pronounciation of some vowels (長音), is ignored in some cases. A common example is in the volitional form of verbs. どこか行こうか would be pronounced どこか行こか.
  • The copula だ, becomes や, and as such だろう becomes やろう.
  • Words can be vastly different. おもしろい/おもしろくない becomes おもろい/おもない. しんどい is used instead of つかれた. I think even the names of some fish can differ in kansai-ben.

Kansai-ben even has it's own keigo forms of verbs, and multiple other verb conjugations unique to the region.

As you can see, Kansai-ben is not just the intonation/pronunciation of words. If someone from Osaka were to speak with standard Japanese intonation, they would sound very much like someone from Osaka.

This kinda question pops up quite often, maybe it deserves its own community wiki page?

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It's not "Standard Japanese" but New Tokyo dialect. Standard Japanese is irrelevant from specific pronunciation and shared all dialectal speaders. –  user4092 Jul 27 at 13:43

The different pitch accent patterns is easily the most noticeable phonetic difference when you look at the Kansaiben dialects (and it's important to mention that this is a group of dialects rather than a single dialect with no internal regional variation), so it's easy to conclude that this is the only real different in pronunciation between standard Japanese and Kansaiben.

If I understand correctly you are not interested in the many differences in vocabulary and grammar between the two dialects, so I'll stick to phonetics and phonology.

In the realm of basic phonology, modern Kansaiben seems to maintain more or less the same phoneme distinctions as standard Japanese. It doesn't have (or at least I'm not aware of) distinctions that don't exist in standard Japanese such as distinguishing an extra consonant or vowel sound.

When Kansaiben does seem to differ phonologically, it's usually deeper into the territory where these phonological differences may have already morphed into vocabulary differences. Kansaiben has a noted tendency to extend short, one-mora words (a lot of which are body part names), into two-morae words by lengthening the vowels. Oddly enough, these words also may have different pitch accents depending on the word, so めぇ (目, eye) has a LH pitch, while けぇ (毛, hair) has an HL pitch and ちぃ (血) blood bears a flat HH pitch. In standard Japanese there are only two possible pitch patterns for these words and they can both be properly distinguished only if some particle follows that word (because the pitch accent is relative and can only be distinguished when hearing the pitch rising or falling).

While short-vowels in one-mora words are lengthened, long vowels are sometimes shortened (as in the long O-form of verbs) and conversely again, a っ (small-tsu) sound is often replaced by lengthening of the previous vowels. But both of these changes are not as regular or sweeping as the previous one, and they seem to fall more properly into the realms of vocabulary and grammar.

Sometimes the boundary between phonology and vocabulary becomes quite murky, and this seems to be the case here. Even the lengthening of one-mora words, which does seem to be sweeping, is probably not an enforced phonological constraint anymore, since practically any young (as in younger than 50 years old :)) Kansaiben speaker can easily say these words without lengthening the vowel, and in fact most do just that when they speak standard Japanese. This is actually a tendency you everywhere in the modernized world, where mass media and higher mobilization has caused people to be bilingual in both their dialect and the standard language. This means that even if your dialect lacks some phoneme that is present in the standard language, when you borrow that word into your dialect you're much more likely to keep this phoneme as-is, since you can pronounce it anyway.

But there is one phonological feature of Kansaiben (besides the accent) which is strikingly different from standard Japanese and cannot be attributed to vocabulary: devoicing of vowels.

I think the video jkerian linked makes this quite apparent: when Tokyo Chicken and Osaka Dog pronounce 箸 (chopsticks), they don't only differ by the pitch accent they use, but also by how much they elide the last vowel of the word. Tokyo Chicken sometimes discards the vowel completely (saying [haʃ] instead of [haʃi]), but Osaka Dog will always pronounce it.

In general, devoicing of the vowels /i/ and /u/, which is so common in standard Japanese, is much more rare in Kansaiben. What's more interesting, is that even if it does occur, it may not necessarily occur in the same places as in standard Japanese, since the pitch accent does have some influence on whether a vowel gets elided or not. In this case, if Tokyo Chicken would have said 箸 with the same pitch accent as Osaka Dog (or if it just said 橋 or 端 in Tokyo dialect, like it did later), the vowel /i/ would never get devoiced.

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If I'm understanding your question correctly, you are asking about differences in phonology between Japanese dialects, except pitch accent and vowel devoicing.

Since you're especially interested in Kansai-ben, one that I can think of is the slight differences in how /g/ is pronounced. To summarize it roughly, many eastern speakers have [ŋ] as an allophone of /g/, while the majority of western speakers do not. However, I don't think that this in isolation is enough to mark a speaker as western (if everything else is pronounced in standard Japanese), since some eastern speakers don't use [ŋ] as an allophone og /g/ either.

If we include other dialects than kansai-ben, I can think of a few others:

Some dialects of Japanese do not base their pronunciation on moraic units. I would assume that if a speaker's dialect doesn't have morae, then even if pitch, devoicing and everything else was standard Japanese, they would have a hard time getting the mora-based rythm right.

Some Tohoku dialects pronounce し and す etc. similarly. The Wikipedia article doesn't go into too much detail, but I would imagine that such speakers would have difficulty pronouncing these as in Standard Japanese, even if they got pitch and devoicing right.

There are probably many subtle differences like this, but hopefully this can get you started.

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The only two non-pitch differences of pronuncation I know of are the pronunciations of う, ん, and the sokuon. The "u" sound in Kansai-ben is as in European languages and pronounced with rounded lips, not with compressed ones. This also means that lots of devoicing doesn't occur, since "u" is now a quite strong sound. Kansai people sometimes even say ~ますうう or ですううう though that is a bit of an exaggeration.

Kansai-ben is much more moraic than Kanto dialect, so ん and っ really do take up one full mora. In Kanto it's more like ん takes up half a mora and the vowel before it is lengthened to 1.5 moras (i.e. かんじ is like "ka-an-ji"). Same with the sokuon (だって is like "da-at-te, this is very obvious in songs). Kansai-ben treats them as full moras, and even pitch accent stress can go upon ん.

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