I was wondering whether the differences in Japanese vocabulary between the dialects extend even so far as particles.

Are there dialects that pronounce any of the standard particles differently? Especially the grammatical (syntactic?) ones like は (wa), が (ga), and を (wo)? Or do some dialects go so far as having extra particles or not using some of the standard particles?

I'm expecting if it occurs at all it would be in Okinawan/Ryukyuan since the speech there is classed as separate language(s) as often as dialect(s) of Japanese. But I have been surprised before!

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Sure. Dialects can vary right down to the particles.

  • In Kansai-ben, there is a particle かて which does not appear in standard Japanese. It roughly means 〜ても, でも, さえ etc.
  • In Tohoku-ben, the particle さ is used instead of what in standard Japanese would be に or へ: 東京さ行ぐ, etc.
  • In some Nagano dialects, を is pronounced /wo/, not /o/.
  • In many dialects, including Tokyo dialects, something like 僕は might be realized as /bokaa/ instead of /bokuwa/. I believe that this is more a case of phonetic rules causing this change even when particles are involved, rather than the particle itself having a "different pronunciation," though.
  • The sound /u/ in many Okinawan words corresponds to the sound /o/ in the equivalent (cognate) Japanese words, and this applies to particles too: there is a particle /tu/ corresponding to standard Japanese と, etc.

Important note: None of these cases, as far as I know, are the result of the "correct" standard Japanese form being transmitted to a dialect area and then changing there. The dialects grew up alongside standard Japanese, and happened to end up with different pronunciations for some corresponding particles. The difference is subtle but important.

For example, if you were Italian, you might say as shorthand "in Spanish, the word 'il' is pronounced 'el'" (and vice versa if you were Spanish), but it is more accurate to say that a common ancestor word evolved into the words /il/ and /el/ in the two different languages. Neither language is the "correct" or "original" form (if anything, that would be the Latin /ille/, but even this is probably an oversimplification). They are different languages and therefore different words. (They are, however, cognates.)

The Okinawan /tu/ is a particularly good example of this because Okinawan is so distinct from standard Japanese. It's misleading to say "In Okinawa they pronounce と /tu/". It's more like "In Okinawan, there is a particle /tu/ which shares the same proto-Japonic ancestor as (= is cognate to) the particle と in Japanese." But you could say the same about Nagano /wo/, the usage of /sa/ up north, etc. -- they don't derive from modern standard Japanese itself, they come from an older language (or dialect family, if you like) from which modern standard Japanese is also derived.

  • Thanks for the great answer. Don't worry I know a little about dialects so I thought that they might be converging under the influence of the standard to the point of losing different particles or their pronunciations in recent times after their parallel descent from a common ancestor. I wish I'd known about Tohoku さ when I was up there! – hippietrail Jul 22 '11 at 20:55
  • @Matt I have an objection about the hisorical part of your answer. The present standard Japanese is based on the Tokyo (or Edo) dialect, which was merely a regional dialect until the Tokugawa shogunate. Until then, the cultural and political center of Japan has been mainly in the Kansai area such as Kyoto. It is well known that major dialects actually preserve forms of old dialects that used to be spoken in the Kansai area. The further you go from Kansai area, the older the dialect spoken there dates back to. This is known as 柳田国男's 方言週圏論, or in a more general context as 'wave theory'. – user458 Jul 22 '11 at 21:22
  • sawa: Yes, I agree with you entirely. That is my point, although obviously explained unclearly (sorry). It's not that there are no ancestor-descendant relationships among Japanese dialects. As you say, they appear to have originated from central Japan and traveled outwards in waves. All I mean is that linguistically speaking, it's not the case that Tohoku dialect (for example) is an altered form of standard Japanese (= codified Yamanote Edo dialect). They diverged from a common source and developed alongside each other. – Matt Jul 22 '11 at 21:42

Matt's answer is great, and already accepted, but I add a few things about Tohokuben in Miyagi prefecture. Please remember that the grammar is very little formalized, and that the final particles may be used differenty depending on what precedes them, or who talks.

  • 東京さ行ぐ -> 東京に行く
  • 〜だちゃ -> 〜ですよ(ね)
  • 〜だべ -> だろう
  • 〜だすっぺ -> でしょう
  • うまいさ -> 美味しいよ
  • 行ぐが? -> 行くか?
  • パンば買ってけろ -> パンを買ってください
  • なじょすっぺが? -> どうしようか?
  • これあげっから! -> これをあげるよ!

and the list continues…

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