I have two questions regarding the style of the classic story 風の又三郎 by 宮沢賢治. (Full text available on 青空文庫)

1) Most of the characters use a dialect which I believe is 岩手弁, which comes from the author's home region. Is this dialogue still spoken today in much the same form, or has it aged/evolved over several centuries? Also, would this dialogue in that era (around 1930s) be spoken by country people, city people, or both?

2) The book is written with a surprising level of politeness I haven't seen before. For example, most descriptive text uses 敬語, even to the extent where ですます調 is used mid-sentence (i.e. ...行きますと...). Also, the teacher's speech when speaking to children is overly polite (ex: ”静かにするのです" instead of ”静かにしなさい"). Is there a cultural/historical/regional reason for this extra politeness?


1) I'm not good at 東北弁 at all, but like any other dialects in Japan, 東北弁 is rather quickly disappearing. I believe only old people in rural areas of Tohoku region can speak fluent 東北弁 today. Even in this novel written more than 80 years ago, 東北弁 is used as a role-language that represents country kids (先生 uses standard Japanese).

2) Fairy tales and folklore (e.g., 桃太郎, シンデレラ) are usually conveyed in this style. 宮沢賢治 is more like a 童話作家 than a 小説家, so I think this writing style was natural to him. People may intentionally choose this writing style when they write an allegorical story or children's story (for example, see 蜘蛛の糸 by 芥川龍之介).

  • Thanks for the informative answer. I am not sure if your #2 statement that fairy tales are "usually" conveyed using keigo is correct. I have a bunch of old まんが日本昔ばなし books and out of 13 of them, 8 used Keigo for the non-dialog portions, so around 60% used Keigo.
    – Locksleyu
    Oct 18 '16 at 18:30
  • @Locksleyu Here 敬体 is meant to be "soft" rather than "polite". I'm curious about how narrative in those other 5 books are like, since I don't own much 昔話 books myself. Are they written in ~じゃ style or something? Oct 19 '16 at 17:48
  • アニメのまんが日本昔ばなしは、老人の声で、基本的に「…ということじゃぁ~」か「…流れてきたぁ~」といった語り口だった気がしますね、
    – naruto
    Oct 19 '16 at 17:57
  • あ@broccoliforest: 例:ひかり女房: 「...ぐあいが悪いようすじゃ。」馬方とたぬき:「。。。にげてきたということじゃった」
    – Locksleyu
    Oct 19 '16 at 23:24
  • 1
    @Locksleyu まんが日本昔話 intentionally simulates narration of old person (じゃ style), but young mothers telling fairy tales to their children will never speak in that way. Typically 童話 look like this: douwa-douyou.jp/contents/html/douwa/douwa6.shtml
    – naruto
    Oct 20 '16 at 2:20

I did not read that book, so I will assume that you are correct with your assumption that it is Iwate-ben.

I live in Touhoku in a region very close to Iwate and I must say that the dialects are nearly non existent in the big cities. But my wife's grandparents, who were raised around the 1930 in a very rural place and although I have been very fluent in Japanese for many years, I can absolutely not communicate with them at all. Even most native Japanese cannot communicate with them. My point is, the language has been evolving insanely quickly, and 80 years is a very long time ago.

As for 静かにするのです, it seems about right. Even though they used です instead of だ it still feels quite bossy.

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