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I assume this is some sort of idiom or verbal tic, but i'm not 100% sure. Anybody care to help me out?

If you need context, this is the phrase: まだピチピチなんだからかんばらなきや

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~なきゃ is a contraction of ~なければ. なきや could be a typo or unusual spelling of this.

~なければならない makes a verb imperative, for example

行かなければならない
(I) must go

The ならない is often informally omitted.

In the case of your example sentence the verb is [頑張]{がんば}る, becoming 頑張らなきゃ to give the meaning "I must do my best"

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  • I see, I'm still trying to understand informal contractions in Japanese. Thank you! – DivineRho May 13 '12 at 13:08
  • @DivineRho No problem. For future reference also note the correct spelling of the verb がんばる :) – ジョン May 13 '12 at 13:15
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    As a supplement, the omitted subject may not be “I.” So the sentence in the question may mean “You are still young, so work hard!” – Tsuyoshi Ito May 13 '12 at 13:41
  • Splitting hairs here, and I may not even be right, but I thought ~なきゃ was a contraction of ~なくては. なくては -> なくちゃ -> なきゃ. – gibbon Jul 20 '12 at 18:43
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    No, なくては only contracts to なくちゃ. Note similar examples to なきゃ for なければ, such as 悪けりゃ for 悪ければ. – Aeon Akechi Jul 11 '15 at 12:23

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