Akita-ben

Akita-ben (秋田弁) is the dialect of the locals of Akita Prefecture. It is a part of the Eastern Japanese dialects in the Northern Tōhoku subgroup, making it close to the dialects found in Aomori, Iwate and Yamagata Prefectures.

Many Japanese people from outside Akita have a difficult time understanding Akita-ben, mostly due to lack of exposure to it. This lack of exposure is due to the low prestige of the dialect—speakers of Tōhoku dialects are stereotypically seen as culture-less country bumpkins. This, in turn, has led to decline in the number of white-collar workers speaking it and the tendency for parents to raise their children with Standard Japanese instead. In modern times, pure Akita-ben is usually spoken only by older generations as more and more people convert to Standard Japanese, but its influence can still be felt among many people in Akita. Because of this, you may find it useful to learn a few phrases or grammar points of Akita-ben to better understand your Japanese colleagues.

However, be warned that Akita-ben is EXTREMELY regional. Something that is said in Ōdate might not be understood in Yokote or Honjō. Keep this in mind when traveling to other parts of the prefecture. The rules given here give just a general overview of common features of the many varieties of Akita-ben.

Despite being seen as rustic and the "corrupted" speech of unintelligent farmers, Akita-ben actually preserves several aspects from Middle and Old Japanese that have been lost in modern Standard Japanese, most notably the nasalization of voiced consonants. It also has a handful of words apparently borrowed from the Eastern Old Japanese language (distinct from Western Old Japanese from which all modern mainland Japanese varieties descend) once spoken in ancient Kantō.

Pronunciation

Note: In this section, there are several phonetic symbols used that may be unfamiliar to the general reader. These are:

  • ɨ – a vowel in between /i/ and /u/. Not present in English, but somewhat close to the vowel found in sit, tin, flip.
  • ɛ – the vowel of English set, kept, next; close to but slightly more forward in the mouth than Japanese /e/, which is more like the starting vowel of say, great, ape.
  • ɔ – the vowel of English oar, bore, nor; close to but slightly deeper in the mouth than Japanese /o/.
  • ɕ – the Japanese sh-sound present in し shi, しゃ sha, しゅ, shu, しょ sho
  • – the Japanese ch-sound present in ち chi, ちゃ cha, ちゅ, chu, ちょ cho
  • – the Japanese j-sound present in じ/ぢ ji, じゃ/ぢゃ ja, じゅ/ぢゅ, ju, じょ/ぢょ jo.
  • ŋ – the nasal ng-sound found in English bring, sang.
  • ɸ – the Japanese f- sound present in ふ fu, made with both lips instead of the teeth & lips

The Sounds of Akita-ben

Akita-ben has most of the same sounds as Standard Japanese, along with some additional ones.

There are seven vowels: a, ɨ, u, e, o, ɛ, and ɔ,
and 16+ consonants (depending on how you count them): k, g, s, ɕ, t~ts, d, dz, dʑ, n, h~ɸ, p, b, m, r, y, w, N
(Here, N means the consonant represented by ん.)

It's also important to note that the sounds g, d, dz, dʑ, b can be made "prenasalized," where the vowel preceding them is made slightly nasal. It sounds like a very light N, but it is not the same. The real N is much more distinct than the nasal sound of prenasalized consonants. For this article, prenasalized g, d, dz, dʑ, b will be represented as ŋg, nd, ndz, ndʑ, mb.

If a prenasalized consonant is ever preceded by N, then the prenasalization is replaced by the stronger N. Finally, the prenasalized consonant ŋg is essentially interchangeable with just ŋ in pronunciation.

Converting from Standard Japanese

Despite being stereotypically incomprehensible to speakers of Standard Japanese, you can convert Standard Japanese pronunciation to Akita-ben pronunciation very reliably by following these steps in order:

  • The vowel sequences /ai, ae/ → /ɛɛ/
  • The vowel sequences /oi, ue, oe/ → /ee/
  • The vowel sequence /ui/ → /ii/
  • The vowel sequence /oo/ (written おう) → /ɔɔ/ when derived from Middle Japanese /au/ or /aɸu/ (only some speakers)
  • /z/ → /dz/
  • /i, ii/ → /ɨ, ɨɨ/
    • /kɨ, gɨ/ → /ksɨ, gzɨ/ (with only a very slight /s/ or /z/ sound)
    • /ɕɨ, ʑɨ/ → /sɨ, dzɨ/
    • /tɕɨ/ → /tsɨ/
  • /su, tsu, dzu/ → /sɨ, tsɨ, dzɨ/
  • /ka, ga/ → /kwa, gwa/ when derived from Middle Japanese /kwa, gwa/ (only some speakers)
  • /hi, he/ → /ɸi, ɸe/ (only some speakers)
  • Depending on the speaker, sometimes /se, ze/ → /ɕe, dʑe/
  • Except at the start of a word, /re/ → /e/ (majority of speakers)
  • Except at the start of a word, /g, d, b, dz, dʑ/ → /ŋg, nd, mb, ndz, ndʑ/, causing nasalization of the preceding vowel
  • Except at the start of a word, /k, t, p, ts, tɕ/ → /g, d, b, dz, dʑ/ except when doubled by a preceding っ
    • These last two rules also include the copular verb /da/ → /nda/ and all particles

Taking all this information together, we can get this table:

Standard Japanese Akita-ben:

Start of Word

Akita-ben:

Not Start of Word

ka, ki, ku, ke, ko, ky_ ka, ksɨ, ku, ke, ko, ky_ ga, gzɨ, gu, ge, go, gy_
ga, gi, gu, ge, go, gy_ ga, gzɨ, gu, ge, go, gy_ ŋga, ŋgzɨ, ŋgu, ŋge, ŋgo, ŋgy_
sa, ɕi, su, se, so, ɕ_ sa, sɨ, sɨ, se~ɕe, so, ɕ_
za, dʑi, zu, ze, zo, dʑ_ dza, dzɨ, dzɨ, dze~dʑe, dzo, dʑ_ ndza, ndzɨ, ndzɨ, ndze~ndʑe, ndzo, ndʑ_
ta, tɕi, tsu, te, to, tɕ_ ta, tsɨ, tsɨ, te, to, tɕ_ da, dzɨ, dzɨ, de, do, dʑ_
da, (dʑi), (zu), de, do, (dʑ_) da, (dzɨ), (dzɨ), de, do, (dʑ_) nda, (ndzɨ), (ndzɨ), nde, ndo, (ndʑ_)
na, ni, nu, ne, no, ny_ na, nɨ, nu, ne, no, ny_
ha, hi, ɸu, he, ho, hy_ ha, ɸɨ, ɸu, ɸe, ho, hy_
pa, pi, pu, pe, po, py_ pa, pɨ, pu, pe, po ba, bɨ, bu, be, bo
ba, bi, bu, be, bo, by_ ba, bɨ, bu, be, bo mba, mbɨ, mbu, mbe, mbo
ma, mi, mu, me, mo, my_ ma, mɨ, mu, me, mo, my_
ya, yu, yo ya, yu, yo
ra, ri, ru, re, ro, ry_ ra, rɨ, ru, e, ro, ry_
wa wa
n' n'
ai, ui, oi ɛɛ, ɨɨ, ee
ae, ie, ue, oe ɛɛ, ee, ee, ee
(au, ou >) ou ɔɔ, oo
a, i, u, e, o a, ɨ, u, e, o

Finally, while these are less common, some speakers may also exhibit these changes:

  • fusion of /h/ and /ɕ/
    • For example: /se/ → /he/ instead of /se/ → /ɕe/ (does not feed into /he/ → /ɸe/)
    • For example: /hya/ → /ɕa/

Example Conversions

Note: From this point on, Akita-ben will always be written phonetically in red-orange text.

Let's apply these rules to some Standard Japanese words:

Standard Japanese Akita-ben Meaning
漫画 manga /maŋga/ maŋga ~ maŋgwa manga, comics
近い chikai /tɕikai/ tsɨgɛɛ close, nearby
寿司 sushi /suɕi/ sɨsɨ sushi
秋田 Akita /akita/ aksɨta Akita
行きたい ikitai /ikitai/ ɨgzɨdɛɛ want to go
数える kazoeru /kazoeru/ kandzeeru ~ kannʑeeru to count, to enumerate
真心 magokoro /magokoro/ maŋgogoro sincerity
地図 chizu /tɕizu/ tsɨndzɨ map

Like in Standard Japanese, many instances of ɨ and u are whispered or simply dropped in pronunciation, such as in 秋田 AksɨtaAksta. Generally, all the same rules apply for when to do this.

Grammar

For the most part, the grammar of Akita-ben is the same as Standard Japanese (as long as one takes into account the sound differences). The examples given below have Standard Japanese in regular Japanese script, while the Akita-ben equivalent is given phonetically.

Verb and Adjective Conjugation

Verb and adjective stems can be determined using the following chart:

Quintigrade (-u Verbs)

ex.: 歩く arug-u "walk"

Quintigrade (-u Verbs)

ex.: 食う ku-u "eat"

Monograde (-ru Verbs)

ex.:見る mɨ-ru "see"

Adjective (-i Adjectives)

ex.:赤い aga-ɨ "red"

Irregular (suru)

する s-ɨru "do"

Irregular (kuru)

来る k-uru "come"

Negative Stem (-a) aruga- kuwa- mɨ- agagu- sɨ- ko-
Volitional Form (-ou) arugau → arugɔɔ kuɔɔ mɨyoo agagarɔɔ sɨyoo koyo
Continuative Stem (-i) arugzɨ- kuɨ- → kɨɨ- mɨ- agagu- sɨ- ksɨ-
Conclusive-Attributive Form (-u) arugu kuu mɨru agaɨ → agɛɛ sɨru kuru
Provisional Stem (-e) aruge- kue- → kee- mɨre-, mɨe- agage- sɨre-, sɨe- kure-, kue-
Imperative Form (-e) aruge kue → kee mɨro agagare sɨro koɨ → kee
Conjunctive Form (-te) aruɨnde → arɨɨnde kutte mɨde agagude, agɛɛnde sɨde ksɨde
Past Tense Form (-ta) aruɨnda → arɨɨnda kutta mɨda agagatta sɨda ksɨda

Conjugational endings can be added to these stems just as in Standard Japanese. For example, Provisional Stem + mba gives the provisional -eba form of a verb in Akita-ben: 歩けば arugemba "If (someone) were to walk..."

Note, however, that the volitional forms given above are essentially unused in Akita-ben, as seen in the following section:

Volitional & Presumptive -be

Instead of forming the volitional like 飲む nomu "I drink" → 飲もう nomou "Let's drink," Akita-ben forms the volitional by adding the ending -be(sɨ) (from Middle Japanese -beki/-besi "ought to, able to") to the base form of a verb: 飲む nomu "[I] drink" → nomube(sɨ) "Let's drink." The final -sɨ on -be(sɨ) is completely optional. Perhaps the most common use of the be-volitional can be heard in Ɨgube! "Let's go!"

  • コンビニに行って帰ろう。 Kombɨnɨ sa ɨtte kɛɛrube. "Let's head to a convenience store and then go home."
  • 早く行こう。 Hayagu ɨgubesɨ. "Let's go quickly." / "Let's hurry up and go."

The ending -be is also used for the presumptive form: Standard Japanese would have 飲む nomu "I drink" → 飲むだろう nomu darou "I will probably drink," while Akita-ben uses nomube for this as well. This is most often heard combined with the copular verb だ in nda be, used for emphasis in statements or to check for agreement in questions.

  • どうせまた雨だろう? Doose mada ame nda be? "Anyhow, it's going to rain again, right?"
  • 明日は晴れるだろう。 Asɨta wa haerube. "It'll [probably] be clear tomorrow."

For the presumptive, you may also hear the ending -byon. This is a contraction of -be with the word mono "thing" afterward, and it gives a sense of trailing off or leaving the rest of the sentence implied:

  • 落ちるだろう... Otsɨrubyon... "It'll probably fall..."

Polite Present Tense: ssɨ

Like Standard Japanese ます, in order to show politeness to the person you are talking to, speakers of Akita-ben will add ssɨ (often with a silent/whispered ɨ as ss') to the end of the plain form of verbs.

  • どこに行きますか。 Do sa ɨgu ssɨ ga? "Where are you going?"

Being a contraction of です, it can also be used with adjectives easily:

  • 寒いですね。 Sambɨɨ ssɨ na. "It is cold, isn't it?"

And it can also be used with the regular copular verb nda:

  • これはいくらですか。 Koe nambo nda ssɨ ga? "How much does this cost?"

The Directional Particle sa

In several cases, the directional particle に can be replaced by the Akita-ben particle sa (from Middle Japanese さま sama "way, means"). Consider the following sentences:

Standard Japanese Akita-ben Translation Use of に
家に帰る。
Ie ni kaeru.
Ee sa kɛɛru. I will go home. destination
鉛筆は机の上にある。
Enpitsu wa tsukue no ue ni aru.
Embɨdzɨ wa tsɨgee no ee sa aru. The pencil is on the table. location
六時に会おう。
Rokuji ni aou.
Rogundzɨ ɔɔbe. Let's meet at 6 o'clock. time
犬を見に行った。
Inu wo mi ni itta.
Ɨnu o mɨ ɨtta. I went to see the dog. result; purpose
静かに歩いた。
Shizuka ni aruita.
ndzɨga arɨɨda. I walked quietly. adverbial

As you can see, sa replaces when it represents a physical location or destination, while it cannot replace with reference to time or for other grammatical uses. In addition, sa cannot replace in compound particles like (な)のに (na) no nɨ or までに mande nɨ.

Adjectival -kkoi, -kkee

This ending can be pronounced either as -kkoɨ (older) or -kkee (newer). It has the function of turning various words and word roots into adjectives:

  • 軽 (karu-) karu- "lightness" → karukkoɨ, karukkee "lightweight"
  • 酸 (su) "sourness" → sɨkkoɨ, sɨkkee "sour"
  • 冷 (hiya) ɕa "coldness" → ɕakkoɨ, ɕakkee "cold"

Familiar -kko

Originally derived from Middle Japanese 事 koto "thing," this suffix can show a wide range of familiarity or other connection with the noun to which it is attached. It can also refer to an event involving that particular noun. Phonetically, it also shortens any long vowel that precedes it:

  • 泥鰌(どじょう) dondʑɔɔ "loach (fish)" → dondʑɔkko "(cute) loach"
  • 机(つくえ) tsɨgee "table" → tsɨgekko "(one's own) table"
  • 鍋(なべ) nambe "cooking pot" → nambekko "cooking pot event" = "an event for making group hot-pot dishes"
  • お茶(おちゃ) odʑa "tea" → odʑakko "tea event" = "house visit (with a friend)"

Direct Object Marker dogo

Instead of relative o of the the Standard Japanese を, you may sometimes hear dogo in Akita-ben, which is a mish-mashed form of のことを no-kodo-o. Because を o is often dropped anyway, saying dogo emphasizes the particle.

Notes on Other Particles

When applying the rules of changing from Standard to Akita-ben, particles are treated as though they are part of the preceding word. Because of this, the following particles look significantly different:

  • ga → ŋga — Marks the subject (or sometimes, object) of a sentence
  • ka → ga/gya — Marks the sentence as a questions
  • to → do — Means "and" or "with"

Vocabulary

Note: The "Standard Japanese Equivalents" given in these tables are not always natural Standard Japanese; rather, they are the exact relatives (cognates) to the Akita-ben word. For example, 顔の毛 kao-no-ke means "hair of the face" in Standard Japanese, but its Akita-ben equivalent koonoge means "eyebrow."

Pronouns

Standard Japanese Equivalent Akita-ben Translation
俺 ore
俺ら orera
oe ~ ore ~ ora
oera
I, me, myself
we, us, ourselves
貴方 anata ada ~ anda you, yourself (polite)
お前 omae mɛɛ ~ mmɛɛ ~ omɛɛ you, yourself (familiar/rude)
? ŋga you, yourself (rude/confrontational)
これ kore kore ~ koe this person, that person (someone present)
あれ are are ~ ae that person (someone not present)
こちら kochira
そちら sochira
あちら achira
どちら dochira
kottsɨ ~ kottɕa ~ koo sa
sottsɨ ~ sottɕa ~ soo sa
attsɨ ~ attɕa ~ aa sa
dottsɨ ~ dottɕa ~ doo sa
this way
that way
yonder way
which way
これ kore
それ sore
あれ are
どれ dore
koe
soe
ae
doe
this
that (near you)
that (yonder)
which

Generally, pronouns and many other words can be optionally emphasized as plural by adding the suffix 方 -gada, as in 子供方 kondomo-gada "children".

Nouns

Standard Japanese Equivalent Akita-ben Translation
? gakko pickled daikon radish
Ainu: wakka akko water
ベロ bero "tongue" bɨro drool
婿 muko
Eastern Old Japanese: moko
mogo son-in-law
hotaru hodaro firefly, lighting bug
顔の毛 kao no ke koonoge eyebrow
書物 shomotsu somodzɨ, ɕomodzɨ book
面皰 nikibi negɨm pimple, acne
今日 kyou tɕoo today

Adjectives

Standard Japanese Equivalent Akita-ben Translation
旨い uma-i mma-ɨ delicious, tasty
寒い samu-i sambu-ɨ cold, chilly
拙い mazui mundzo-ɨ pathetic, unfortunate, pitiful
暑い atsu-i attsɨ-ɨ hot
冷っこい hiya + kko-i ɕakko-ɨ cold (food, drinks)
大きい ooki-i oggzɨ-ɨ big, large
甘い ama-i amma-ɨ sweet
小さっこい chiisa + kko-i tɕakko-ɨ small, little
喧しい yagamashii (archaic) yaŋgamasɨ-ɨ annoying, irritating, noisy
魂消た tamageta tamaŋgeda surprised, shocked, bewildered

Verbs

Standard Japanese Equivalent Akita-ben Translation
です desu ssɨ
(irreg. verb)
be
食う kuu kuu
(-u verb)
eat
(used instead of 食べる taberu)
投げる nageru "hurl, throw hard" naŋgeru
(-ru verb)
throw away
(used instead of 捨てる sɨteru
遣る yaru yaru
(-u verb)
do, undertake
(used alongside the less common する sɨru)
-呉れ -kure -kere please (normal)
(used like standard -下さい -kudasai.)
-給え -tamae -tammɛɛ please (polite)
(used like standard -下さい -kudasai.
Less common than -kere.)

Phrases

Standard Japanese Equivalent Akita-ben Translation
だ da (yo)
だね da (yo) ne
です desu (yo)
ですね desu (yo) ne
nda
nda naa
nda ssɨ
nda ssɨ naa
(expresses agreement)
でない de (wa) nai nde nɛɛ (expresses disagreement)
? seba goodbye
(?)先ず mazu mandzɨ goodbye, see you later
(先ず means "now then" or "first off" in Standard Japanese)
(?)いやだ iya da udade ugh! that's not good!
(expresses distaste or disappointment)
何した nani (ga/wo) shita nan sɨda what happened? what's the matter?
腹減った hara (ga) hetta haraɸetta I'm hungry.
(Literally "My belly has diminished.")
腹攣れた hara (ga) tsureta haratsɨ(r)e I'm full.
(Literally "My belly is pulled tight.")

Akitan Accent: Mixed Akita-ben and Standard Japanese

Adults in their 20s and older will often not speak Akita-ben itself, but rather with an Akitan accent: using certain aspects of Akita-ben while speaking Standard Japanese. This is the kind of "Akita-ben" you are most likely to hear in your everyday life among your coworkers. For example, the familiar -kko, volitional -be, phrases like nda na, and the cognates of various Akita-ben words are all fairly common. Consider this simple exchange, where certain Akita-ben-isms have crept into these people's ways of speaking:

A:「今日は暑いっすね?」 Kyou wa atsui ssu ne? "It's hot today, huh?"
B:「んだっすなぁ~ 私の家さ帰るべ」 Nda ssu naa... Watashi no ie sa kaerube. "Yeah, it is... Let's go back to my house."

Another possible feature of the Akitan accent is to retain the shift of /g, d, b, dz, dʑ/ → /ŋg, nd, mb, ndz, ndʑ/ in the middle of a word. This is less common, as it is more easy for Standard Japanese speakers to point out and "correct."

See also

Japanese Language • 日本語
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