Part 1: Preface   Part 2: Accent    Part 3: Grammatical Features   Part 4: Vocabulary

[Editor's note: I make no claim to have written the following material. Everything below is the work of Mr. Ben Rosenthal, a former Miyagi-ken JET. I have edited his paper somewhat for better grammar and style, but the words below are virtually identical to those in his essay, both in content and meaning.]

An Introduction to Miyagi-ben

Ben Rosenthal, 1997

Introduction: What is Miyagi-ben?

    As is true in any country, the language actually spoken by the people varies from region to region. Japan is no exception. In Japanese, local dialects in general are referred to as hôgen, while the dialect of a specific area is referred to by the name of the area plus the suffix -ben. Thus the local dialect of Miyagi is called Miyagi-ben.

   You may ask yourself, "Why should I bother learning about Miyagi-ben?" Here are a couple of reasons. One is practical: even if you have studied Japanese before, you may find yourself struggling to understand the way it is spoken by the locals. Another reason is that even a slight knowledge of hôgen can increase one's sense of "attachment" to the area and may even lead to greater acceptance by the locals, who will more than likely be flattered that you show such an interest in their culture. All in all, embracing the local dialect rather than fearing it has the power to affect how much you enjoy your time here.

   Having said the above, there is of course the question of how much time and effort should be put into learning hôgen. Some people worry that if they become too engrossed in picking up the local dialect, they will run into problems when communicating with Japanese from any other part of the country. While this may be a legitimate concern, I urge you not to let it discourage you from learning some of the local "patios," especially if you find that you are given ample opportunity to hear it.

   This booklet is designed as an aid to help you understand the dialect you might hear used around you (even within the prefecture, the local dialect varies from area to area). The booklet is divided into three chapters: accent, grammar, and vocabulary. The chapters on accent and grammar are designed to illustrate typical differences between Miyagi-ben and "standard" spoken Japanese (Kyôtsûgo); I recommend that you read through these. The chapter on vocabulary should be used as a reference for unfamiliar vocabulary that you come across but are unable to find in a dictionary. If you wish to actively pick up Miyagi-ben, then you should be warned that what appears here is not universal across Miyagi-ken; as I mentioned above, the dialect differs from area to area within the prefecture, especially when it comes to vocabulary. Therefore, the best thing to do is to ask people in your area about their hôgen and keep your own ears open to the way they speak; use this booklet to help you make sense of what they say. Even if you are a beginning student of Japanese, hold onto this booklet; there may come a time when it wil come in handy.

   One other word of advice: Japanese people will often tell you that a particular word is used only in their neck of the woods, but in my experience, this usually is not the case. Japanese people may know what's used in their area, but they don't necessarily know what's used elsewhere.

   Finally, I would like to say that this little work of mine is the culmination of nearly three years of research. I hope you enjoy it. Good luck grappling with Miyagi-ben!

Ben Rosenthal

Part 1: Preface   Part 2: Accent    Part 3: Grammatical Features   Part 4: Vocabulary

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