Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Bit About Ben

A Bit About Ben

One of the interesting aspects of this research is language.  In Japan regional dialects are called "ben."  What people speak in the Osaka region is called Kansai Ben, for instance.  Some dialects are quite infamous: in 2003 as we were getting ready to leave Tokyo for Aomori, our friends were horrified.  We were heading right into the heart of Japan's most infamous dialect: Aomori Ben.  We were told that even to native speakers the Japanese spoken in this region was impenetrable.  In fact, it wasn't nearly so bad as the dire predictions.  First, we found that there were three main dialects in Aomori: Nambu Ben, Shimokita Ben and Tsugaru Ben.  We were living on the border of the first two.  Tsugaru Ben is probably justifiably scary, but even so really everyone under the age of seventy can speak what is considered Tokyo Ben (standard Japanese).  It took me about three weeks to sort out the different sounds my teacher used that deviated from the Japanese I had studied.

The same is true here in Okinawa.  I've noticed that these rural dialects tend to me a more clipped from of Japanese.  For instance, my teacher does not say "tomodachi" for "friend," instead he says "tomaji."  Where it gets interesting is in the names of the parts of the boat.  Some of these words I have been told are Iejima Hogen.  People here don't refer to their dialect as Iejima Ben, but as Iejima Hogen (how's that for a head fake, their dialect has a different word for "dialect").  My dictionary defines "hogen" as: "an obsolete word."  The locals would probably define it as: "the way we talk (as opposed to the funny way you talk)."

Here are some common boat parts and my list of vocabulary thus far:

rudder        kaji haji
sail             ho pu
bottom        shiki/soko su fu
bow           omote pijira
stern           tomo tomopirjira
wedges     kusabi shikasa
mast           hobashira hashira
beam         funabari haiki
paddle       kai ya fu
sheet          sheetsu tina

I would sincerely appreciate any comments on language, or any of the words I have mentioned here, from native speakers to students of Japanese.

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