The Tsugaru Dialect

An Overview of Tsugaru-ben

Tsugaru-ben is the dialect spoken in the Tsugaru region of Japan, which covers the western part of Aomori prefecture at the nothernmost tip of the main Japanese island of Honshu. It falls under the Tohoku (east-north) family of dialects, of which, Tsugaru-ben may be considered the "strongest" dialect. The reasons the dialect is so much different from Standard Japanese and even other Tohoku dialects are primarily due to its geography and the relative stability during the Feudal era. The Tsugaru region is a plain that is surrounded by mountains and the Sea of Japan. Because of its seclusion and its distance from Tokyo, the region has faced less influence from the outside over the centuries, especially in light of the peace in the region during the rule of the Tsugaru clan since the end of the 16th century. These factors allowed the Tsugaru region to develop its own distinct culture, centered around the stronghold castle city of Hirosaki, which is said to be the cultural center of the region.

Since the beginning of the Meiji period, and even moreso after the advent of mass media, the dialect has gradually been replaced by features of Standard Japanese. But the dialect remains strong today, especially among the old generation and in the more rural areas of the region.

Words

In general, the lexicon of Tsugaru-ben and other dialects were born either of Old Japanese or the Ainu language. Many words developed independently in the Tsugaru region. However, a lot of words are shared with other dialects but simply were eliminated from Standard Japanese, making them general dialect (方言) words. Given the seclusion of the Tsugaru region, it tends to have more a strong variation in vocabulary from the other Tohoku dialects. Additionally, given the large Ainu population in the past, there is a strong influence from the Ainu language (e.g. the Ainu word ばっけ for ふきのとう).

Sounds

/i/ and /e/ frontal vowels: these sounds are often merged in Tsugaru-ben, but it leans towards a mid e̞ as it is easier to say. As such, /i/ will often be written as エ in Tsugaru-ben. They are still separate vowels in the dialect and pronuncation still varies, but エ can replace イ in many words, especially in adjectives. ええ (ee) is often written for いい (ii), meaning good, in Tsugaru-ben. You'll often hear something closer to ee, however. With extended vowels, again especially with adjectives, you may see it written as アゲェ (agee, 赤い, red). A small ェ is often used because it represents the fact that it is an い-adjective with inflection potential, but it the pronunciation typically excludes the extended vowel. Nonetheless, ェ is typically used instead of ィ.

Yotsugana (じ, ぢ, ず, づ): these for kana are pronunced the same in Tsugaru-ben as [d͡ʑi]. This is similar in other Tohoku languages but arguably followed the most strictly in Tsugaru-ben and Akita-ben. In contrast, in Standard Japanese, じ and ぢ are pronounced the same, and ず and づ are pronounced the same. Historically, these were all pronounced differently, which remains the case in some Southern Japanese dialects. It is because they are all merged in Tsugaru-ben that the dialect earned the nickname, "zuzu-ben".

Voicing (dakuon): the ka and ta lines (か,き,く,け,こ and た,ち,つ,て,と are frequently voiced in Tsugaru-ben, typically in the middle of the root of the word and in inflection. For example, 溶ける (tokeru, to melt) will typically be pronounced トゲダ (togeda). The ke part of the root becomes ge, and the past inflection changes from ta to da. However, to remains unvoiced.

Writing

The Tsugaru dialect is a spoken dialect. Therefore, there is no standardized writing system for it. When written, it is often written in katakana, especially in language resorce tools like dictionaries. But it can also be seen written in kana-kanji mix.

Tendency towards the central vowel a

Example
Katakana: ワイー 、コシテレバ アサマ マデ カガレバ 、 ワァ シミダ サル ニ ナッテ マル デャ 。
Kana-Kanji: わいー こしてれば朝間までかがれば、わぁ凍みだ猿になってまるでゃ。
Romaji: wai , ko shitereba asama made kagareba , wa a shimida saru ni natte maru dya .
Standard Japanese: うわぁ こうしていたら朝までかかったら、おれは凍った猿になってしまう。