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Kansai Style Conversation and its Role in Contemporary Japan

Posted By admin On May 30, 2013 @ 12:45 pm In Abstracts for 2013, Linguistics and Language Teaching | Comments Disabled

Gøran Vaage, lecturer

Faculty of Letters

Kobe Jogakuin University, Japan

Japanese society is entering a postmodern phase. Export articles receiving most attention abroad is no longer machinery and electronics, but manga, fashion, art and sub- culture. In terms of sociolinguistics, we find that there is a loss of stigma attached to non-standard Japanese, a renewed interest in dialects, and that people select their language based on their role or charater (Kinsui 2003, Vaage 2012).

This paper will focus on the Kansai dialect, the most important regional dialect, apart from the standard Tokyo dialect. Kansai style conversation is also the preferred norm for Japanese comedy routines. (Rakugo, Manzai etc., various styles and formats exists, but language and pragmatic structure tend to follow the same patterns.)

Furthermore, this paper attempts to answer the following questions: 1. What are the properties of Kansai style conversation in contemporary Japan? 2.What is the role of Kansai style conversation outside of the Kansai area? 3. What are Japanese speaking people’s assessment of Kansai style conversation, and are there any regional differences in this aspect?

Kansai style conversation in this paper refers not only in a narrow sense to Kansai or Osaka dialect markers such as pictch accent (Keihan style accent), grammar (particles, negation etc.), (Kansai dialect markers), vocabulary (akan, aho) or honorifics (markers such as ~haru and ~yoru/~yaru), but in a more wider sense, including interactional humor elements such boke, tsukkomi , noritsukkomi, furi, and ochi, as well as what we in this paper shall refer to special “pragmatic words and phrases” such as nande yanen, or bochibochi desse. Of course, such words can also be components in boke and tsukkomi routines, but not necessarily, e.g. nande yanen can also be used to express surprise or disagreement.

The data for the following paper is based on a questionnaire- and interview survey of 131 Japanese native speakers living in the Kansai area (but from all parts of Japan), on the image of Kansai dialect and Kansai style conversation, conducted in 2012 by the autor. Below is a summary of some the findings:

Kansai natives

-In the majority of Kansai families and in-groups there exist some kind of boke and tsukkomi interaction. In many families this interaction (and other tokens of Kansai style humour) is integral and indispensable for everyday conversation and communication

-Although people tend mostly play the boke part or mostly the tsukkomi part, or being a certain type or kyara, most people confess to being able to play both part and taking any part if called for

-Kansai natives answered that often when they take on the boke part in conversations with non-Kansai natives, no one would volunter to play the tsukkomi part. The standard reaction they received tended to be smiles or laughs, meaning a stop to the interaction

-Some Kansai natives answered that they felt that non-Kansai natives are not any funny or interesting in a social setting (cf. the two meanings of the Japanese adjective omoshiroi).

Non-Kansai natives

-Non-Kansai natives know the rules, and are familiar with the concepts of Kansai style conversation and humour enough to laugh of it, but are not confident enough to actively produce it, hence we can infer that they have a passive knowledge of the properties Kansai style conversation.

-Non-Kansai natives answered that they find it difficult to play a prominent boke- or tsukkomi part, even if they want to.

-Some non-Kansai natives find Kansai natives not funny, and are not interested in Kansai style humour

Hence we can conclude that active competence in properties of Kansai style conversation properties such as boke and tsukkomi are learnable, but difficult to acquire when not situated in Kansai


Kinsui, S. 2003 Virtual Nihongo – Yakuwarigono Nazo. Iwanami Shoten (金水敏2003『ヴァーチャル日本語 役割語の謎』岩波書店)

Vaage 2012 Play Elements in Modern Japanese Language and Culture. Cogito Journal, Vol. IV, no. 1. Cantemir University

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