The Breezy Kansai Dialect.

Remember my post a couple of months ago about the Japanese movie Castle of Sand that used the Tōhoku dialect as a plot point? Well, my wife had me read a short story that makes even greater plot use of dialect, and once again it’s Japanese — Haruki Murakami’s “Yesterday” (first in the New Yorker of June 2, 2014 [archived], then reprinted in his collection Men Without Women). Here’s the start of the story:

As far as I know, the only person ever to put Japanese lyrics to the Beatles song “Yesterday” (and to do so in the distinctive Kansai dialect, no less) was a guy named Kitaru. He used to belt out his own version when he was taking a bath.


   Is two days before tomorrow,

   The day after two days ago.

This is how it began, as I recall, but I haven’t heard it for a long time and I’m not positive that’s how it went. From start to finish, though, Kitaru’s lyrics were almost meaningless, nonsense that had nothing to do with the original words. That familiar lovely, melancholy melody paired with the breezy Kansai dialect—which you might call the opposite of pathos—made for a strange combination, a bold denial of anything constructive. At least, that’s how it sounded to me. At the time, I just listened and shook my head. I was able to laugh it off, but I also read a kind of hidden import in it.

I first met Kitaru at a coffee shop near the main gate of Waseda University, where we worked part time, I in the kitchen and Kitaru as a waiter. We used to talk a lot during downtime at the shop. We were both twenty, our birthdays only a week apart.

“Kitaru is an unusual last name,” I said one day.

“Yeah, for sure,” Kitaru replied in his heavy Kansai accent.

“The Lotte baseball team had a pitcher with the same name.”

“The two of us aren’t related. Not so common a name, though, so who knows? Maybe there’s a connection somewhere.”

I was a sophomore at Waseda then, in the literature department. Kitaru had failed the entrance exam and was attending a prep course to cram for the retake. He’d failed the exam twice, actually, but you wouldn’t have guessed it by the way he acted. He didn’t seem to put much effort into studying. When he was free, he read a lot, but nothing related to the exam—a biography of Jimi Hendrix, books of shogi problems, “Where Did the Universe Come From?,” and the like. He told me that he commuted to the cram school from his parents’ place in Ota Ward, in Tokyo.

“Ota Ward?” I asked, astonished. “But I was sure you were from Kansai.”

“No way. Denenchofu, born and bred.”

This really threw me.

“Then how come you speak Kansai dialect?” I asked.

“I acquired it. Just made up my mind to learn it.”

Acquired it?”

“Yeah, I studied hard, see? Verbs, nouns, accent—the whole nine yards. Same as studying English or French. Went to Kansai for training, even.”

So there were people who studied Kansai dialect as if it were a foreign language? That was news to me. It made me realize all over again how huge Tokyo was, and how many things there were that I didn’t know. Reminded me of the novel “Sanshiro,” a typical country-boy-bumbles-his-way-around-the-big-city story.

“As a kid, I was a huge Hanshin Tigers fan,” Kitaru explained. “Went to their games whenever they played in Tokyo. But if I sat in the Hanshin bleachers and spoke with a Tokyo dialect nobody wanted to have anything to do with me. Couldn’t be part of the community, y’know? So I figured, I gotta learn Kansai dialect, and I worked like a dog to do just that.”

“That was your motivation?” I could hardly believe it.

“Right. That’s how much the Tigers mean to me,” Kitaru said. “Now Kansai dialect’s all I speak—at school, at home, even when I talk in my sleep. My dialect’s near perfect, don’t you think?”

“Absolutely. I was positive you were from Kansai,” I said.

“If I’d put as much effort into studying for the entrance exams as I did into studying Kansai dialect, I wouldn’t be a two-time loser like I am now.”

Later the narrator says:

Until I graduated from high school, I spoke nothing but Kansai dialect. But all it took was a month in Tokyo for me to become completely fluent in Tokyo standard. I was kind of surprised that I could adapt so quickly. Maybe I have a chameleon type of personality. Or maybe my sense of language is more advanced than most people’s. Either way, no one believed now that I was actually from Kansai.

Another reason I stopped using Kansai dialect was that I wanted to become a totally different person. […] Anyway, I wanted to get rid of it all and start a new life in Tokyo as a brand-new person. Jettisoning Kansai dialect was a practical (as well as symbolic) method of accomplishing this. Because, in the final analysis, the language we speak constitutes who we are as people. At least that’s the way it seemed to me at eighteen.

And the issue keeps cropping up, as in this conversation:

“Don’t exaggerate. I got tons of friends,” Kitaru said.

“No, you don’t,” Erika said. “A person like you can’t make friends. You were born in Tokyo, yet all you speak is Kansai dialect, and every time you open your mouth it’s one annoying thing after another about the Hanshin Tigers or shogi moves. There’s no way a weird person like you can get along well with normal people.”

“Well, if you’re gonna get into that, this guy’s pretty weird, too.” Kitaru pointed at me. “He’s from Ashiya but only speaks Tokyo dialect.”

“That’s much more common,” Erika said. “At least more common than the opposite.”

“Hold on, now—that’s cultural discrimination,” Kitaru said. “Cultures are all equal, y’know. Tokyo dialect’s no better than Kansai.”

“Maybe they are equal,” Erika said, “but since the Meiji Restoration the way people speak in Tokyo has been the standard for spoken Japanese. I mean, has anyone ever translated ‘Franny and Zooey’ into Kansai dialect?”

“If they did, I’d buy it, for sure,” Kitaru said.

I probably would, too, I thought, but kept quiet.

There should be more stories like that! And if you’re curious about Kansai dialect, Wikipedia has you covered.


  1. Stu Clayton says

    how huge Tokyo was

    The ‘net says that over 37 million people live in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

    My sister mentioned this week that Austin,Texas is now the tenth largest city in the US. When I went to UT Austin in the 60s, the city had maybe 400,000 people.

  2. David Marjanović says

    a bold denial of anything constructive

    Like wanting to punch everyone in the piehole?

  3. And here I thought you were going to link to a Kansai video!

  4. John Cowan says

    Like wanting to punch everyone in the piehole

    Translation of the lyrics, for those of us who don’t speak Austrobavarian, please?

    My new favorite YouTube comment ever: “Gibt es das auch auf Deutsch?”

  5. I think you mean to say “for those of us who don’t speak the breezy Austrobavarian dialect, please?”

  6. If there’s a noun Brise, why isn’t there an adjective brisig?

  7. Stu Clayton says

    There’s brisant, but that’s differnt.

  8. Acquiring Kansai dialect isn’t as easy as it sounds. When I lived in the Kansai (as a student) I kind of picked up the intonations and speechways of Osaka-ben, but sloppy equivalence is not good enough. You have to get it RIGHT. That means, for instance, learning the correct pitch accent for every single word (for example, ame ‘rain’ is pronounced A-me in Tokyo, a-ME in Osaka). It means learning the correct endings (“I don’t understand” is wakannai yo in Tokyo, yō wakara(he)n nen in Osaka). One day an Osaka friend said I was ruining his pure Osaka accent with my sloppy attempts. At any rate, it became clear to me that I lacked the dedication needed to switch completely and utterly to Osaka dialect. It would mean learning the correct accent for every word and pretty much abandoning standard Japanese. Eventually I went to Tokyo, and while I retained bits of Osaka dialect just for fun, it was impossible to pretend that I was anything but a foreigner who’d managed to pick up a bit of Osaka-ben. I still love Osaka dialect, though.

    One thing with Osaka-ben is that it gives a certain impression to non-Osakans. The dialect is heavily associated with standup comic dialogue in Japan. Outsiders who come to Osaka always seem to get the feeling that listening to Osakans speak is listening to comic dialogue. It’s not an accent calculated to make you sound erudite or sophisticated, or even to be taken seriously in general. As a gaijin tarento or ‘foreign media personality’ you might go a long way but for anything else proficiency in the dialect is likely to work against you.

  9. The main character in the “Like A Dragon” series of video games, a.k.a. “Yakuza”, is named Kiryu, and I used to wonder why certain characters called him “Kiryu-han” instead of “Kiryu-san”.

    Now my Japanese (still not very good) is slightly better, and when playing I can recognize when characters in the game are from Kansai.

  10. @Bathrobe, to be fair, acquiring any accent at all isn’t as easy as it sounds. I once read a part requiring a Brooklyn accent, and I needed to work with a vocal coach, despite my having lived in the tri-state area for many years (I’m a west coast native).
    I have nothing but respect for those British actors who can manage an American part.

  11. @Bathrobe: Reminds me of my attempts to speak Plattdeutsch when I was a boy. Those of my friends who spoke it natively just laughed at my attempts and told me to drop it. The idea that someone would want to learn their dialect and maybe would need help and encouragement was utterly alien to them. Plattdeutsch was an in-group marker and there simply was no place for outsiders speaking it badly. That attitude, of course, also contributed to Plattdeutsch mostly being extinct among people below my age group today.

  12. Had Osaka been the first place I lived in I might have had a stronger emotional commitment to learning it, but I’d previously spent a year in Hokkaido, to which I already felt some attachment.

  13. J.W. Brewer says

    Very breezy dialect, the Kansai. Is “breezy” an antonym of “guttural,” or is it more complicated than that?

  14. Spending my summers on the Black Sea coast as a boy I acquired the local accent when there, but I can’t replicate it now.

  15. “The dialect is heavily associated with standup comic dialogue in Japan.”

    Second city syndrome – Chicago, Birmingham, Esch-sur-Alzette

  16. Second city as in improv?

  17. standup comic dialogue

    Manzai (漫才)

  18. “breezy Kansai dialect—which you might call the opposite of pathos”

    It appears “breezy” here means something like “chirpy”, “happy” (i.e., “not lugubrious”), also perhaps “garrulous”. (Is this something like the general perception of Cockney?) It fits in with the general identification of Osaka-ben with manzai. The later revelation that the person speaking Osaka-ben is actually Tokyo-born would make the characterisation of his speech as ‘breezy’ even more apt. He is being presented (by the writer) as an out-and-out prattler.

  19. Christopher Culver says

    I have long had in my collection a PDF of Palter & Slotsve’s textbook Kinki Japanese: The Dialects and Culture of the Kinki Region and this thread inspired me to actually look through it. There’s a brief remark at the beginning that it might be amusing for a foreigner to speak the dialect, but after that the authors seem to be assuming that foreign students will merely want to improve their passive understanding, not actively use the language.

    I wish I could find again the textbook of Doric Scots that I once flipped through in a bookshop, that assumed that outsiders will want to actually speak the dialect. There was a warning near the end of the book that taking one’s first steps in active use of Doric should be done cautiously and with trusted acquaintances, lest people think that you are just taking the piss. I guess the risk of the dialect learner suffering physical violence is a lot less in Japan than in Scotland.

  20. Second city syndrome – Chicago, Birmingham, Esch-sur-Alzette

    Isn’t Manchester the „Second City“? Of course technically Chicago is also no longer the Second City of the US, unless you buy the argument that LA is not a „real“ city.

  21. David Eddyshaw says

    There was a correspondence in the Times years ago regarding whether Manchester or Birmingham was the UK’s second city; definitively ended by a Mancunian who wrote in to say that he was delighted to learn that Birmingham was the now the second city, as he had always hitherto supposed that London was.

  22. I haven’t looked at an issue of The Times since pre-M*rdoch times. Are letters to the editor anything like what they were in the glory days?

  23. David Eddyshaw says


    Old Slop still shows the occasional sign of its former worthiness, and is less depraved than the Telegraph (not a high bar), but it’s pretty far gone down the plughole now.

    I buy it opportunistically for the crosswords (still good), and feel that I should then actually read it to justify the expenditure, but its editorial line is getting more and more morally repellent (currently all in favour of the government’s evil Rwanda scheme, for example.) I may stop buying it altogether one of these days; though it probably is a good mental exercise to read it for someone like me, who regards the Grauniad as depressingly wet-liberal. It also gives one more insight into the dark pit of Tory anxieties and shibboleths. (I suppose reading the Daily Mail would be even more useful in this regard, but one has to draw the line somewhere.)

  24. J.W. Brewer says

    I have no idea if they argue about “Second City” status in Japan. Yokohama is at present apparently the second-most-populous* city after Tokyo proper, but it’s right next to Tokyo and part of the same conurbation. Osaka is third-most-populous but the most populous city in the Kansai’s rival conurbation, so would seem a better candidate, but perhaps it’s not for gaijins to dictate.

    *By way of parallel, Brooklyn never quite made it to second-most-populous city in the U.S. before it was amalgamated into New York City, but it was third-most-populous for much of the second half of the 19th century.

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    I suppose Kyoto has the best claim, if you decide not to go by mere population size.

  26. J.W. Brewer says

    Unless Kyoto refuses to admit it was ever superseded as first city?

  27. to my steinbergian eye, chicago is definitely the second city; l.a. is a pretender to nyc’s status*, which is a quite different thing.

    * so is boston, but i’m not sure even beacon hill and tory row actually take the claim seriously anymore – those who do would be the bonapartists of the whole situation, if you will.

  28. I still think of Glasgow as the second city of the UK, and I’m sure DE will back me on this.

  29. David Eddyshaw says

    Indeed. Indeed.

  30. J.W. Brewer says

    I guess pretty much no one still pushes Dublin’s historic “second city” claim these days? I suppose it can’t really compete with Glasgow in such amenities of urbanity as soccer hooliganism and the like.

  31. Soccer clubs in Dublin are small and have to compete for the hooligan market with combat and motor sports.

    The fact that Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland militates against Glasgow’s second-city claim.

    Belfast municipal boundaries were expanded in the 1890s a few years before Dublin’s, and in the interim it had a larger population. Dublin’s salubrious southern townships held out until 1930.

    The idea that Dublin was the second city of the British empire in 1800 is still invoked occasionally to suggest its 19th-century decline and the evil of the Act of Union. If it still took second on any metric today I’m not sure anyone would be prepared to rhetorically unrepeal the Union to boast of it.

    The Shannon and Lough Neagh are the longest river and largest lake in the British Isles, which we would boast more often if we hadn’t banned the phrase British Isles.

  32. David Marjanović says

    Translation of the lyrics, for those of us who don’t speak Austrobavarian, please?

    I’ll try tomorrow. This is Viennese so Classical even Mundl Sackb[ɒ]er, the next generation’s personification of Vienna, didn’t understand all of it anymore.

    If there’s a noun Brise

    There is, but it’s a sea word, so maybe the adjective exists but didn’t make it inland…

  33. J.W. Brewer says

    @mollymooly: Is there some broader formulation like “North Atlantic Islands” whereby you could cash in on the fact that the Shannon is longer than any river in Iceland or the Azores etc.? Shurely Dublin would have a stronger claim to “second city” status than Reykjavik?

    Lough Neagh remains the largest lake in the U.K., although I don’t know if that is the sort of thing that there is intra-U.K. competitiveness about.

  34. I guess pretty much no one still pushes Dublin’s historic “second city” claim these days?

    Whoah. I’m sure it was unintentional, but those are fightin’ words where I come from. Reminds of the time my Irish colleague asked at a UK airport what gate the flight for Dublin left from, and was told it was no doubt leaving from “domestic”. He almost had a stroke.

  35. @DM, I don’t know that Mundl doesn’t understand the text, it just seems to make him uncomfortable. He doesn’t find it funny. Both women seem to understand it perfectly well, which is part of the joke. Given that the song was only 3 or 4 years old at the time that episode aired I think the joke is more that actor/intelligent Sowinetz’ attempts to out-Qualtinger Qualtinger don’t actually appeal to the working class “echter Wiener” par excellence. Hence the “des is jo goa koa wienerlied”.

    Most of the song text is perfectly clear to people who have some exposure to Wiener mesolect (like me) even now other than “quiqui” and “Lotschn”. I don’t know if “Paklrass” is really still current, but I note it appeared in Falter not that long ago, granted Falter journalists, like Sowinetz, sometimes go overboard trying to be “echte Wiener”.

  36. Sowinetz previously at LH.

  37. Trond Engen says

    It just struck me that Haruki Murakami famously first writes his books in English before translating into Japanese. Could ‘breezy’ be conflated with ‘breathy’ for someone of the Japanese phonological persuasion?

    (For this to work, it would have had to be translated into something that would come back to English again as ‘breezy’.)

  38. “famously first writes his books in English”? Citation needed. That sounds like an exaggeration or distortion of this anecdote, from a piece on translation in the New Yorker:

    He wrote the opening pages of his first novel, “Hear the Wind Sing,” in English, then translated those pages into Japanese, he said, “just to hear how they sounded.” And he has translated several other American writers into Japanese, most notably Raymond Carver, John Irving, J. D. Salinger, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose “The Great Gatsby” Murakami credits as the inspiration behind his entire career.

    There is a translator, Philip Gabriel, credited by the New Yorker for the story linked in this post; in fact all of Murakami’s publications in English are translated by somebody else, as far as I could find out in a few minutes.

  39. Yeah, I’m pretty sure Trond is misremembering. In any case, Murakami knows English exceedingly well and would not in any circumstances conflate ‘breezy’ with ‘breathy.’

  40. Trond Engen says

    Citation: “Something I read in a profile years ago.”

    Looking for an actual citation turns up quite a number of retellings, but nothing that can be attributed to the author himself. So it is famous, but also very probably wrong.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that he translates his own work into English.

  41. David Marjanović says

    I don’t know that Mundl doesn’t understand the text, it just seems to make him uncomfortable.

    I wrote “didn’t understand all of it”; he specifically asks about the word, uh, Gwigwi. (And doesn’t get an answer. Some YouTube comment somewhere says it meant “death”.)


    “No, we’re not going to need a judge*,
    because we have a golden heart**,
    we’re going to survive*** everything,
    and then we’re going heavenwards****!
    We’re all nice people*****,
    and that’s why we like each other****** so much;
    here chez nous nobody buys the farm*******
    without the Earth crying!”

    I¹⁰ am going to translate that for you now,
    without shame********, the way I am!
    I wish you all a heap of scabies*********,
    a tick in the ear, and death!
    All humans¹¹ are repugnant to me,
    I want to hit¹² them in the piehole,
    [same in different word order]!
    Father, mother, sister, brother,
    and that whole mob¹³,
    all humans are repugnant to me,
    when I see people, I lose my temper¹⁴.
    What, you (pl.) can’t stand me either¹⁵,
    and you say I’m not smart?
    But with such dumb people
    I’m not going to quarrel anytime soon!

    I’m repugnant to all people¹⁶,
    they want to hit me in the piehole,
    [same in different word order]¹⁶.
    But at the same time I’m repugnant to myself.
    But at the same time I don’t like me, myself.
    Now you (pl.) think: ‘Right, what a surprise!¹⁷
    Now you’re (sg.) already thinking I’m real dumb!!!’
    Go ahead and laugh, you soap-seethers!!!
    I’m sure you’ll stop laughing!!!
    In imbecility¹⁸ we’re brothers!!!
    I do hope you’ll understand that!
    And that’s why I’m holding you again
    in front of a mirror, a precise one!

    All humans are repugnant to me,
    I want to hit them in the piehole,
    [same in different word order]!
    Father, mother, sister, brother,
    and that whole mob,
    all humans are repugnant to me,
    I want to hit them in the piehole –
    hit [in] the piehole,
    hit [in] the piehole,
    the piehole –

    * Fixed idiom at the time.
    ** Das goldene Wienerherz, a fixed term mostly used sarcastically.
    *** “Dive above” – not “below” – and come out unscathed at the other end.
    **** -wärts is neither native nor usual in the dialect.
    ***** Good ratchets literally. I don’t think I’ve encountered this idiom elsewhere. “Good eggs”?
    ****** Or ourselves.
    ******* “Stretches the indoor footwear
    ******** A noun so abstract the dialect doesn’t have it available, so here it gets constructed as an agent noun (!) from an ultimately French verb.
    ********* …I think. Krätze is scabies; it’s close enough to extinct that I’ve never heard anyone talk about it.
    ¹⁰ This word is in Standard German for emphasis.
    ¹¹ Less awkward than in English, but not the normal word “people”.
    ¹² There is no word for specifically “punch”.
    ¹³ Thanks for finding it in the Falter. I’ve never encountered it anywhere else and can only infer its meaning from context. There could be “race” in it, and the first part could be the very northern word Pack, “despicable people” (sg. collective)…
    ¹⁴ …or at least that’s what I infer “go hot” must have meant.
    ¹⁵ Where in Germany did they pick up leiden können?
    ¹⁶ Dative plural spontaneously imported from Standard German for no clear reason. Perhaps “humans” is so unidiomatic it triggered half a code switch?
    ¹⁷ “At that point you lie down!” Like… the shock fells you, except the sarcastic understatement of Wiener Schmäh – deadpan snark – expresses that as you doing it yourself without any undue haste. And then the whole idiom is used sarcastically here.
    ¹⁸ Standard [ø] in Blödheit, instead of the dialectal [ɛ] used 3 lines earlier, for emphasis or something.


    Does not occur. Latschen as a dysphemism for “shoes” seems to be widespread in Germany, but not in Vienna. The word in footnote 7 ends up spelled Patschen.

  42. “Lotsch’n” is in Line 5 “Mia san alle guate Lotsch’n”. Not “Ratschen”.

    Singular “Der Lotsch” – “harmloser, tölpelhafter Mensch”

    That just goes to show how obsolete the word is.

  43. Murakami must have told that story about his first novel many times; e.g., in this introduction to a reprint edition, he says his first try came out boring, so he decided to jolt himself out of a rut by doing it in English:

    My vocabulary was severely limited, as was my command of English syntax. I could only write in simple, short sentences. … As I struggled to express myself in that fashion, however, step by step, a distinctive rhythm began to take shape.

    Having discovered the curious effect of composing in a foreign language, thereby acquiring a creative rhythm distinctly my own, I returned my Olivetti to the closet and once more pulled out my sheaf of manuscript paper and my fountain pen. Then I sat down and “translated” the chapter or so that I had written in English into Japanese. Well, “transplanted” might be more accurate, since it wasn’t a direct verbatim translation. In the process, inevitably, a new style of Japanese emerged. The style that would be mine.

    The “writes (all) his books in English first” version probably also involves confusion with his translations of *other* authors from English to Japanese.

  44. As far as I know, the only person ever to put Japanese lyrics to the Beatles song “Yesterday” …

    Not only are there covers of “Yesterday” with Japanese lyrics on Youtube, but some of them have comments saying “came looking for this after reading the Murakami story”! I presume they’re straight translations, not a goofy version in Kansai dialect.

  45. I didn’t mean to suggest that he translates his own work into English.

    I can imagine a poet starting with a never-to-be-published draft in L2, then translating it to the publishable L1 version, with any future published L2 version being made by a different translator.

    But for long form prose, that process seems very inefficient.

  46. Stu Clayton says

    Where in Germany did they pick up leiden können?

    Pretty much everywhere, I expect. Den habe ich nie leiden können = “I’ve never been able to stand that guy”.

    It’s not an expression that survives only in literary newspapers.


    umgangssprachlich ⟨jmdn., etw. leiden können, mögen (= jmdn., etw. mögen, gern haben, an jmdm., etw. Gefallen finden)⟩

    er konnte, mochte ihn (nicht, gut, nie) leiden
    ich kann das (gar) nicht leiden!
    er hat Widerspruch, Operetten nie leiden können
    salopp, übertrieben jmdn., etw. in, auf den Tod nicht leiden können
    umgangssprachlich sie ist zu leiden (= man kann sie gern haben)

    ⟨jmd. ist gut gelitten (= jmd. ist beliebt)⟩
    Grammatik: nur im Partizip II
    er ist von seinen Kollegen, bei den Damen gut, wohl gelitten

  47. Yes, jemand/etwas (nicht) leiden können is quite usual, both in literary and colloquial speech. From DM’s reaction to it I guess it’s unusual in Austrian German?

  48. Stu Clayton says

    From DM’s reaction to it I guess it’s unusual in Austrian German?

    I assumed that is so. What doesn’t make sense is the implied extrapolation: “It’s unusual in Austrian German, so it must be unusual in Germany German”. In other words, “in what German backwater did they dredge up that one?”

    Some hypotheses have not been inspected for parsimony before being shipped to customers.

  49. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    FWIW, jeg kan ikke lide ham is the default way to say ‘I don’t like him’ in Dansh. A bit less forceful than the German, but clearly the same derivation. (By itself, lide = ‘suffer’, present lider, preterite led, pptc. lidt, but of course in this construction any finite and participial forms will be those of kunne and lide is the infinitive).

    Also vellidt = ‘wohl gelitten’ and maybe some other usages of the participle-as-adjective, but it doesn’t feel like those belong to the verb.

  50. What doesn’t make sense is the implied extrapolation

    Come now, it’s perfectly normal to extrapolate from one’s own knowledge of a language. Even linguists don’t constantly go around thinking “Well, I can’t say that in my dialect, but maybe somewhere else it’s perfectly normal.” We’re human beings, like it or not.

  51. Stu Clayton says

    Sure, extrapolation is “normal”, and not in principle unjustified. What I wrote, though, is that one specific extrapolation makes no sense: “It’s unusual in Austrian German, so it must be unusual in Germany German”. That these two “kinds of German” are greatly different in many respects, in particular with respect to vocabulary, is well-known.

    We are both in explicit agreement (see some thread here years ago) that neither of us, and in fact nobody, sees anything but a narrow section of Everything German Out There. The mistake I made for a long time is to assume: “It’s usual in Germany German, so it must be usual in Austrian German”. Even so, in a remote corner of my mind I can’t help occasionally feeling that Austrians are not trying hard enough to keep up.

  52. Stu Clayton says

    And yet: why should they even try at all ?

  53. Whatever happened to leoboiko? He should be in this thread.

    Since the short story is a translation, I can’t help wondering: in the original, is the dialogue obviously Kansai in vocabulary, grammar, or phonology? Is there an empty space in the English story (where the description of zuzu-ben was, in the movie in the earlier post), where the translator can only put signposts around it: “Kansai dialect here”? Or maybe that’s just my expectations based on novels written in English. There may be no better solution for the translator, for reasons discussed at length here under William Weaver and Translation (“supply the boats yourself”): trying to map Kansai to some actual English dialect would bring in all kinds of baggage that doesn’t belong, and anyway the story explains the sociolinguistics.

    I looked up the story on Wikipedia to see if it had anything on those questions, and found that the Japanese title is not kanji meaning “yesterday” but katakana transliterating “yesterday”, which is how the Beatles song is known in Japanese — of course the story brings up the song in the first sentence, so it’s never a mystery, but still I wonder if it feels different when the title is a foreign word. (The translator could possibly have signaled that the title is specifically the song by putting quotation marks around it, but I don’t know how well that would work in English; readers might just ignore it.)

    And according to Japanese Wikipedia run through Google Translate, the original magazine publication had 16 more lines of translated song lyrics, but he had to cut them out because of a copyright complaint! I would’ve thought a big-time, mega-selling author would be able to swing that kind of thing, but maybe even Stephen King couldn’t get that many lines.

  54. Trond Engen: You do realize that “breathy” is pronounced like “breath” plus the ending, right?

  55. Trond Engen says

    Yes. But I didn’t always, and someone with little exposure to spoken English might not.

    I’ll admit the idea didn’t fly.

  56. Stu Clayton says

    You do realize that “breathy” is pronounced like “breath” plus the ending, right?

    I knew that “breathy” is pronounced like “breathe” plus the ending. Now I am being challenged by a realization that that is not right. Knowledge is a slender reed.

  57. Trond Engen says

    I just realized that although I’ve picked up “breath-y” some time in recent years, I still subvocalize “breathe-y voice”.

  58. Stu Clayton : Same here, I always thought it’s bereathe-y.

  59. From DM’s reaction to it I guess it’s unusual in Austrian German?

    I don’t know. I find it completely normal in modern speech, but I didn’t grow up in Austria, I just live here. And I have so much exposure to German media, German friends in Vienna and my own child speaking native modern Vorstadt Viennese, which is heavily influenced by standard German, that I have no sense for how “pure” Viennese talked 50 years ago. The way it is embedded in the text in dialect form – “Wos, ias kennts mi a ned leidn” – implies to me at least that Sowinetz didn’t see anything remarkable in the expression even then.

  60. I first knew “breathy” as a nontechnical word applied to sultry singers and pronounced breath + y. Later, when I first read about breathy and creaky voice, I didn’t twig that it was the same “breathy”. I guess I subconsciously decided that assonance demanded matching FLEECE vowels in “breathy” and “creaky”, hence breathe + y.

    (Someone is going to tell me now that “creaky” actually rhymes with “achy breaky”…)

  61. Keith Ivey says

    I think of -y as being attached to nouns, not verbs, so the “breathe” version wouldn’t have occurred to me. In a lot of cases it’s hard to tell though.

  62. David Marjanović says

    …So that is unsettling. How did I manage to hear [l] as [r]? I remember it as a trill with several contacts – but my memory is wrong.

    That just goes to show how obsolete the word is.

    Yeah, I haven’t encountered it elsewhere.

    It’s not an expression that survives only in literary newspapers.

    I know; that’s why I added “in Germany”. It’s very rare in spoken language in Austria.

    Some hypotheses have not been inspected for parsimony before being shipped to customers.

    I’m a scientist by personality, not just by unpaid day job; I have parsimony inbuilt…

    You do realize that “breathy” is pronounced like “breath” plus the ending, right?

    I didn’t. 🙁

    The way it is embedded in the text in dialect form – “Wos, ias kennts mi a ned leidn” – implies to me at least that Sowinetz didn’t see anything remarkable in the expression even then.

    The dative plural allen is just as embedded, and yet entirely alien; the whole thing borrows from the standard again and again to stay in the meter. (That’s normal in Classical Viennese music.)

    …and [es] “you (pl.)” doesn’t have a diphthong.

  63. J.W. Brewer says

    From this interesting abstract: “Are there universal phonesthetic judgments based purely on the sound of a language, or are preferences attributable to language-external factors such as familiarity and cultural stereotypes? … We found a strong preference for languages perceived as familiar, even when they were misidentified, a variety of cultural-geographical biases, and a preference for breathy female voices.”

  64. David Eddyshaw says

    We males need not despair:

    “The most consistent effect was preference for low-pitched and breathy voices within each sex.”

    (Actually, I don’t really mean to snipe: comprehensively negative results like these are interesting.)

    Sad, but sadly not surprising, to read of Chinese bias against speakers they thought were African.

    The slight overall tendency to prefer (unfamiliar) non-tonal to tonal languages seems a bit counterintuitive, but perhaps that’s just my own (opposite) bias showing.

  65. More on the title “Yesterday”: Google coughed up translations of the story collection into German, Danish, Swedish, Portuguese, and Finnish. All of them had “Yesterday”, the English word, as the story title and the name of the song. Same for the story “Drive My Car” (previously mentioned here). Obvious once I think about it: the Beatles song is best known everywhere as the original recording, so it becomes a loanword, like “coffee”.

    “Hanshin Tigers” is also translation-invariant; if I understand correctly the team name is in effect a loanword from English, not the normal Japanese word for tigers.

  66. When I lived in Osaka at the beginning of Heisei the Tigers were one of the worst teams in the league, and had been mostly bad for most of their history. Sort of a Japanese Mets or maybe Cleveland Indians. Apparently they‘ve been very good this century but given that the story is set sometime before cell phones but after John Lennon‘s death, (early 1980s?) I wonder if choosing the Tigers in particular is supposed to be an additional sign how odd Kitaru is.

  67. Latschen as a dysphemism for “shoes”

    am i right to assume that this is related to the bark/bast sandals that get called לאַפּטשעס / laptshes in yiddish? (presumably from east slavic; wikipedia gives лапти as the russian)

  68. David Marjanović says

    It’s also a dysphemism for “walk”. Viennese, BTW, replaces the /l/ with /h/, and folk etymology insists it’s from the hajj.

  69. John Lennon‘s death, (early 1980s?)

    8 December 1980. A day that will live in infamy.

  70. (Someone is going to tell me now that “creaky” actually rhymes with “achy breaky”…)


  71. J.W. Brewer says

    Rodger C. No that’s December 7. Including December 7, 1980 (death of Darby Crash).

  72. John Cowan says

    I pronounced breathy with FLEECE as a child until my mother corrected me when I recited this limerick to her:

    There once was a breathy baboon,
    Who always breathed down a bassoon.
    He said, “It appears
    “That in millions of years
    “I shall certainly hit on a tune.”

    –Sir Arthur Eddington

  73. J. W. Brewer: Quite right, as I knew once. America learned about it in the 8th, in the days before 24-hour news.

  74. John Cowan says

    Only if “America” excludes Hawaii.

  75. Pearl Harbor was attacked early in the morning of Dec. 7, Hawaii time, which was early afternoon in Washington, DC (five-and-a-half-hour time zone difference). FDR was notified within less than half an hour, the White House press secretary made a statement to the news agencies at 2:22 pm Washington time, and radio news coverage began shortly afterward. Perhaps you were thinking of the “infamy speech” being delivered on Dec. 8? But FDR was not revealing any breaking news by then.

    My aunt, who was six years old at the time, said she saw her father shaving in the afternoon and asked why he was going in to work on a Sunday; he worked for the Treasury Department, I don’t know why he needed to go in or what precisely his answer was, but all the adults must have known by that time.

  76. J.W. Brewer says

    Radio had become ubiquitous enough by 1941 in the U.S. to be a truly transformative technology in how rapidly breaking news could disseminate. There was not yet mass-market radio only 23 years earlier in 1918, when the Western-Front part of WW1 came to a halt on 11/11 at 11 a.m. local time. That was 5 a.m. New York time but when my maternal grandfather, aged 15, subsequently left the Manhattan dwelling he lived in at the time and took the subway to high school there was not yet any buzz in the streets or on the trains. As he told the story, they had already had classes for an hour or two that morning (getting toward late-ish afternoon in France) before the news somehow reached the school. (The principal inexplicably failed to immediately declare a holiday, so the students decided on their own that it was their patriotic obligation to walk out of the building w/o official permission and join in the ad hoc municipal celebrations of the apparent triumph of the Allied cause.)

    I don’t know how quickly the streets in Paris or London (or for that matter Berlin) were abuzz with the news. Maybe they were meaningfully ahead of NYC.

  77. Um, the subject was the murder of John Lennon. I may have confused people with my “day of infamy” pun.

  78. J.W. Brewer says

    Any death is a human tragedy to those who knew the decedent and in some cosmic sense even to those who didn’t (cf. John Donne etc.), but in calendar 1980 there were 2,228 homicides in New York City, most of non-celebrities – at the time a new all-time record, although subsequently exceeded in the sanguinary 1988-1993 period before the mysteriously steep decline to the in-my-lifetime low of 550 in 2017. Probably some unknown young person in the other 2,227 had more future* musical promise than Lennon had left.

    *Not saying lifetime total, just playing the percentages that Lennon would not have been any exception to the overwhelming trend that not only the other ex-Beatles but virtually all British rock stars of a certain generation had permanently lost their creative spark by December 1980, certainly in terms of composing new material. (Van Morrison and to a lesser extent Ray Davies are exceptions, but they are notable precisely because the exceptions are so few.)

  79. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    local time: TIL that France was actually on GMT from 1911 already, I read somewhere that it was on Paris solar time (GMT+0:9:41) and that the British were being unhistorical when firing salutes at 11:00 GMT (Never mind that they moved that to the nearest Sunday). Peevers will peeve. (I don’t know what they do in Paris, they’ve [effectively] been on CET/CEST since WWII),

    I also learned that the radio message to the front claimed to be sent at 6:01 am, but the eye witness account I found said that it arrived at 9 am — the armistice was signed at 5:45 but officially took force at 11 am. That would be 0.45 am in New York. I don’t know how late the morning papers could clear the front page, but a telegram could probably have made it to the later editions at least.

  80. Probably some unknown young person in the other 2,227 had more future* musical promise than Lennon had left.

    Odds are that none of those people had any particular exceptional musical promise if you think how few prominent truly creative musicians there are in the world relative to human beings.

    Probably true though that Lennon was mostly burnt out as a musician, but he was a talented person in general and might have had a decent book or at least some works of art left in him. I also suspect a Lennon-McCartney collaboration later in life would have produced something interesting.

    virtually all British rock stars of a certain generation had permanently lost their creative spark by December 1980, certainly in terms of composing new material.

    Pete Townshend was interesting at least through 1985 (White City). But he was 5 years younger than Lennon, so maybe 40 is the cut off for rock musicians. Come to think of it, what has Ray Davies done since 1984 that was particularly creative?

  81. Odds are that none of those people had any particular exceptional musical promise if you think how few prominent truly creative musicians there are in the world relative to human beings.

    Completely agree.

    Probably true though that Lennon was mostly burnt out as a musician

    Strongly disagree. He had been evolving as both a human being and as a musician, and his last recordings are some of my favorites. It is certainly not true that musicians automatically burn out at 40: look at Dylan, look at Miles. There’s no need to try to diminish the loss by pretending it didn’t really matter.

  82. J.W. Brewer says

    @Lars: Wiki says that the effective time of the armistice was 11 a.m. CET, even if Paris time was, at the time, different from that. Maybe wiki is wrong, of course.

    @Vanya: Maybe we can agree to respectfully disagree about the timeline of Townsend losing touch with his muse. There are some okay songs on his 1980-released solo album. Sort of a jerk move for him not to give the Who first dibs on recording them.

    @hat: Okay, Boomer. The idea that Lennon was ever more talented than McCartney is one I embraced in my younger years (the “Clever One”!) and have subsequently abandoned, and the romantic notion that the counterfactual post-1980 Lennon would have been more creatively inspired than the actually-existing post-1980 McCartney* (or the actually-existing post-1980 Harrison, or heck the actually-existing post-1980 Ono) seems to me to be one of those Boomer wish-fulfillment things – somewhat parallel to the unfalsifiable belief that if only JFK hadn’t been killed he wouldn’t have gotten us into Vietnam (even though he had already been in the process of doing just that, not least through U.S. support of the perhaps ill-advised coup d’etat in Saigon only three weeks before Kennedy’s death).

    *The 1979 _Back to the Egg_ album that was the last one McCartney did sub nomine “Wings” got incredibly negative reviews at the time, but might be ripe for reappraisal. It’s certainly better than Macca’s Eighties/Nineties output!

    I’m not making a broad claim about all musicians in all genres – I’m making a specific claim about the original cohort of “British Invasion” rock musicians and the period after 1980.

  83. J.W. Brewer says

    Oh, I should have included this mysterious-provenance comic-book panel depicting a fellow for whom “The Sixties Never Ended” explaining that “Honestly, Joan, the whole of Dylan’s 1978 backing band was in the C.I.A.!” (The panned-at-the-time live album from that tour has recently been released in a dramatically-expanded four-CD set, although I don’t know if the hand of Langley was behind that.)

  84. Sort of a jerk move for him not to give the Who first dibs on recording them.

    The Who as a creative force ended for all intents and purposes when Moon died in 1978. Fair enough for Pete to try do something different with drummers who could keep time. Although, „Rough Boys“ probably should have been a Who song.

  85. @JW, you are in the critical minority regarding Paul’s career. Most “Best of Lists” compiled by Millennials put “Flaming Pie” (1997) and “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard” (2005) among the top10, often top 5, of his post Beatle’s discography. (Obviously Ram and Band on the Run are always at the top.) You are correct that “Back to the Egg” seems to have been re-evaluated, also clearly a Millennal take, not a Gen X take. “London Town” (1978) however is still regarded, correctly, as a dud. That was the first (and also last) 8-track I ever bought, and I still regret it.

    When Lennon released Double Fantasy it seemed to most of us kids (and boomers too I remember) much better than anything McCartney had released since 1975 (and in those days 5 years was eons in terms of rock history).
    That album had just begun to remind everyone that maybe Lennon really was the “more talented Beatle”, and then he was murdered. That timing made the impact of his murder even worse than it might have been otherwise.

  86. J.W. Brewer says

    @Vanya: Someone should have told those poor kids in Cincinnati in December ’79 not to bother trying to see a show by a band that was “for all intendt and purposes” over. W/o getting into the merits of Kenney Jones’ timekeeping, you can certainly add the Small Faces to the list of early British Invasion acts whose alums didn’t do much that was creatively noteworthy after 1980, although Ronnie Lane had an unusually good excuse.

  87. so maybe 40 is the cut off for rock musicians

    I would like to put in a word for Neil Young. He made several good albums in his 40s, although after he turned 50 his output has been, um, variable.

  88. J.W. Brewer says

    @Vanya: Millennials sufficiently familiar with the complete McCartney discography as to offer rankings must be a small, weird, and self-selected group. For me, there’s the specific problem that if some Boomer-hero musician had conspicuously sucked throughout the Eighties, I tended thereafter to ignore/disbelieve hype (especially if coming from Jann Wenner’s lackeys or other such aging-Boomer apologists) claiming that any post-1990 release was a stunning return to classic creative form. I probably missed out on some good stuff that way, but probably avoided more overhyped crap in the process. I did succumb and buy a copy of Dylan’s “Love and Theft,” though, which I will accept is better than any of his other post-Jesus albums.

  89. John Cowan says

    Clarke’s commentary on his First Law (“When a distinguished but elderly scientist …”) says that in physics, mathematics, and astronautics senility sets in at 30, whereas in other (sub)disciplines it is postponed to 40. Scientists over 50, however, “are good for nothing but board meetings, and at all costs should be kept out of the laboratory.”

  90. A description of Osaka-ben from The 1980s Crime Ring That Poisoned Japan’s Candy And Never Got Caught:

    Their letters were also written in a dialect associated with Osaka, Japan’s third largest city, which is seen as an unpretentious anti-capital. Compared with the formality of standard Japanese, says Ivy, Osaka slang left room for warmth, sincerity, and humor. The city has been associated with comedy for more than 1,000 years, and many of Japan’s most well-known comedians hail from Osaka.

    “By writing in this dialect, the authors displaced the often murderous intent of their words into the realm of the lucid,” she writes. In other words, when Japanese citizens opened their papers and read the latest threat from the Mystery Man with 21 Faces, a certain subtext also got across: Why so serious?

  91. displaced the often murderous intent of their words into the realm of the lucid

    “Lucid”? That has to be a typo for “ludic” (which is the kind of word that a professor of anthropology would use in an academic article). Checking the JSTOR link confirms that it’s “ludic” in the article by Ivy.

    Me, earlier: Is there an empty space in the English story … where the translator can only put signposts around it: “Kansai dialect here”?

    Silly me, Kitaru’s dialogue in English translation *is* marked as different in vocabulary, grammar, and phonology. He’s a lot more casual and slangy — breezy — than the narrator, using a lot of contractions and colloquialisms: y’know, gimme, dunno, Wha’?, whaddaya gonna do?, you don’t gotta tell me, etc., and throwing in a lot of “like”s, while the other characters speak in much more standard English. That was actually one of the translation strategies discussed in the William Weaver thread that I linked above. I missed it at first, I think, because it’s generically nonstandard rather than a *regional* kind of English, so I unconsciously attributed it to Kitaru’s personal style instead of to a region. But I’ll bet the translator was going for the impression that Bathrobe described: “not an accent calculated to make you sound erudite or sophisticated, or even to be taken seriously in general.”

  92. “Lucid”? That has to be a typo for “ludic”

    I take my hat off to you, sir. I pride myself on my ability to catch obscure typos, but I wouldn’t have gotten that one.

  93. Ditto. I did think “lucid” was an extremely curious word choice but not knowing the word “ludic” was unable to see that it might be incorrect.

  94. J.W. Brewer says

    I don’t know. Given the choice by a mysterious spirit (possibly benevolent, possibly malevolent) to be either lucid or ludic, which would you choose?

  95. Another translation puzzle, in this exchange in the Murakami story between 20-year-olds trying to impress each other with their life wisdom:

    “But maybe going through that kind of tough, lonely experience is necessary when you’re young? … The way surviving hard winters makes a tree grow stronger, the growth rings inside it tighter.”

    I tried to imagine growth rings inside me. But the only thing I could picture was a leftover slice of Baumkuchen cake, the kind with treelike rings inside it.

    Wikipedia says Baumkuchen is very popular in Japan, so I wondered if the original Japanese didn’t need the explanatory phrase. And what about other languages? I finally managed to fish that paragraph out of the other translations on Google Books. They’re all sentence-for-sentence the same details, matching each other but not the English version:


    Jeg prøvede at forestille mig, at jeg selv havde årringe indeni, men det eneste jeg så for mig var et tre dage gammelt stykke baumkuchen. Da jeg sagde det, grinede hun.


    Jag försökte föreställa mig mina egna årsringar. De såg bara ut som tre dagar gamla rester av Baumkuchenskivor. När jag sa det till Erika, skrattade hon.


    Ich versuchte mir vorzustellen, dass ich Jahresringe in mir hätte. Aber ich sah nur die Überreste des Baumkuchens von vor drei Tagen vor mir. Als ich das sagte, lachte sie.


    Tentai imaginar os anéis de crescimento dentro de mim. A única imagem que me veio á cabeça foi o resto de um Baumkuchen[11] com três dias. Quando lhe disse, desmanchou-se a rir-se.

    [11] Bolo alemão. À letra, a palavra Baumkuchen significa “bolo árvore”. Os anéis que aparecem quando o bolo é fatiado lembram os anéis de uma árvore.


    Yritin nähdä omat vuosirenkaani mieleni silmin. Ne näyttivät kolme päivää vanhoilta baumkuchenin tähteiltä. Kun sanoin niin, Kuritani Erika nauroi.

    So all five of these translators specified that the Baumkuchen was not just leftover but three days old, and that the narrator said something about it out loud, and the girl laughed; the English translator omitted those details. None of them put a description of it in the text, although the Portuguese translator did in a footnote. They must have all followed the Japanese closely, while the English translator was much freer. Would the image be more punchy and funny without the explanation, if I hadn’t needed it? Possibly, but I did need it, so I have to conclude the translator was right to add it.

  96. I have to conclude the translator was right to add it.

    I agree, but I don’t understand why the translator omitted the part about saying it out loud and the girl laughing.

  97. As I wrote long ago in my dissertation, “No one would wish Cortazar’s prose to be more lucid and less ludic.”

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