Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

October 24, 2008

The language of Kyoto (Kyo-kotoba)

The language spoken by the inhabitants of Kyoto.... Don't make the mistake of calling it a "dialect" - the language of Kyoto has for centuries been the norm in Japan and Kyotoites are proud of their heritage!

Its roots are in the language of the court and the aristocracy, as well as the townspeople - the traders and craftspeople (including the Nishijin weavers) who catered to the upper classes, and copied their language, plus the elegant geisha towns. Kyoto language is soft and elegant, consonants are long drawn out and the speed is slow. Often circumlocutions are used. It is a somewhat feminine language.

Roji becomes "rooji," itta "yuutta" and takaku "takoo." "Hon wo motte kite kudasai" (please bring the book) becomes "hon wo motte kite moraehen yaro ka?"

The language is also very polite, and therefore quite vague. It is full of subtle nuances and often you do not know whether something positive or negative has been said. People can criticize by praising.

Here are some typical Kyoto expressions:

standard-Japanese irassharu (polite verb "to be") becomes "iharu" in the language of Kyoto

inai (normal and negative form of "to be") becomes "iihin" or even better "iyarahen"

irasshaimase (welcome) becomes "oideyasu" or, even more polite (only in case of people one knows well), "okoshiyasu"

shitsurei shimasu (pardon me) becomes "gomenyasu"

kutabirete iru (to be very tired) becomes "shindoi"

tamago (egg) becomes "ninuki"

ocha (tea) becomes "bubu" (both of these I have never heard from my Kyoto family, certainly not "bubu" for ocha)

hotto suru (to be relieved) becomes "hokkori"

nenaide itsu mademo okite iru (not getting sleepy, although it is late) becomes "me ga katai" lit. "the eyes are stiff"