Northern Tōhoku dialects (navy), Southern Tōhoku (med. blue), and the transitional Eastern Kantō dialects (azure)
The Tōhoku dialect (東北方言 Tōhoku hōgen?), commonly called 東北弁 Tōhoku-ben, is a group of the Japanese dialects spoken in Tōhoku Region, the northeastern region of Honshū. Toward the northern part of Honshū, the Tōhoku dialect can differ so dramatically from standard Japanese that it is sometimes rendered with subtitles in the nationwide media and it has been treated as the typical rural accent in Japanese popular culture (See also Tohoku Regional Accent of TV Tropes).
A notable linguistic feature of the Tōhoku dialect is its neutralization of the high vowels "i" and "u" (Standard [i] and [ɯᵝ]), so that the words sushi, susu (soot), and shishi (lion) are rendered homophonous, where they would have been distinct in other dialects. In light of this, Tōhoku dialect is sometimes referred to as Zūzū-ben. The vowels tend to be neutralized to [ɨ] in Northern Tohoku dialect and [ɯ̈] in Southern Tohoku dialect.
In addition, all unvoiced stops become voiced intervocalically, rendering the pronunciation of the word "kato" (trained rabbit) as [kado]. However, unlike the high vowel neutralization, this does not result in new homophones, as all voiced stops are prenasalized, meaning that the word "kado" (corner) is pronounced [kaⁿdo]. This is particularly noticeable with /ɡ/, which is nasalized fully to [ŋ] with the stop of the hard "g" [ᵑɡ] almost entirely lost, so that ichigo 'strawberry' is pronounced [ɨzɨŋo]. Standard Japanese does this with /ɡ/ too (see Japanese phonology), but not with the other stops.
In grammar, a volitional and presumptive suffix -be or -ppe is widely used in the region. It is a transformation of -beki, a conjugated form of an archaic suffix -beshi. Since the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, a slogan Ganbappe! ("Let's buckle down!") has often been used in the disaster area.
A directional particle sa is also widely used in the region. It is a transformation of sama ("direction") and almost equivalent to standard ni or e. A Muromachi period proverb "Kyō e, Tsukushi ni, Bandō sa" says that the particle sa was once widely used in Kanto region.
The Tōhoku dialects can be broken down geographically and by former han domains:
- Northern Tohoku
- Tsugaru dialect (western Aomori Prefecture, the former Tsugaru Domain)
- Nambu dialect (eastern Aomori Prefecture and northern Iwate Prefecture, the former Nanbu Domain)
- Akita dialect (Akita Prefecture)
- Shōnai dialect (northwestern Yamagata Prefecture, the former Shonai Domain)
- Hokuetsu dialect (northeastern Niigata Prefecture)
- Southern Tohoku
- Sendai dialect (Miyagi Prefecture especially Sendai)
- Southern Iwate dialect (southern Iwate Prefecture)
- Yamagata dialect (Yamagata Prefecture)
- Fukushima dialect (eastern Fukushima Prefecture)
- Aizu dialect (Aizu region in western Fukushima Prefecture)
- Kirikirijin - a satirical novel in 1981 featuring Tohoku culture.
- Umpaku dialect - another Zuzu-ben in western Japan.