Kumamoto-ben: A primer on the Kumamoto dialect

  1. 5 years ago


    Oct 2016 Administrator


    JLect's Kumamoto-ben dictionary/Kumamoto dialect dictionary

    Introduction to the Kumamoto dialect

    Thinking of visiting Kumamoto and want to learn a bit of the local dialect? Then you're in the right place to learn!

    Kumamoto-ben is a Japanese dialect spoken in the prefecture of Kumamoto, located in the centre of Kyushu island. On a general level, it is more closely aligned with the dialects of Western and Southern Kyushu, such as Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Kagoshima. It can also be further subdivided into a number of smaller dialects; so someone who comes from Kumamoto city won't exactly speak the same way as someone from the district of Kuma or the island of Amakusa.

    Current status of the dialect

    As with other Kyushu dialects, the traditional Kumamoto dialect is slowly being levelled away as a result of centralized media and standardized education. As a result, younger generations will speak a dialect that is becoming more closely aligned with standard Japanese. However, as it is currently, even their manner of speaking still shows quite a number of traces of the traditional dialect. So if you go to Kumamoto, you will still hear some local expressions, different verb conjugations, new particles, and so on.

    Verb conjugation patterns

    Two of the most recognizable verb differences are the negative form and the progressive form.


    In standard Japanese, verbs are negated by appending -(a)nai at the end. For example, 書く kaku "write" becomes 書かない kakanai "not write". In Kumamoto, as well as much of Western Japan, the ending becomes -(a)n. Consequently, you end up with:

    • 書く kaku "write" → 書かん kakan "no write"
    • しる shiru "know" → しらん shiran "not know"
    • 分かる wakaru "understand" → 分からん wakaran "not understand"
    • 食う kuu "eat" → 食わん kuwan "not eat"


    In standard Japanese, the progressive is formed with the ending -teiru (-deiru). In Kumamoto, this becomes -tooru/-toru (-dooru/-doru). You might also hear the variant -chooru/-choru (-jooru/-joru) in some areas as well. For example:

    • 書く kaku "write" → 書いとおる kaitooru "writing"
    • しる shiru "know" → しっとおる shittooru "knowing"
    • 分かる wakaru "understand" → 分かっとおる wakattooru "understanding"

    True adjectives

    In standard Japanese, true adjectives are those that end in -i and that conjugate like verbs for things like tense. In Kumamoto and many Western Kyushu dialects, the ending is replaced with -ka. For example:

    • 厚い atsui → 厚か atsuka "hot"
    • 良い yoi → 良か yoka "good"
    • 眠い nemui → 眠か nemuka/nebuka "sleepy"
    • うまい umai → うまか umaka "delicious"

    Note that this also includes the negative ending: ない nai → なか naka. That said, the -ka ending isn't always used and can sometimes be in variation with the -i ending.

    True adverbs

    This probably isn't the right term for it, but, in standard Japanese, you can derive adverbs from true adjectives by changing the -i ending into a -ku. For example, 早い hayai "fast" becomes 早く hayaku "swiftly". This same phenomenon applies to Kumamoto, except that the ending -i/-ka will become -u instead and will trigger a phenomenon known as vowel fusion or vowel coalescence. By this rule, 早い hayai "fast" becomes *はやう *hayau and ultimately はよう hayou "swiftly". Sometimes, the final vowel will simply be shortened, giving はよ hayo instead.

    This form is becoming less and less common, but you'll still hear it in some popular expressions like the example provided.

    Useful function words and other endings

    ばい bai

    You'll hear bai at the end of tons of utterances. If you're familiar with standard Japanese, it's basically the same thing as the particle よ yo. In other words, it adds emphasis to an otherwise declarative phrase. For example, 眠かばい nemuka bai effectively means "I'm so sleepy" and 本当ばい hontou bai means "Really!".

    たい tai

    Tai is very similar to bai in how it's used, except that it's considered less strong and can sometimes be encountered in more formal situations.

    ばってん batten

    The conjunction batten is used to introduce a contrast, like the words "but" or "however" in English. It's still very popular today, so you're sure to hear it at one point or another if you travel to Kumamoto.

    けん ken

    The conjunction ken is used to mark an explanation, like the words "because" and "since" in English. It's essentially equivalent to the standard Japanese endings から kara and ので node.

    と to

    When asking non polar questions, that is, questions for which you're seeking an explanation instead of a yes or no answer, you would use the particle の in standard Japanese. In Kumamoto, however, you'll often hear と to instead. For example, どこ行くと? doko iku to? means "Where are you going?".

    なんせ nanse, なっせ nasse

    Nanse/nasse is used in lieu of the standard ending nasai. It essentially turns a verb into a formal request. For example, きなっせ【来なっせ】 kinasse means "please come".


    The particle ba marks the direct object of a verb, in the same was as を o does in the standard language. You'll often hear it following the word なん nan "what": なんばしょうと? nan ba shou to? "What are you up to?".

    しゃんしゃん shanshan

    Shanshan is a pretty versatile expression that's often used to affirm something said, kind of like saying "right, right", "yeah, that's right", "mhmm" or "I see". Depending on the exact region, you might hear other variations of this expression like そうやんそうやん souyansouyan or じゃあじゃあ jaajaa.

    Other Kumamoto words

    If you're looking for other Kumamoto words and expressions, then you'll definitely want to check out
    JLect's Kumamoto word list or even Wikipedia's article on Kumamoto-ben .

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