Earlier today on Reddit there was a discussion about how Japanese people pronounce 言う in all its various forms. Is it pronounced いう [iɯ] or ゆう [jɯː]? Does it change for past tense, て form, or other forms? Does it differ by region? Is it a Kansai thing?
There was lots of good discussion, but no real data on the subject. I had a feeling that the truth is a lot less cut-and-dry than just saying all Tokyo speakers pronounce it as ゆう in dictionary form and いう (いった、いったり) in other forms. So I cooked up a 20-phrase questionnaire and asked a bunch of Japanese people to read for me. Very high tech research methods here.
This is in no way a scientific study. My sample consists of 10 Japanese people who happened to be taking an introductory course in J-E interpretation with me, plus a security guard at Sophia University and another 17 people who happened to be passing by Yotsuya station around five in the afternoon on a Monday. A little over half were college students or younger, and a little over half were men–I tried to approach people to get a rough balance of ages and genders. The sample sentences are 20 sentences written by a non-native speaker (me) in about 10 minutes, chosen to cover a smattering of grammatical forms in both casual and polite registers. However! Some data is better than no data, and I think the results at least demonstrate that there is significant variation between speakers.
Okay, what kinds of trends do we see? Well, ゆったでしょう！ and 早くゆってよ！ are only pronounced by a few young women. But ゆわれる was more often pronounced by men than by women, and more often by older speakers than younger. It’s a very small, very unrepresentative sample, though, so please don’t go making pronouncements about how all Japanese people speak off of this data.
I also took down prefecture of origin, but nearly everyone was from Tokyo, Chiba, or Kanagawa, so I don’t think it’s really fair to generalize off of the couple of Kansai speakers I found. If someone wants to run these sentences by a bunch of Kansai-jin, though, it’d be interesting to see if there really is a difference. You might want to try re-writing the sentences to be in dialect rather than 標準語, though–our Mie-ken speaker mentioned that she would probably have read the sentences differently had they been written in her dialect.
Big thanks to my classmates, and especially to Yui Ibuki for standing out in the cold with me to hassle strangers. Thanks also to /u/wonkydonky for suggesting the survey. If you want to see the whole data set, you can find it up on my Google Docs here. Thanks for reading!