Maria Holland

Crying Uncle!

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2009 at 12:43 am

I just finished a Skype call back home, which included my grandpa (visiting my parents) and my aunt (on conference call from Texas).  I figure this is as good a time as any to share with you the joys of discussing family relations in Chinese.

If you’ve learned anything about Chinese from reading this blog, you should know that it’s not as easy as translating ‘uncle’ to some word that means exactly the same thing.  In Chinese, family relations are super-specific, conveying information about generation, seniority within generations, and blood-relationships.  Thus, there is no such word as ‘uncle’ – instead, there are several. 

There are my father’s older brothers (Rob, Mark, and David) – 伯伯, or bobo

There is my father’s younger brother (Daniel) – 叔叔, or shushu

There are my father’s sister’s husbands (Steve, Tom, Joe, Mike, and Pete) – 姑父, or gufu

There is my mother’s brother (Ty) – 旧旧, or jiujiu

There are my mother’s sister’s husbands (Jim and Wayne) – 姨父, or yifu

Luckily (?), my extended family is large enough that I have at least one family member in every category.  This makes it much easier to remember than straight memorization.  Grandparents especially, as it is much easier to associate Grandpa Herb with 爷爷, for instance, than to memorize that 爷爷 is my father’s father.

I have mixed feelings about this system.  On the one hand, the family terms in Chinese are very dense with information, which makes communicating specifically very efficient.  On the other hand, if you don’t feel like being that specific, then English is just as good.  It also presents problems when translating from the vague English term and trying to find the right Chinese term. 

下课!  Class is over!

PS – to my aunts out there (Dad’s sisters, that is), you are all 姑姑, or gugu. 


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