Wednesday’s Word – Sons and daughters…and such

This post delves a bit more into the culture of the people who speak Mychai than previous posts might. It’s about familial relationship terms.

Mostly Mychai isn’t too surprising here. There’s a word for father (Asag), mother (Mrem), brother (En), sister (Ler), son (Ksro) and daughter (Dhuil). There are also words for maternal grandmother and grandfather versus paternal grandmother and grandfather (I haven’t fully solidified these though. So these terms are all quite simple.

Where things get a little unusual is when you get into extended relationships. While cousins (cross or otherwise) are simple, Rebe for males and Rab for females, what you call your aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, parents-in-law and children-in-law, depends on you. More specifically, your sex.

And by that I mean that your sex determines the word you use for your relationship with that person. Let’s start with the words a male uses (and since I’m male, that doesn’t seem too sexist a place to start): If I am referring to my niece or daughter-in-law*, I use the same word for daughter: Dhuil. While my nephews are Loce. Now, for the generation older than me, for my aunts and my mother-in-law*, I use the same word for mother: Mrem. But for my uncles, I use Cuem.

All that’s easy enough. Now for the women:
For their nephews and sons-in-law, they use the same term for son: Ksro. And for the nieces, Loce. Wait…Loce means niece here, but up there it meant nephew… Yes, that’s right. The actual meaning of Loce is dependent on the sex of the speaker. Perhaps a better translation of the word for be “my siblings child of the same sex as me”. Okay, that’s simple enough, and maybe you can see where this is going. For a female, her uncles and father-in-law are the word for father, Asag, while her aunts are Cuem. So Cuem works much like Loce in that it can mean aunt or uncle depending on the sex of the speaker (or person who is in the relationship, more accurately). A better translation of this might be “my parents sibling who is the same sex as me”.

Now, why does this system exist? Perhaps it’s because for the speakers of Mychai they attribute a heavy cultural significance to cross-sex relationships between the generations, and so words the convey closeness are used. Or maybe it’s because there is a huge cultural taboo from having sex with family members that closely related so the words used up the ick factor. Who can tell? Certainly not the inventor.

*I haven’t quite worked out the terms you use for in-laws who are the same sex as the speaker, so that’s still pending.

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