All in the Family Pt2

15 07 2010

A while back we began looking at the linguistic minefield of family names in Thai.  In Thailand the importance placed on social hierarchy and knowing where one fits into that hierarchy is such that, depending on how old a relative is and how they are related, different words are used to refer to them.  Whilst in English it is enough to know that someone is, for example, an uncle, in Thai it is imperative to know whether he is the brother of your father or your mother and whether he is older or younger than him or her.  One cannot adequately refer to him if not.  Conversely, and to make matters all the more confusing, there is no distinction between nephew and grandson, or niece and granddaughter!

In All in the Family Pt 1 we looked at the nuclear family and close relatives such as uncles, aunts and grandparents.  This post takes the brave step into the world of ญาติห่างๆ yâat hàang hàang [distant relatives], where it can all get desperately confusing.

The Descendants

ลูกหลาน lôok lăan: descendants

หลาน lăan: a general word to refer to grandchildren, nieces and/or nephews

หลานชาย lăan chaai: grandson or nephew

หลานสาว lăan săo: granddaughter or niece

เหลน lăyn: a general word to refer to great-grandchildren, grandnieces and/or grandnephews

เหลนชาย lăyn chaai: great-grandson or grandnephew

เหลนสาว lăyn săo: great-granddaughter or grandniece

โหล่น lòhn: great great-grandchild, great-grandnephew and/or great-grandniece

The Ancestors

บรรพบุรุษ ban-pá-bù-rùt: ancestors

ทวด tûat: great-grandparent and/or great-aunt or great-uncle

ปู่ทวด bpòo tûat: paternal great-grandfather and/or paternal great-uncle

ย่าทวด yâa tûat: paternal great-grandmother and/or paternal great-aunt

ตาทวด dtaa tûat: maternal great-grandfather and/or maternal great-uncle

ยายทวด yaay tûat: maternal great-grandmother and/or maternal great-aunt

ทวดน้อย tûat nói: great-granduncle and/or great-grandaunt

Meet the In-laws

Now it gets really complicated because a whole host of things come into play: age, gender, age of sibling to whom they are married, gender of the sibling to whom they are married, age relative to that sibling and a heap of other things, which frankly are beyond me and would make for thoroughly complicated reading!  I’ll stick to the basics.

สะใภ้ sà-pái: a female relative by marriage, for example พี่สะใภ้ is an older sister in-law

เขย kŏie: a male relative by marriage, for example น้องเขย is a younger brother in-law

แม่ยาย mâe yaai: mother in-law (mother of wife)

พ่อตา pôr dtaa: father in-law (father of wife)

ลูกเขย lôok kŏie: son in-law (husband of daughter)

There are lots more convolutions of these kinds of relative, many of which are straightforward descriptions of the relationship such as พี่ชายสามี pêe chaai săa-mee: brother in-law (lit. elder brother of husband), but that’s quite enough for this post.

If all of this is just a bit too much to absorb, one can take solace in the fact that Thai people find it almost as complicated.  They therefore happily use ‘sister’ and ‘brother’ to describe family or close friends of the same generation as them; ‘uncle’, ‘aunt’, ‘mother’ or ‘father’ for relatives or close friends in the generation above; and ‘child’ or ‘grandchild’ for the generations below.

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