8.4. Kinship


8.4.1. Kinship reference terms


Japanese kinship terms have two categories: reference terms and address terms. The latter is used to call your family without using their name, like the English words dad and mom. Kinship reference terms are never used to call them directly.

Kana:(o)(ya)
Romanization:oya
Meaning:parent

Note: Another word (hu)(bo) "hubo", which means father and mother, is also commonly used in formal situations.

Kana:(ti)(ti)
Romanization:titi
Meaning:father

Note: The word (ti)(ti)(o)(ya) "titioya" is also commonly used.

Kana:(ha)(ha)
Romanization:haha
Meaning:mother

Note: The word (ha)(ha)(o)(ya) "hahaoya" is also commonly used.

Kana:(a)(ni)
Romanization:ani
Meaning:elder brother

Note: Japanese distinguishes elder brothers and younger brothers. The word (ki)(small yo)(u)(da)(i) "kyôdai" means brothers and sisters and it is sometimes useful, but using it for a specific brother/sister is as strange as using the English word sibling for him/her. It depends on language what information you have to give when you talk about a sibling. You have to clarify his/her sex and age compared to you in Japanese, while in English you don't have to tell his/her age. You might be interested to know that in Indonesian you have to clarify only his/her age because it has a word for elder sibling and another word for younger sibling.

Kana:(a)(ne)
Romanization:ane
Meaning:elder sister

Kana:(o)(to)(u)(to)
Romanization:oto
Meaning:younger brother

Kana:(i)(mo)(u)(to)
Romanization:ito
Meaning:younger sister

Kana:(so)(hu)
Romanization:sohu
Meaning:grandfather

Kana:(so)(bo)
Romanization:sobo
Meaning:grandmother

Note: The word (so)(hu)(bo) "sohubo" means grandfather and grandmother.

Kana:(ko)
Accent:L
Romanization:ko
Meaning:child

Note: Another word (ko)(do)(mo) "kodomo" is also commonly used for child, but it often means all minors, not only your sons and daughters.

Kana:(mu)(su)(ko)
Romanization:musuko
Meaning:son

Kana:(mu)(su)(me)
Romanization:musume
Meaning:daughter

Kana:(ma)(go)
Romanization:mago
Meaning:grandchild

Note: If you want to distinguish grandsons and granddaughters, you can use (ma)(go)(mu)(su)(ko) "magomusuko" (grandson) and (ma)(go)(mu)(su)(me) "magomusume" (granddaughter), but simply saying (ma)(go) is commoner.

Kana:(o)(zi)
Romanization:ozi
Meaning:uncle

Kana:(o)(ba)
Romanization:oba
Meaning:aunt

Kana:(i)(to)(ko)
Romanization:itoko
Meaning:cousin

Kana:(o)(i)
Romanization:oi
Meaning:nephew

Kana:(me)(i)
Romanization:mei
Meaning:niece


8.4.2. Kinship address terms


The following words are used to call elder members of your family, like dad and mom. It is also good to use them to refer to other people's families, but using them to talk about your own family in formal situations sounds childish. Use given names to call younger members of your family.

Kana:(o)(to)(u)(sa)(n)
Romanization:osan
Meaning:dad

Note: The first (o) "o" is a common politeness prefix for nouns, and removing it sounds you are matured. The last (sa)(n) "san" is the same as the Japanese equivalent of Mr. and Ms., but it's a part of the word and you can't remove it.

Kana:(o)(ka)(a)(sa)(n)
Romanization:osan
Meaning:mom

Kana:(o)(ni)(i)(sa)(n)
Romanization:osan
Meaning:elder brother (address term)

Note: Children prefer the word (o)(ni)(i)(ti)(small ya)(n) "onîtyan". The last (ti)(small ya)(n) "tyan" is a childlike version of (sa)(n).

Kana:(o)(ne)(e)(sa)(n)
Romanization:osan
Meaning:elder sister (address term)

Note: Children prefer the word (o)(ne)(e)(ti)(small ya)(n) "otyan".

Kana:(o)(zi)(i)(ti)(small ya)(n)
Romanization:otyan
Meaning:grandpa

Note: The word (o)(zi)(i)(sa)(n) "osan" is often used for old men in general, not necessarily your grandfather.

Kana:(o)(ba)(a)(ti)(small ya)(n)
Romanization:otyan
Meaning:grandma

Note: The word (o)(ba)(a)(sa)(n) "osan" is often used for old women in general, not necessarily your grandmother.

Kana:(o)(zi)(sa)(n)
Romanization:ozisan
Meaning:uncle (address term)

Note: This word is also used for general middle-age men.

Kana:(o)(ba)(sa)(n)
Romanization:obasan
Meaning:aunt (address term)

Note: This word is also used for general middle-age women.


The interesting point of the kinship address terms is that the viewpoint is usually fixed on the youngest member of the family. For example, it is not uncommon at all for a man with a kid to call his wife (o)(ka)(a)(sa)(n) "osan" and for his wife to call her husband (o)(to)(u)(sa)(n) "osan", because their word usage is based on their kid's viewpoint. If they live with his or her parents, they would call their father (o)(zi)(i)(ti)(small ya)(n) "otyan" and their mother (o)(ba)(a)(ti)(small ya)(n) "otyan".


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