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Family words

The other day, one of my students exclaimed, “why does Japanese have to have 2 words for everything!” – “2 words for everything?” Umm, when you are learning family terms, I guess it is a legit complaint.

 

Japanese like to have a boundary between inside and outside. The most distinctive boundary is that of a family. We use different words for members of our own family (humble form) and those of other people’s family (honorific form).


male

English

female

My own

Somebody else’s

Somebody else’s

My own

Chichi
ちち

Otou_san

おとうさん

parents

Okaa_san

おかあさん

Haha

はは

Sohu

そふ

Ojii_san

おじいさん

grand

-parents

obaa_san

おばあさん

Sobo

そぼ

Ani

あに

Onii_san

おにいさん

older
sibling

Onee_san

おねえさん

Ane

あね

Otouto

おとうと

Otouto_san

おとうとさん

younger
sibling

Imouto_san

いもうとさん

Imouto

いもうと

Oji

おじ

ojisan

おじさん

parent’s
sibling

oba_san

おばさん

Oba

おば

Shujin

しゅじん

Goshujin

ごしゅじん

Spouse

Oku_san

おくさん

Kanai

かない

Musuko

むすこ

Musuko_san

むすこさん

Child

Ojou_san

おじょうさん

Musume
むすめ

Oi

おい

Oigo_san

おいごさん

Your Sibling’s child

Meigo_san

めいごさん

Mei

めい

Little children are not expected to differentiate these. They are to learn the honorific set first to call (as opposed to “refer to”) members of their own family, although more and more children use パパ and ママ instead of おとうさん and おかあさんthese days.

 

I also have to mention that the words for spouse are quite controversial as “(go)shujin” for husband means “Master” and both “kanai” and “okusan” for wife means “(somebody) inside the house” and many couples are starting to use more neutral words, 夫(おっと/otto) for husband and 妻(つま/tsuma) for wife, when they refer to their own spouse. I do too when I’m talking to people I know very well, but if I am at a job interview, I would still use “shujin” to refer to my husband, annoyingly. Hopefully in 10 years’ time, people’s perception will be different.

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