题 作 年
目： 中英亲属称谓的对比研究 者： 苟小丽 级： 2008 级 晓 语
指导教师： 胡 专 时 业： 英
间： 2010 年
A Comparative Study of Kinship Terms in Chinese and English
By Gou Xiaoli School of Foreign Languages Qiongzhou University
Supervisor: Hu Xiao Academic Title: Associate Professor Signature:
A Comparative Study of Kinship Terms in Chinese and English
ABSTRACT: Language is the carrier of national culture. Chinese and English
kinship terms belong to different kinship systems. The differences between Chinese and English kinship terms reflect cultural differences between the East and West to some extent. The paper is to reveal the different cultural implication in it through the comparative analysis of the distinctive features of kinship systems of Chinese and English which people are familiar with. Key words: kinship terms; comparison between Chinese and English; cultural differences
度上，中英亲属称谓词之间的差异反映了中西之间的文化差异，本文探讨了人们 所熟悉的两种亲属称谓语的特征，从而透视出两种不同的文化内涵。 关键词: 关键词:亲属称谓；中英比较；文化差异
According to E.R. Leach, kinship terms are “category words by means of which an individual is taught to recognize the significant groupings in the social structure into which he is born”. Cultural differences between Chinese and English give rise to two kinds of different kinship terms. If Chinese kinship terms are transplanted directly into English, this will be bound to cause cultural conflict or cultural shock. Kinship terms belong to social language and they are used widely in daily communicative life. Language is a mirror of culture, therefore, the comparative study of kinship terms in Chinese and English is to understand better different cultural implication and make sure that communication is going on well.
2 Comparison between Chinese and English kinship terms 2.1 Pure kinship terms
Due to historical and cultural reasons, Chinese culture has many fine-grained terms for different types of family relationships. Compared with Chinese kinship terms, English kinship terms are quite a few. The following table will reflect differences between them.
Table 2-1 pure kinship terms in Chinese and English
Chinese 祖父、外祖父 祖母、外祖母 父亲、母亲 伯父、叔父、舅父、姑父、姨父 伯母、婶母、舅母、姑母、姨母 哥哥、弟弟 姐姐、妹妹 侄子、外甥 侄女,甥女 大伯子、小叔子、内兄、内弟、姐夫、 妹夫 大姑子、小姑子、嫂、弟妹、妯娌、大 姨子、小姨子、舅嫂等 堂哥、堂弟、堂姐、堂妹、表哥、表弟、 表姐、表妹等
English grandfather grandmother father，mother Uncle Aunt brother sister nephew niece brother-in-law
By analyzing the above table, it is obvious that the two kinship terms have
certain common characteristics; nevertheless, they express differences between Chinese and English kinship terms to a great extent. Firstly, only a few pairs of kinship terms have the one-to-one correspondent relationship in English and Chinese. For one thing, English “father” and Chinese “fuqin” are both contrasted with English “mother” and Chinese “muqin”. English “son” corresponds to Chinese “erzi”, and the term “son-in-law” has also one-to-one correspondent relationship. However, a kinship term in English may refer to several kinship terms in Chinese in most cases. For example, English “uncle” can replace Chinese “bofu, shufu, jiufu, yifu, and gufu”; the same is true with the English term “aunt”which carries meaning of “bomu, shenmu, jiumu, yimu” and gumu” in Chinese. Secondly, Chinese people value the concept of sex in kinship terms; however, western people are an exception. The English word “cousin” carries no semantic meaning of sex; it is not clear from the word itself if one’s cousin is a man or a woman. Besides, Chinese people attach great importance to the position in the family hierarchy while western people usually break the boundary of respecting for seniority. Take the word “brother” for example, in Chinese, it refers to “elder brother” or “younger brother”, but in western countries, the younger generation usually address the elder generation in the clan directly by name. Lastly, in Chinese, people pay more attention to the differences between consanguineous and affined relationships about kinship terms, with consanguineous relation we have the label of “ tang”, while with affined relation we have the label “biao”. According to the sex and the age to ego, father’s bothers’ sons are called as “tangge” or “tangdi”. In Chinese, “bofu, shufu, jiufu, gumu, yimu” belong to consanguineous relations, but “gufu, yifu, bofu, shenmu and jiumu” are incorporated into affined relations. On the contrary, western people don’t think highly of consanguineous or affined relations about kinship terms, for instance, parents’ brothers or parents’ sisters’ husband are all addressed as “uncle” and “aunt” respectively.
2.2 Expansive kinship terms
Kinship terms which are used to address people who have neither consanguineous nor affined relationships with ego is called expansive kinship terms in Chinese. The frequent use of expansive kinship terms possesses Chinese
characteristics, because these terms can help to form an intimate terms between conversationalists, thus shortening the distance between them and enhancing communicational effects and friendship. In Chinese, we usually call order people whom we aren’t acquainted with as “grandfather” or “grandmother” out of politeness. In addition to this, with respect to positional titles, we often hear these addresses, such as “Uncle Police”, “Aunt Conductor”. However, if these terms are applied to English, the result will be just the opposite. There is no denying the fact that some traditional families in central district of England always call non-relative members “aunt” or “uncle”. For example, parents’ friends may be addressed as “Uncle Tom” or “Aunt Lily”. Although there are certain expansive kinship terms in English, their frequency of use is far inferior to Chinese.
3 The cultural differences in both kinship terms 3.1 Different family structures
Many cultural differences exist in family structures and values. In some cultures, the family is the center of life and the main frame of reference for decisions. It’s wellknown that ancient China was a feudal agricultural country. People lived on tilling the land and settled in those places with rich soil. In this case, self-supporting natural economy gradually took shape. However, people had to labor together and had a collective life owing to the low productivity. Thereupon, they lived together according to consanguineous or affined relations and formed an extended family which had exceedingly complex relations between family members. Accordingly, complicated kinship terms came into being in order to make the daily life progress smoothly. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution period, manpower in Anglo-American countries was no longer the important factor in the process of working. Therefore, an increasing number of nuclear families began to form and played a leading role in the current society. Generally speaking, a nuclear family has very few members, only parents and offspring. The distinctive feature of the family structure is easy and loose, which decides the poverty in quantity of kinship terms.
3.2 Different value orientations
In history, China had been a feudal patriarchal society which had extremely rigid
feudal hierarchy spanning over 2000 years. In this case, the formation of the clannish system is inevitable; meanwhile, the use of kinship terms is a mirror of the clannish system. The clannish system claims for respecting for seniority in a family. The younger generation should not call the elder generation directly by names, while they are supposed to address them according to the position in the family hierarchy. Furthermore, Chinese attach importance to the traditional ideal that ‘let the king be a king, the minister be a minister, the father a father and the son a son’. What’s more, different members are endowed with different rights and fulfill different obligations. Consequently, kinship system is very distinct and strict. Furthermore, an outstanding characteristic of feudal hierarchy is the deep-rooted idea that males are better than females, resulting in making a distinction between paternal and maternal kinship terms. The typical example is “wai” and “biao” which express the differences in consanguineous and affined relations. On the contrary, the concept of capitalism and equality had a great impact on western people; As a result, they advocate individualism, lay stress on self-consciousness and pay attention to self-interest. There is not an evident boundary between the elder and the younger in kinship terms. Ordinarily, they don’t use the kinship terms “brother” and “sister” to call each other, instead of calling one another by names. Besides, this phenomenon is frequently common among different generations, which embodies the concept that all men are equal. Meanwhile, this can make the relations between family members more harmonious and closely united. Hence, English kinship terms are lacking in quantity and their semantic meanings are extensive.
3.3 Different politeness principles
Influenced by the moral and ethical concepts, Chinese must chose suitable terms to address others according to the rank and identity. Chinese people extremely lay emphasis on the harmonious and friendly terms in the process of associating with others, thus expansive kinship terms are applied widely to a variety of social occasions in view of expressing politeness and kindness. There is no doubt that this will go a long way to communication and help to form a good interpersonal relation
with others. However, the kinship terms should not be abused and must be in accordance with social occasions Conversely, western people seem to be indifferent to courtesy principles, kinship terms are seldom used to call non-relative people even for family members. They are prone to address others by names regardless of the rank and identity. This phenomenon expresses intensely their hope of getting rid of differences in social status; at the same time, interpersonal relations are tending towards
equality .Therefore, expansive kinship terms in Chinese should not be used into English; otherwise, interpersonal relations will be in chaos, leading to a failure of communication.
3.4 Different blood relations
In Chinese, people value consanguineous relations owing to the effect of principle of feudal moral conduct that “the three cardinal guides and five constant virtues”. Patriarchal and colossal social organizations, namely extended families, were beginning to take shape in China going through a time-honored rule of feudal society. In this case, the basic social unit is a clan rather than an individual. Accordingly, an individual has to be subordinated to the clan with the result that Chinese culture has many fine-grained terms and there are many differences between the paternal side and maternal side. In contrast, commercial culture played a leading role in western history. Constant emigration and colonization took place during the course of their fighting with the nature. Under the circumstances, the patriarch system based on consanguineous relations took the place of the social contract system on the basis of property relations. By the same token, the ideal that everyone is equal replaced the obsession of hierarchy. Therefore, English kinship terms give expression to equality in personality, especially for addressing relatives on the father’s side or mother’s side.
For what has been discussed above, we may reasonably draw a conclusion that there are many differences between Chinese and English kinship terms. To sum up, Chinese kinship terms are meticulous, strict and complicated, while the distinguishing
features of kinship terms in English are simple, loose and general. These differences in both kinship terms reflect precisely the different cultural implication. Understanding the differences between the two kinds of culture is beneficial to our English study. What’ more, it may help us to heighten the quality of communication and promote cross-cultural communication.
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