…are really, really complicated! (‘sup with that, s.e.?!) mind you, the greeks have a pretty complex kinship terminology system with 32 names for first-cousins. (the effects of too much ouzo, presumably. opa!) but still — the chinese distinguish between their paternal great elder uncles versus their paternal great younger uncles. what the h*ck?!:
“The development of the system of Chinese kinship terms is, first and foremost, influenced by the family-centered economy in Chinese tradition. For thousands of years, people in rural areas have been living separately in small villages. In many cases a village constitutes a large family. All the villagers share one family name and have the same ancestors. A village usually has a temple called the hall of ancestors in which all the memorial tablets (pieces of wood written with the names of the dead symbolizing the souls of them) of the ancestors are placed and worshipped. Inside this big family, members are labeled with specific kinship terms according to their age, generation, sex, and other factors such as marriage. They can never get confused about their relations with the other members. For example, if one’s father has three elder brothers and two younger brothers, then he can call them, respectively, first bo fu, second bo fu, third bo fu, first shu fu and second shu fu. In the broad family (the village) the ordinal number becomes even higher. You may hear someone call another villager seventh bo mu or ninth shu fu. Because people of this village consider themselves the same as a family writ-large, incest is firmly prohibited. One can never marry his aunt even if he is older than her; and very often people of the same age are from different generations….
“The over-emphasis on the differences between consanguineal and affinal relations might be another reason why Chinese have so many terms for kinsmen. As previously mentioned, maternal grandfather and grandmother in the Chinese language are wai zu fu and wai zu mu, with wai literally meaning outside…. [T]he dividing line between consanguineal and affinal relations, which has created so many kinship terms, still exists.” [source]
chinese villages sound like greek villages — everybody’s a member of one big family — although in greek villages there is typically more than one surname.
like chinese (and greek), german and english used to have more designations for all the different family members, including in-laws (affinal relatives). but once we started marrying out, it stopped being so essential to be so specific. if the goal is no longer to marry one’s father’s brother’s daughter (or whomever), then why need to differentiate them from other cousins? also, if you can no longer marry ANY of your cousins, you can just slap one label on them — cousin — and be done with it. that person is a cousin of mine? ok — can’t marry ’em!
btw, that’s how we got the crazy “in-law” label. someone is your “sister-in-law” in canon law, i.e. in the eyes of the church. you see, when you marry your wife, you become “one flesh” (in the eyes of the christian church). and if you really do that in a some sort-of miraculous way, then you couldn’t possibly ever marry your wife’s sister (say if your wife died) ’cause that would be exactly the same as marrying your sister! ewwww.
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