genderless kinship terms

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0stsee
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genderless kinship terms

Postby 0stsee » 2012-09-13, 23:12

G'day!

In my language we generally don't distinguish genders. This includes kinship terms.
With mother & father being obvious exceptions, we don't distinguish between sister|brother, daughter|son, niece|nephew, sister-|brother-, daughter-|son-, mother-|father-in-law, girlfriend|boyfriend, fiancée|fiancé (though this last one sounds the same in English anyway), etc.

I looked up for the words for sister and brother in Finnish and found that there's sisar, sisko and veli.


So my questions are:

1) Are kinship terms in Finnish generally are also genderless?

2) Are the gender specific terms often loanwords? Assuming that sisar & sisko are loanwords from Germanic?


Thanks! :)
Ini tandatanganku.

tunnus35252

Re: genderless kinship terms

Postby tunnus35252 » 2012-09-17, 16:53

(1) Kinship terms like brother (veli), sister (sisko), isä (father) or äiti (mother) can't be genderless, mother and sister must always be female and father and brother are always male gender.

In Finnish 3rd personal pronoun (he/she) is always expressed "hän", regardless the gender. One example to clarify:
She said so. -- Hän sanoi niin.
He said so. -- Hän sanoi niin.

If a speaker likes to emphasize the gender, he or she can use another turn of phrase, for example if you say: Keittäjä tekee ruokaa (= a cook is making food.), we can't say if a cook is either male or female, but by adding an ending "-tär", the meaning changes:
KeittäjäTÄR tekee ruokaa (= a female cook is making food.)

(2) Are gender specific terms often loanwords? Lets have a look:

Sister (EN), Schwester (DE), syster (SE), sisko (FI)

Some words in Finnish language are obviously loanwords (or vice versa :lol: ), like:
das auto (in Finnish: auto)
akku (in Finnish = akku)

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Re: genderless kinship terms

Postby Virankannos » 2012-09-17, 17:40

Some important female kinship terms in Finnish are indeed loans:

sisar (although not from Germanic, but from Baltic, cf. Lithuanian sesuõ : sẽser-)
äiti (from Gothic aiþei, i.e. Germanic)
tytär (from Baltic, cf. Lithuanian duktė : dukter-)

Interestingly, corresponding male terms poika 'son', isä 'father' and veli 'brother' are all of Uralic origin, i.e. original Finnish words.

In addition we have:
täti 'aunt' - setä 'paternal uncle', eno 'maternal uncle'
anoppi 'mother-in-law' - appi 'father-in-law'
käly 'sister-in-law' - lanko 'brother-in-law'
miniä 'daughter-in-law' - vävy 'son-in-law'

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Re: genderless kinship terms

Postby Naava » 2012-09-18, 9:28

I have to add that there are some genderless kinship terms, like "vanhempi" (parent), "serkku" (cousin) and "sisarus" (sibling). But well, in general, the kinship terms aren't genderless.

Does anyone know if the other female kinship terms are loan words and if there's any male loan word? I have never before noticed that mother and sister are loans but father and brother aren't. I wonder why Finnish has replaced some (and, as it seems, only female) kinship terms but not male ones. Is there some kind of historical reason or did people just think that hey, this "äiti" sounds much cooler than "emo", let's change it? :D

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Re: genderless kinship terms

Postby 0stsee » 2012-09-19, 12:00

Thanks a lot! Your replies have been very informative indeed! :)

Naava wrote:Does anyone know if the other female kinship terms are loan words and if there's any male loan word? I have never before noticed that mother and sister are loans but father and brother aren't. I wonder why Finnish has replaced some (and, as it seems, only female) kinship terms but not male ones. Is there some kind of historical reason or did people just think that hey, this "äiti" sounds much cooler than "emo", let's change it? :D

I would think that the terms were originally genderless, but through influence from surrounding IE languages where even non-living things were gendered, Finnish started to make a distinction (with the old genderless terms preserved for male).
As I mentioned, even today in my language we don't distinguish between sister & brother (but rather between "younger sister/brother" & "older sister/brother").
It may be difficult for most of us to imagine that the word for mother & father was originally genderless, like English "parent". But who knows? Most speakers of European languages can hardly imagine any language having the same word for she and he, yet maybe half of the world's population have exactly that.

Virankannos wrote:In addition we have:
täti 'aunt'

I don't know if they're related, but täti reminds me of Tante in German and several other languages.
Ini tandatanganku.

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Re: genderless kinship terms

Postby Virankannos » 2012-09-22, 16:29

The theory I've heard pertains to changes in population. It's suspected that either Finnish men tended to marry Baltic or Germanic women at the time or, conversely, Baltic/Germanic men took Finnish women as their spouses. Either way, the original words have been replaced by loans. The genderlessness theory sounds dubious to me; for example, there does indeed exist a more archaic word for mother, emä, which goes back all the way to Proto-Uralic. In other Uralic languages the older words for sister and daughter may have survived, but alas I don't have an etymological dictionary at hand right now, so I can't confirm that.

Moreover, even though Finnish doesn't differentiate between male and female in pronouns, and non-kinship nouns don't have an inherent gender or noun class, it doesn't mean that the concept of gender/sex has ever been irrelevant. Clearly, men and women are different, so differentiating between mother/father, son/daughter etc. is easy to understand. Introducing intrinsic genders to other nouns in the form of a grammatical gender (as in German, Icelandic, Latin and so on) or a noun class (as in Swahili and many others) just has never occurred.

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Re: genderless kinship terms

Postby 0stsee » 2012-10-06, 16:38

Virankannos wrote:even though Finnish doesn't differentiate between male and female in pronouns, and non-kinship nouns don't have an inherent gender or noun class, it doesn't mean that the concept of gender/sex has ever been irrelevant. Clearly, men and women are different, so differentiating between mother/father, son/daughter etc. is easy to understand.


:o I don't think that us not distinguishing daughter & son, sister & brother, niece & nephew, female- & male-in-laws, etc. means that we're not aware of the difference between female and male or that the concept of gender/sex has always been irrelevant to us.

The relevance of the concept of gender/sex does not necessarily translate to language speakers suddenly starting to adopt or create and then use specifically female and male words.

Even the tendency in a language to discard or ignore* gender-specific words does not necessarily mean that the speakers are not aware of the difference between women and men. :wink:

*a loanword from Sanskrit with the meaning of relative or ~in a strict sense~ sibling in my language, saudara has a feminine form, saudari, yet it's not unusual to use saudara to refer to a female person.
Ini tandatanganku.


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