stepgrandparents and relational ambiguity

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Thu Jan 22 15:24:49 UTC 2009

At 1/22/2009 04:22 AM, Benjamin Barrett wrote:
>Brother and sister as well as uncle and aunt are ambiguous in some
>cultures as you have to indicate younger or older. I think Cantonese,
>for example, has a number of these. Japanese has the bizarre case
>where "cousin" is pronounced as "itoko" but is written four different
>ways depending on whether the cousin is older or younger, male or
>-in-law is one I personally am not exactly clear about. Is my sister's
>husband's brother my brother-in-law? I tend to think yes, but there
>seems to be a pragmatic consideration that comes into play, such that
>if you're telling a story, you might use brother-in-law to get on with
>the story, but explain it more carefully or use something like
>"friend" in other contexts. Kissing cousin probably works, though it's
>not very common.

Certainly not with my brother-in-law!

>Another sort of ambiguity is "my grandmother," one that implies that
>you have only one living, though that's not necessarily the case. My
>friend (instead of a friend of mine) also has this problem.

If one says "my friend Tom was ...", without a comma, like an
essential relative clause, doesn't that eliminate any problem?  As
contrasted with "my friend was ...", in which case the hearer would
wonder which one, or else commiserate with the speaker for having only one.


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