stepgrandparents and relational ambiguity

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Thu Jan 22 18:09:06 UTC 2009

Thank you for the detailed explanations. I do now recall the bank

Based on the explanation, I think my point still stands (though maybe
I'm still getting it wrong), that brother/sister/uncle/aunt are
ambiguous in some cultures. I can certainly say "male sibling" in
Japanese, but it's ambiguous as to whether the sibling is younger or
older.  BB

On Jan 22, 2009, at 8:54 AM, Arnold Zwicky wrote:

> On Jan 22, 2009, at 1:22 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.
> this is a confused formulation of the idea here, and it uses
> "ambiguous" in a way i object to.
> to start with, it's *linguistic expressions* (like "brother") that can
> be said to be ambiguous, not concepts.  Now, "brother" is a word of
> *english*; it can't be ambiguous in some other culture, because the
> word doesn't occur in the language associated with that culture.
> what you're trying to say is this: english has a single word "brother"
> with a denotation that some other languages lack a single word for.
> instead, these languages have two (or more) words that together cover
> the territory of english "brother" -- say, one word glossable in
> english as 'older brother' and another glossable as 'younger
> brother'.  it doesn't follow that speakers of such a language lack the
> *concept* BROTHER; they just have to refer to the concept by means of
> a complex expression.
> it also doesn't follow that the english word "brother" is ambiguous,
> as between OLDER-BROTHER and YOUNGER-BROTHER.  instead, english
> "brother" is neutral, vague, or unspecified, with respect to this
> distinction.  the difference between vagueness and true ambiguity is
> explored at some length in an old paper by jerry sadock and me,
> available on-line at:
> (the distinction wasn't original with us, of course.)
> "brother" is one of the examples we looked at in this paper.  the
> (somewhat more complex) cases of "uncle" and "brother-in-law" are
> similar.

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