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Uncle but not a family relative

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 Language Learning Forum : Cultural Experiences in Foreign Languages Post Reply
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yong321
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 Message 1 of 27
24 July 2012 at 1:17am | IP Logged 
I'm reading "The Berlitz Self-Teacher German". In it (p.236), the father says to his kids "Kinder, das ist Oncle Schmitt aus Amerika". Based on the context, Mr. Schmitt is not their relative, only a friend. This prompts me to think that in Germany, a man of the age of children's father may be addressed by the children as uncle, *even if he's not a family relative*. In China, there's the same custom, as well as addressing a woman of mother's age "aunt" by the children, and "grandpa", "grandma", etc. But this is not the case in English speaking countries. Is my observation correct? What other countries have this custom?
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dampingwire
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 Message 2 of 27
24 July 2012 at 1:48am | IP Logged 
yong321 wrote:
In China, there's the same custom, as well as addressing a woman of
mother's age "aunt" by the children, and "grandpa", "grandma", etc.


Japan seems to have a very similar usage.

yong321 wrote:
But this is not the case in English speaking countries.


In the UK it's not unusual (at least in some parts) to refer to various non-relatives
as "Uncle Joe" or "Aunty Mary". When I was a child one next door neighbour was "Aunty
Cath". This isn't quite the same as the Japanese usage (where seemingly a stranger on
the bus could be addressed as "aunty", which would not happen in the UK), but it's
quite similar.

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hrhenry
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 Message 3 of 27
24 July 2012 at 2:03am | IP Logged 
I suppose depending on generation, Turkish uses something similar, but "older sister"
(abla) and "older brother" (ağabey/abi).

R.
==

Edited by hrhenry on 24 July 2012 at 3:38am

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yong321
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 Message 4 of 27
24 July 2012 at 3:12am | IP Logged 
Looks like there're three cases, instead of two.

(A) Even a *stranger* on a bus may be called aunt, uncle, grandpa, grandma, older brother/sister. Countries having this usage: Japan, China.
(B) A *good friend* may be called aunt, .... Countries: UK, Turkey, Germany
(C) *Only family members or relatives* are called like this. Countries: US

The above distinction may be changing in time. I've been in the US only for 20 years and never lived in a rural area. But if a neighbor is called Uncle George by all kids on the street, I won't be surprised. But that's probably very special, only for specific persons deserving this dearly respect in a small area, not generally applicable. So I don't consider it to be case (B).

Edited by yong321 on 24 July 2012 at 4:31am

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newyorkeric
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 Message 5 of 27
24 July 2012 at 3:36am | IP Logged 
In the US and I imagine many other countries, kids will call family friends uncle and aunt. We say that in Singapore as well. But we also use the Chinese version in English, addressing older people such as a taxi driver or cleaning lady as uncle and auntie.
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Serpent
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 Message 6 of 27
24 July 2012 at 3:42am | IP Logged 
Ahem but what about Uncle Sam???????

Anyway, it works in Russian and Finnish as well. In Russian it's entirely normal to also refer to someone this way, though a child will not usually address them this way. It's also fine in the presense of the person, though I don't like being referred to as aunt, "girl" would be better (I'm 22). Maybe it's time to accept that it's difficult to call someone a girl when she's 15-17 years older than your child:)

Finnish is a pretty informal language anyway (as opposed to diglossic, imo), so I don't think it's typical to address people this way, certainly not strangers. Never been to family occasions in Finland so maybe it's fine to address a family friend like that. I mean it's probably fine, but I really doubt there's a need to.
(largely based on the fact that kids from bilingual families use the informal "you" to all adults in Russia and many of them find it disturbing)

also, Finnish has two words for uncle depending on the side of the family, and only one is used this way I think: setä (paternal uncle (???) ie your dad's brother).
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yong321
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 Message 7 of 27
24 July 2012 at 4:29am | IP Logged 
> In the US and I imagine many other countries, kids will call family friends uncle
> and aunt. We say that in Singapore as well.

I disagree. Here's a scene. A Chinese in the US greets his male same-age friend at the door. If the friend is a Chinese or Chinese American, the father would like his child to say to his friend "shu1shu1 hao3" (literally "Hello Uncle"). But if the friend is not a Chinese, this greeting ("Hello Uncle") would be awkward and confusing to say the least. That's why I consider US to be case (C) (see Message 4): "uncle" is only used for the family relative.

You say that in Singapore probably because Singapore, possibly all Oriental countries, belong to case (A), where even a stranger on a bus can be addressed that way.

> it works in Russian and Finnish as well

Maybe case (B). But it's a little surprising that "a child will not usually address them this way".
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hrhenry
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 Message 8 of 27
24 July 2012 at 4:34am | IP Logged 
Come to think of it, in the US we often use "brother" or "sister" with strangers and
acquaintances alike, usually when we're agreeing with them about something in a
conversation. It's not usually used as a greeting, though.

R.
==


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