LINGUIST List 6.1110

Wed Aug 16 1995

Disc: Kinship Terms, Re: 1100, 1108

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. , Re: 6.1108, Disc: Kinship Terms/Vocative Kin Terms
  2. David Silva, Kinship Terms, Re: 1100

Message 1: Re: 6.1108, Disc: Kinship Terms/Vocative Kin Terms

Date: Wed, 16 Aug 1995 10:48:07 Re: 6.1108, Disc: Kinship Terms/Vocative Kin Terms
From: <>
Subject: Re: 6.1108, Disc: Kinship Terms/Vocative Kin Terms

 Look, it is more complicated than you think. Hudson is right as far
as he goes here, but it is not far enough. Men tend to use 'son' and the
like for expressing an intimacy that is not exactly bonding. For instance,
it can be used to attract attention when the father is annoyed, though that
*may* amount to a kind of bonding. Mothers, in standard English speaking
communities do not generally use 'daughter' the same way, but why? I
suggest there are (at least) two factors at work here. And he can also, in
the US at east, use 'kid', or 'kiddo', in these contexts (add that to the
list), even if, nominally, 'kid' is gender neutral (he doesn't use it to a
 First, women feel more comfortable bonding with directly affective
terms, so they will use 'honey', 'dear' and the like (Hudson will recognise
the somewhat affected 'dear boy' that a certain, often Oxbridgian kind of
man will use to sons, to younger men in general and so on), which she also
uses more widely (to husbands, other women, and *possibly* but rarely to
sons, to whom she does not want to seem to be bonding in this way). Second,
it seems that 'daughter' has a much more formal, legalistic-descriptive,
technical usage flavour than does 'son'. This may be confirmed, up to a
point, by the observation that there is no diminutive for 'daughter'
corresponding to 'sonny' for 'son'. But a mother *will* use 'daughter'
vocatively to daughters and quasi daughters in the community of speakers of
American Black English; my daughter-in-law, who is Black, uses it readily,
for instance, to her daughter, though chiefly as an attention getter and
not in pure affection.
 There is, in the US at least, a minor current of usage according to
which a man will use 'honey' or the like to a daughter and a woman to her
son, though in the latter case the boy tends to feel awkward and
embarrassed I believe.
 It is interesting at least to speculate further about the absence of
a vocative equivalent for 'brother' in English. In many languages (in
Burmese, which is the one I grew up with, for example) one always addresses
brother with a term meaning either 'elder brother' (if that is right) or
yonger sibling of same sex (when that is right). Of course we may say that
this is just part of th general scheme according to which we tend to use
terms of relationship, titles and the like to replace names in speaking to
or of just about anyone; we at least prefix the name, in referential use,
with one of the standard titles derived from kinship terms. Never the
less,in Burmese social context, there are definite legalistic connexions
between siblings. Elders siblings of same sex are potential parent
surrogates for their younger same-sex siblings, and, correspondingly, the
younger owes the other enduring respect similar to that owed a father. In
standard English speaking communities, I submit, what some Social
Anthropoligsts used to call the 'solidarity of the sibling group' is
notoriously absent. Brothers may or may not be friends, but, in family
context they are simply rivals often as not. Bonding is not what one should
expect here. On the other hand, 'sis' is a common vocative for sisters, and
in this same society it is, or used to be, the case that a brother was
expected to take a protective attitude to his sister, although this
vocative is also not uncommon in use to an elder sister who acts as a sort
of mother surrogate for her little brothers (and here 'sis' replaces 'mum'
and the like); bonding in any case.
 But enough; this could go on forever.

Kris Lehman (Chit Hlaing)
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Kinship Terms, Re: 1100

Date: Wed, 16 Aug 1995 10:49:14 Kinship Terms, Re: 1100
From: David Silva <>
Subject: Kinship Terms, Re: 1100

In writing about the lack of a single syllable vocative for "brother" (a la
mom, dad, and sis), Allan C Wechsler notes that perhaps the BVE term "bro" is
something to consider. Maybe I'm too young to know, but is "bro" a term
that is particulatly BVE? I have no problem using 'bro' to refer to my own
brother, though I wouldn't use it to refer to other males my age or younger.
(Then again, I wouldn't use SIS for female other than my [non-existent]

I, by the way, am not African-American--I come from a Portuguese immigrant
family that lived in the greater Boston area. Could 'bro' be an urban thing?
(With origins in the Black community?)

As for the 'son' thing, I would note that in the European Portuguese (I don't
speak for my Brazilian colleagues), it's common for fathers/grandfathers to
refer / call their sons -rapaz- 'boy'. (The use of the term 'my son' [meu f
filho] seems to be for those more tender moments.) This practice caused some
problems when my Grandfather lived with us for a while, as he constantly re0
ferred to me as "boy" in English. Now where I come from, when somebody says
"hey, boy..." or "listen, boy..." it's a put-down. My mother explained this
situation to my grandad, and suggested to him that I be called by my given
name, David. For whatever reason, he didn't like that solution (apparently
David wasn't a Portuguese-enough name for his grandson), and so took to
calling me "Mr. Boy"--and it stuck.

- David "Mr. Boy" Silva
 University of Texas at Arlington
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue