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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Korean relatives

One of my favorite parts of the week of the wedding was meeting JM's family. They were all so nice to me, and I had fun attempting to speak Korean to them. It was a lot less stressful than I had imagined it would be. And it was surprisingly not difficult to learn who everyone was. This was probably helped by the fact that the Korean language has one of the easiest methods of distinguishing relatives in the world (IMO). For example:

큰 아버지 ("keun ah-beo-jee") - this literally means 'big father'. This is used for your father's older brother(s). Likewise 작은 아버지 ("jag-eun ah-beo-jee," 'little father') is used for your father's younger brother(s). Their wives are called 'big mother' and 'little mother' (큰 어머니 "keun eo-meo-nee", 작은 어머니 "jag-eun eo-meo-nee"), respectively. Your mother's brothers are called '삼촌' ("sam-chon") which literally (I think) means 'third relative'. (side note: the word for cousin is 사촌 "sa-chon," 'fourth relative', and the word for second cousin is 육촌 "yook-chon," 'sixth relative'... it seems Koreans count generations to determine relationships -- very efficient!)

Aunts are easy to remember, too. Mother's sisters are called 이모 ("ee-mo") and father's sisters are called 고모 ("go-mo"). If you want to talk about an uncle who married one of your aunts, you add 부 ("boo") to the end of the aunt's title (ie 고모부 "go-mo-boo" - paternal aunt's husband).

If you have more than one of any of these, you distinguish by using modifiers like where they live or if they're the youngest/oldest. One of JM's aunts is called "Seattle ee-mo" because she lives in Seattle, WA. Another is called 막내 이모 ("mang-nae ee-mo"), which means 'youngest maternal aunt'.

And of course you can always use their names: 은희이모 "Eun-hee ee-mo" -- but even then it's more specific than in English. Aunt Margaret is a lot more ambiguous than Maternal Aunt Eun-hee. Especially since in my extended family there were at one point two Aunt Margarets... much time was spent trying to figure out which one someone was talking about.

For grandparents there is a modifier that means 'maternal', 외 ("weh"). So if you add 외 to the word for grandmother (할머니, "hal-meo-nee"), you get the word 'maternal grandmother', 외할머니 ("weh-hal-meo-nee"). Simple!

Once you learn a relative's title in Korean, you nearly always know who they're related to and how. Fun, huh?

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  • Iris

    Yay, I'm glad that you enjoyed meeting my extended family. =)

    Wow, I didn't even know where "sahm-chon" (as well as "sa-chon") came from....and I never even knew of a yook-chon - good to know!

    This is a very good guide to naming Korean relatives. :thumbs up: