Monday, February 1, 2010

The complexities of Russian family trees

If you've studied Russian, you probably had to make a family tree at some point, and discovered that the Russian language is a little more complicated in this aspect.

When someone is married, there is no such thing in Russian as simply adding "in-law" to the end of everything: mother-in-law, father-in-law, dog-in-law, etc.

Nope, they each have their special name. Your husband's mother has one title; you have your own title in relationship to her; your husband has his own title in relationship to your sister...etc. My conversation teacher couldn't even remember them all.

But as long as you're able to describe the relationships, it isn't such a big deal. BUT...continue reading/-

...another confusion that arises with Russian families is that they often shorten the term meaning "cousin" to either "brother" or "sister." I'm often surprised to hear a friend talking about her "brother" when I thought she was an only child.

In class today, our teacher talked about visiting her sister; how fun it was; how their children played together.

"My sister and I have always been close; we're only half a month apart."

One of my classmates' eyes turned wide with surprise. Sisters? Two weeks apart in age?

We all figured it out at different moments. I recalled the teacher using the word for "cousin" earlier in the story, so I knew that was what she meant.

Meanwhile, another student patted the surprised girl on the back and whispered the translation to her in German. Ohhhhh, cousin!

My friend also told me a story about a little Russian boy who frequently mentioned his "milk sister" in conversation.

"I'm going to my milk sister's house."

"Tomorrow is my milk sister's birthday."

As you may have guessed, a "milk sibling" is a baby wet-nursed by the same mother. I looked it up and it is actually a term in the English language, but I hadn't heard it.


  1. Liz, I am not trying to contradict you, but the correct way of saying will be dvojurodnyi brat or dvojurodnaya sestra. I've never heard that cousins can be called brothers or sisters. Maybe you guys, because Russian is not your native language, are not able to catch that "dvojurodyi" word there? It's normally spoken quicker than the word sister or brother. Ask your teacher for me, please, because I do not think she is explaining it right. Vitali.

  2. I know what you mean, but I've heard two people use this abbreviation in the past week, and they were definitely leaving off the "dvojurodniy" part. And one of them was a Russian teacher. But I'll ask some more people.


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