The social life of a Teochew centres around his/her extended family. This is something many of us living in big modern cities can be unused to.
One of our greatest fears is to be "ambushed" by a group of uncles or aunts whom we have not seen for a while, and being caught tongue-tied not remembering how to address them. But fret not. Getting the correct address for almost any relative can be real simple (yes!!!), if we keep by these ten basic rules.
Let's start easy.
1. Grandfathers are A-gong and grandmothers are A-ma.
- The traditional Teochew family structure is headed by grandparents (not dad and mum), who are of course your A-gong 亞公 and A-ma 亞嫲. Although Teochews adhere to the patrilineal system, it is not necessary to add the prefix "gua-" (外, meaning "outside") when addressing your maternal grandparents. Unless you are bent on emphasising your distance from them, which is seldom a good idea.
- Pay attention here. By extension of the paternal grandparents being the head of the family, all their sons (i.e. your father and his brothers) are assumed to bear parental responsibilities towards one another's children. Accordingly paternal uncles are first differentiated from maternal ones, and then among themselves by seniority, so that the children know who, nominally at least, has greater authority after A-gong and A-ma. Hence uncles fall into 3 categories:
- The elder brothers of your father are Be 伯 (their wives you call M 姆);
- His younger brothers are Zeg 叔 (their wives Sim 嬸); and
- Your mother's brothers are Gu 舅 (and their wives Gim 妗). That's not too complicated, issit?
- Aunts are straightforward. Any sister of your father you refer as Gou 姑 and of your mother Yi (姨). All their husbands you call Die[n] 丈. The Teochews habitually put the sound-word A 亞 in front of all these address-terms when speaking, although it does not mean anything at all.
- When faced with older relatives one generation higher, simply add in the prefix Lau 老, which in this context is equivalent to "grand". Hence, you'd greet your grandfather's siblings as Lau-be 老伯, Lau-zeg 老叔 or Lau-gou 老姑, and so forth. Similarly your great-grandparents are your Lau-gong 老公 and great-grandmother Lau-ma 老嫲.
- We call our own siblings Hia[n] 兄 (elder brother) ([n] - denoting a nasal sound), Di 弟 (younger brother), Ze 姊 (elder sister) or Mue 妹 (younger sister). Within the notion of the extended family, all cousins are deemed as siblings. Therefore regardless of actual relation, you address your cousins as you would your brother or sister. If there is really a need to differentiate, remember your own siblings are your Tangbao 同胞 ("of the same womb") (Hia[n], Di, Ze or Mue); cousins who are children of your father's brothers (sharing the same surname) are your Tang 堂; and cousins who are children of your father's sisters and your mother's relations (usually of a different surname) are your Bieu 表.
- Nephews and nieces can be treated with the broad label Sung 孫.
- As far as in-laws are concerned, greet your spouses' family members and relatives as your husband or wife would. The exception to the rule are his/her immediate siblings, whom you greet as you would teach your (imaginary) child. As an example, you call your wife's sister A-yi 亞姨, rather than Ze or Mue.
- Feel free to go on name-basis with anyone junior to you, whether by age or generation. Be careful though, this liberty does not apply when someone who is younger in years is your uncle or aunt (it happens). It is taboo to call a senior relative only by name. Always be sure first. With this in mind, ladies please do not take offense when your relatives persist in asking for your age - they are just trying not to offend!
- It is not uncommon, of course, if you have two or more Be, M, Zeg, Sim, Gou, Yi, Die[n], Hia[n], Di, Ze or Mue etc. To be specific, you may indicate in front of his/her address-term the word Tua 大 ("big") for the oldest person, Soi 細 ("small") for the youngest, and the corresponding number for the others in-between. For example, if your father is in the middle of five brothers, you call them Tua-be 大伯, Zi-be 二伯, Si-zeg 四叔 and Soi-zeg 細叔.
- Naturally to denote any person using a numeral may be impersonal and less affectionate than using his/her name. Fortunately there is allowance for us to call a senior relative by his/her name, which is done properly by coupling his/her personal name and address-term. For instance, if your father has a sister named Gek-leng. In conversation you may address her as Gek-leng-gou.
The chart below should help you to visualise better (to view chart in full-size, right-click on image and select "save image as..." to download).
You may be interested in:
- Understanding The Teochew Family
- My Teochew Family Story Sharing: "My Special Teochew Family 特别的潮州家人" by Harada Ryotaro 原田燎太郎
- My Teochew Family Story Sharing: "Trivia Tales from Shatin 沙田人琐事 - 介绍" by Ben Choi
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