Posts Tagged ‘daana’

h1

Are They Brothers?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

An enlightening conversation showing where Benjamin is in his (re)acquisition of Spanish:

Margarita:  ¿Son hermanos?

Benjamin:  No, because Chucho is a boy and Jaquelina is a girl.

Me:  Are they brother and sister?

Benjamin:  Yes.

Clearly, he understood the Spanish question, but filtered through an English mindset, where hermanos equals brothers but not the brother-sister relationship.

This got me to thinking about the Zapotec sibling terms and how in a way they are closer to the English than the Spanish.  In both English and Zapotec, distinctions are made between brothers, brother and sister, and sisters.  Spanish collapses the first two groups, as shown below:

Zapotec English Spanish
male-male ¿Naacanà bettsi’? Are they brothers? ¿Son hermanos?
male-female ¿Naacanà daana? Are they brother and sister? ¿Son hermanos?
female-female ¿Naacanà yhiila? Are they sisters? ¿Son hermanas?

Zapotec and English keep these three relationships distinct (in certain contexts).  But while English has to rely on the circumlocution brother and sister, Zapotec is more efficient using a single word, daana, to encode the brother-sister relationship.  And because it has that term, it generally keeps the brother-sister relationship distinct.  So a man may talk about ca bettsi’nì ‘his brothers’ and a woman about ca yhiilanì ‘her sisters’, but he talks about ca daananì ‘his sisters’, and she talks about ca daananì ‘her brothers’.