About La Mother Tongue

La Mother Tongue is my medium to share the joys and challenges of being a new parent as well as to share how we make a conscious effort in our daily life to bring baby up bilingual.

Monday, June 7, 2010

La Prima

On Sunday, we celebrated my husband’s cousin’s birthday at a Peruvian restaurante. This made me start thinking about the relationships within families. In my family growing up, we didn’t make distinctions between blood relative or not. If my cousin married someone, that person was also considered to be a cousin. I wonder how many people do that within their own families or if a distinction is always made. In Latin America (I can’t say for sure in España), some relationship names are somewhat different than in English. Let me explain. In English, in the USA anyway, we refer to the children of our cousins as our “second cousins”. So the prima, Mary Alicia, whose birthday we celebrated, is Sofía’s second cousin because she is my husband’s first cousin (the daughter of his uncle). In the majority of Latin America they do not use this term. Mary Alicia would be called Sofía’s tia, aunt, en Español, and Sofía would be called Mary Alicia’s niece, sobrina. Now if you think about it, it kind of makes sense especially back in the “olden days”. Most people’s cousins were of the same age, so when each had children, the age difference was more like that of los tíos, aunts and uncles, than of a cousin. Now things don’t necessarily work that way because women are older when they have their children or continue having children up to a much older age than before, thus creating a larger disparity between cousins’ ages. So tying this up into language and culture, technically we should teach Sofía to call Mary Alicia her “tía”, but we don’t. Shame on us! Both my husband and I have adapted to the US traditional custom of using second and first cousins. What we MUST do is teach Sofía the difference between the two concepts so that she understands how it is all interrelated. Maybe my readers in España can tell us how they do it?


  1. Here in Spain I would call them second cousins as well.

  2. Isn't that funny! Gracias!