Armenian Language Corner

Dealing with In-Laws (1)

The English language has a very easy way to deal with relatives: it uses “in-law.” You have father-in-law, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law. This shows, in fact, that the language actually lost, over time, the kinship terms that were common to Indo-European languages.

Some of those languages are more conservative than others. Armenian, for instance, mostly maintained all those terms, with the exception of “nephew” and “niece,” where we need to make recourse to artificial words (եղբօրորդի/yeghporortee “brother’s son” and եղբօր աղջիկ/yeghpor aghcheeg “brother’s daughter”) to denote them.

What does Armenian do with the in-laws? It has a collection of terms specifically for each of them, and on both sides!

This time we will only deal with father-in-law and mother-in-law. It turns out that, unlike English, if you are the groom, you call your wife’s parents in a certain way, and if you are the bride, you call your husband’s parents in a different way:

Father in law: աներ (aner)
Mother-in-law: զոքանչ (zokanch).

Father-in-law: կեսրայր (gesrayr) or սկեսրայր (usgesrayr)
Mother-in-law: կեսուր (gesoor) or սկեսուր (usgesoor)

Besides mixing one side and the other, there are also mistakes in the use of each term. The most common is the wrong use of aner. We may hear people calling their father-in-law աներ հայր (aner hayr). Since aner means “bride’s father,” then aner hayr would be… “father of the bride’s father”! Even worse, you can hear people using աներ մայր (aner mayr), which is an indescribable cocktail: “mother of the bride’s father”!

The same superfluous use of hayr (“father”) and mayr (“mother”) appears when we go to the bride’s side. We may come across կեսուր հայր (gesoor hayr), which is a corruption of gesrayr, and it would mean “father of the mother-in-law,” and կեսուր մայր (gesoor mayr), where people end saying “mother of the bride’s mother.”

Once you clean up the mess, you will see that is very easy: instead of having one word to designate a father-in-law and one a mother-in-law, you have two. We should assume that you can manage learning four words instead of two, right?