Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Sisterly Complex

I just recently participated in the wedding of my wife’s daughter.  To clarify, both I and my wife have a daughter from a previous marriage. I had the honor of escorting the bride, for which I am grateful and appreciative.  In the “Family Room” before the ceremony, I noticed how complex modern families are.  Aside from the bride, groom and their respective parents, there was the daughter of her biological father’s second marriage, my daughter and the two sisters of the groom.  Each “sister” is different in some essential way.

In English, the bride invited her half-sister, step-sister and sisters-in-law, respectively. English, being a very precise language, distinguishes between the actual blood connection of one parent and trappings of marriage with no blood connection. Also, the in-law additive specifically defines the connection of those sisters to the bride.  It should be noted that the need to describe these relations is not actually modern since the death rate of mothers historically was very high, necessitating many second marriages and their incumbent variations.

In French, the distinction is less clear, not surprisingly. The term demi-soeur applies to both sisters acquired through remarriages, not distinguishing the presence or lack of blood connection.  Also, the French term for sister-in-law, belle soeur, is strange to a non-French speaker since belle means beautiful. Woe to the husband or wife that fails to say the spouse’s sister is pretty, especially if she isn’t. So, it is not 100% clear whether the sister attained her title before or after the wedding.

Russian also does not make a distinction in blood. The term сводная сестра [svodbodnaya sestra] can be literally translated as an “associated sister”, which makes sense without going into too many details.  On the other hand, the last sister in this case are accurately described as the сестра мужа [sestra muja], literally “the sister of the husband” There is no confusion there.

For our sisters of longer term, Hebrew follows the English lead. A half sister is a  אחות מחצה  [ahot le mahaza] while a step sister is אחות חורגת [ahot choreget]. It should be noted by exchanging the first letter in second word to a heh, a softer h sound, the step become killing, which would really be quite unfortunate but occasionally justified. As for the sister-in-law, typical for Semitic languages, Hebrew has a distinct word without any hint of a sister, גיסה [gisah].  In this region, apparently, a spouse’s family is far too important a matter to make it a half thought.

To avoid any misconception, the wedding was quite successful. The food was tasty or so people told me as neither the bride and groom nor the parents ever really get much of a chance to eat. People stayed late. The music was only loud, instead of intolerably loud. The weather was beautiful. Finally, the bride, of course, was beautiful.  A good time was had by all, even all those sisters.

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