Kinship Pronouns in Vietnamese and Norwegian

Both Vietnamese and Norwegian use pronouns to replace nouns or noun phrases. Even though there are a few pronouns in Vietnamese that can be used in a general sense (such as bạn for ‘you’), most Vietnamese pronouns are kinship terms, and the way they are used varies depending on the age, gender and social position of both speaker and the listener, and also the relationship between the two.

In contrast, Norwegian does not use such an elaborate pronoun system as the one shown below, because Norwegian pronouns do not depend on the relationship between the speaker and listener. Furthermore, they do not indicate age or status the way Vietnamese pronouns do.

  • anh– men slightly older than you
  • – women older than your parents
  • bác – women older than your parents
  • cháu – men or women young enough to be your children or grandchildren
  • chị – women slightly older than you
  • em – women and men younger than you (children and teenagers only)
  • ông – men older than your parents

In Vietnamese, you basically refer to everyone as a family member. But how do you convey this meaning when you are translating from Norwegian, which does not operate with kinship-based pronouns?

Considering Context

First of all, the translator should always take the time to study the differences and similarities between the source and target languages. In this case, insights into both Norwegian and Vietnamese would allow for a better quality translation. To convey the correct meaning in Norwegian, the translator should consider the text as a whole, and figure out which pronoun would be most appropriate to use. This consideration of context includes factors like:

  • What is the relationship between the speaker and listener?
  • Where did the conversation take place?
  • What are the age, sex and social status of the speaker and listener?
  • What are the underlying presuppositions inthe conversation?

In Norwegian, a simple question like: “Likte du filmen?” (“Did you like the movie?”) has numerous alternatives in Vietnamese:

Anh có thích bộ fim không?

Bà có thích bộ fim không?

Bác có thích bộ fim không?

Cháu có thích bộ fim không?

Chị có thích bộ fim không?

Em có thích bộ fim không?

Ông có thích bộ fim không?

Depending on the context, only one of these is correct, although sometimes even the knowledge of the context is not enough. Translation between dissimilar languages like Norwegian and Vietnamese also requires an in-depth knowledge of cultural differences.

Kinships Terms Are Complicated

Things become more complicated, as some kinships terms in Vietnamese may or may not denote kinship relations. For example, the term cậu literally means “mother’s brother”. However, there is also a non-kinship usage of this term, which turns the meaning into “a friend” or “a man who is as old as one’s mother”. To further complicate matters, in some Vietnamese dialects, the literal meaning is limited to “mother’s younger brother”.

Another term that has non-kinship usage, but can also denote a kinship relation, is the term cha, which literally means “father,” but is also used to address priests. Furthermore, in many dialects, many other terms are used such as babốtía, and thầy.

So, if you want to create the most correct translation from Norwegian to Vietnamese, you should to take into account that some kinship terms have more than one sense in Vietnamese. This makes a consideration of the communication context not the only a prerequisite for a natural and successful translation, but also a deep insight into the cultural makeup of both Norway and Vietnam.