Saturday, April 17, 2021

Reprint Of A 2016 Stabroek News Letter To The Editor About The Use Of The Terms "Auntie" And "Uncle" In The Caribbean & In Some Other Nations Worldwide

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides an excerpt of a 2016 post about the use of the term "Auntie" and "Uncle" in various Caribbean nations and in other nations worldwide.

The content of this post is presented for socio-cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to  Vishnu Bisram who wrote this letter and thanks to Stabroek News for printing it and publishing it online.
Click for the closely related pancocojams post entitled "
Auntie" Or Terms That Translate To "Auntie" In India & The Evolving Negative Connotations Of The Word "Auntie" In India".


[Printed in Stabroek News,  February 13, 2016]

"Dear Editor,

I often hear outsiders say that Guyanese and Trinis have more ‘aunts and uncles’ than anyone else on the globe. It is because people in both societies (and probably Suriname as well) tend to refer to elders by the endearing ‘Aunty’ or ‘Uncle’ rather than by their names or as Mr and Ms.

I travel extensively around the globe and from my findings, the terms Aunty and Uncle apparently were introduced and institutionalized in the Caribbean by the indentured Indian labourers, because in societies where there aren’t large numbers of Indians, the terms are not commonly used.

Among Indian communities worldwide, Aunty and Uncle are commonly used to refer to elders even if they are not relatives. They are used all over India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal, even in government offices. The terms are used in Fiji, Malaysia, Singapore, Burma, Mauritius, etc where there are large communities of Indians. I heard them used by Indians to address complete strangers, as in Guyana, in places like Australia and New Zealand and in North America, UK, Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada, and Guadeloupe. When I first visited Australia in 1995, there were hardly any Indians. But by 2015, there were large communities of Indians among whom Aunty and Uncle are in common us as well as ethnic kinship terms (Cha Cha, Cha Chi, etc) to refer to blood or marriage relatives.

In Trinidad, as in Guyana, while Aunty and Uncle are used, I heard non-Indians refer to others as ‘Mister’ and ‘Missus’. Some Indians also used Mister and Miss to refer to fellow Indians they are not familiar with, but in general Indians tend to use the more endearing Aunty and Uncle. In Guyana, Indians in rural areas tend to refer to some non-Indians as Aunty and Uncle and rural Africans also use the terms to refer to some Indians in their communities among whom they grew up, as well as fellow Africans.

In Durban and other parts of South Africa, Aunty and Uncle are commonly used among Indians along with their ethnic kinship terms. Some Blacks who live in Indian communities also follow Indians and use Aunty and Uncle in referring to older Indians.

In Fiji, the Black Fijians also refer to older Indians as Aunty and Uncle. The same is true in Mauritius where Creoles (local Blacks, Mixed and French) who live among Indian communities follow suit. In Australia, I heard some Whites, who regularly socialize with Indians among whom I interacted, refer to elderly Indians as Uncle and Aunty as well. Ditto in New Zealand! But in the mainstream, Whites in Australia and New Zealand use Mr and Ms to refer to others (regardless of age) as a mark of respect as is the norm in North America and Europe.

The interesting finding in my travels, is that in North America and Europe the Indians persist with using Aunty and Uncle to refer to older folks. In British Columbia and in Los Angeles and San Francisco among Fijian Indians, ethnic kinship terms and Aunt and Uncle are commonly used. Youngsters in San Francisco called me uncle at a store. And Hindus in their temple surroundings or in a community relationship, whether in New York, Florida, San Francisco or Dallas use Bhai and Bahin to describe those in their age group. Some Indians use Mai and Pai as well as Cha Chi and Cha Cha, Nani and Nana, Mamu and Mami to refer to those much older than them even when there is no blood relationship. It is all done out of respect for the elderly or for fellow humans. A visit at a West Indian temple in Brixton, London found Bhai and Bahin commonly used to refer to each other as is the custom in America

 Among Indians it is considered disrespectful not to refer to someone much older than yourself as Aunty or Uncle even in societies like the US. However, at the workplace, Mr and Ms are routinely used.

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram"

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"Auntie" Or Terms That Translate To "Auntie" In India & The Evolving Negative Connotations Of The Word "Auntie" In India

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post presents an excerpt of a 2019 article by Vikram Doctor entitled "The evolution of 'auntie', from a respectful greeting to an annoying title".

This post also presents selected comments from a qu discussion thread about the use of the referent "Auntie" or translated terms that mean "auntie" in India.

Both of these online sources notes that in India the word 'Auntie' may refer to women who aren't necessarily biologically related to the person using that term, and may also have negative connotations regarding that person's age and/or physical appearance.

The content of this post is presented for socio-cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Virkram Doctor for writing this article and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post from that discussion thread.
Click for the closely related pancocojams post entitled "
Reprint Of A 2016 Stabroek News Letter To The Editor About The Use Of The Terms "Auntie" And "Uncle" In The Caribbean & In Some Other Nations Worldwide".


From "The evolution of 'auntie', from a respectful greeting to an annoying title"
Vikram Doctor, Last Updated: Jan 05, 2019

…"Auntie has long been an awkward term. In Rupert Christiansen’s quirky study, The Complete Book of Aunts, he notes that in addition to insinuating age, it often adds layers of class and race. Vikram Doctor reports.

Christiansen writes that the Oxford English Dictionary records ‘auntie’ as used for African-American women, perhaps slightly older servants, like Mammy in Gone With the Wind.

In 1984 the Times of India (ToI) noted a similar usage in communist China where ‘auntie’ meant a maidservant. The superficial respect presumably concealed an inequality of work that was at odds with communist ideology: “Senior party officials have, of course, long had the benefit of domestic help, but today others can apply for aunties at the newly set up Housework Service Co.”

The Indian usage of auntie has evolved rather differently. Before it took on the slightly mocking tone given to it today, auntie managed to combine both respect and familiarity. Far from being used downwards, it was used where respect was required, but not the level of formality which demanded a word like ‘ma’am’. Christiansen quotes one view that it emerged when “middle and upper-middle class children who go to English medium schools address their friends’ mothers as Auntie.”


At the start of his book Christiansen notes that the basic term, aunt, is not that universal: “not all languages have bothered to develop a single word to describe a mother’s or father’s sister.” Many languages, as with many in India, developed different terms for maternal and paternal relatives in order to make clear the different community obligations or duties that attached to them: all the variants of dada-dadi, kaka-kaki, phua-phuphi and so on.

Christiansen quotes the anthropologist Jack Goody to explain how undifferentiated terminology of aunt and uncle “developed first in the late Roman Empire, then spread through the Romance languages, reaching England with the Norman Conquest.” This delinking from specific family linkages freed aunts to become aunties, older ladies who were addressed with some respect, but also some intimacy.

It was this balance, combined with the specifically English origin, that expanded the usage in India. Auntie could be used in contexts where an Indian term would have been inappropriate, since the family linkage didn’t exist, or a bit too intimate, as with simpler terms like behenji, didi, akka or edathi, all broadly meaning elder sister.

As Nergis Dalal noted, writing in ToI in 1987, about how servants and delivery boys were increasingly using auntie and uncle: “Perhaps the use of those two words offers a passport from one human to another – an easy accessibility producing the feeling of social equality.” Viewed this way the ascent of uncle and auntie is a positive step away from the Rajera obsequiousness of sahib and memsahib.

Dalal also suggests where the change has come from. When she admonishes her servant girl for calling a neighbour ‘uncle’ “she looked at me bewildered: ‘But everyone says it,’ she said, ‘even on TV. What does it mean?’” When Dalal explains it means chacha “she was aghast. She certainly wouldn’t dream of addressing the doctor as ‘chacha’ but uncle was an English word, incomprehensible, culturally endorsed and transcending all class barriers, making her feel more like the people she watches on television.


The use of auntie as a respectfully friendly term shows how we can use a word from a different language to help us make connections that our native tongues might have constrained."...

What are auntys as referred to in Indian culture?

1. Shekhar Chitnis, lived in India (1961-1980), Answered August 27, 2018

"In most Indian languages there are specific names for specific relations. For example, in Hindi, a typical “Aunt, or Aunty” of the western culture can be Chachi (father’s brother’s wife), Mami (Mother’s brother’s wife), Bua (Father’s sister), Maushi (Mother’s sister), etc. By the way there are corresponding names for male counterparts as well — Chacha, Mama, etc.

Originally, (don’t know when this started but I would assume first ¾ of the 20th century) the term Aunty was usually used by relatively more westernized, middle class, educated Indians for friends of mother (and corresponding “uncle” for father’s friends). The “flock” of mother’s friends then collectively became aunties. In other words, earlier it took a village (and real uncles and aunts) to raise nephews and nieces, and now with geographically mobile urban nuclear families, it still takes a village, but now with friends of parents becaming the surrogate uncles and aunts. As some mentioned, despite modernization, respect for elders is still and ingrained value in the culture, so uncle and aunty is not just an honorific, but also imparts the elders with a “right and duty” to guide, discipline and protect the young.

This, to date, remains the main context for the use of word “Aunty”.

Having said that, similar to Bertie Wooster’s aunts in the books by P.G. Woodhouse’s, Indian aunts are associated with stereotype behaviors and traits typical of Indian aunts too — nosy, noisy, intrusive, gossipy, overweight, catty, etc. — all in good fun.

Today, with the democratization of the society and increased Anglicization of language — Aunty and Uncle have also become a more generic way of addressing older people. A trend, arguably, encouraged by older people who would prefer to be called uncle and aunt instead of grandpa and grandma.

So I am “uncle” to scores of “nieces and nephews” - not just my friend’s kids, but my kid’s friends as well as many young students, who I come across when I speak at panels at various forums.

2. Rudy Ti, December 27, 2018
"People call girls aunty to make fun of their age as girl who 25 to 30 is an aunty but boys who are 25 to 45 would still be called as bhaiya.Aunty is not a respectable term anymore.its is used to show girls that they are old .Sometimes boys would hit on her and if she doesn't respond positively then they will call her aunty.They try to point out that she is no longer beautiful."

3. Sankrant Sanu, An Indian and American with interest in cross-cultural studies, Updated July 13, 2020
"Indian culture has had a very nuanced understanding of relationships. Every familial relationship has a distinct name. For instance in the North mama would be mother's brother, mausi would be mother's sister. Chacha for father's younger brother, tau for father's older brother, jethani for husband's older brother's wife, devarani for husband's younger brother's wife and so on.

Like Eskimos are said to have 70 words for snow because they had such a nuanced and close relationship with it, so it was for Indian relationships.

With anglicization and Westernization much of the nuance started getting lost. So Aunty (from Aunt) started standing for all female relatives of the mother's generation and then even parent's friends and then for any mother-aged woman. Further taking from the West where middle-aged meant less desirable and women's worth being measured in sexual desirability, Aunty is also now also use pejoratively for someone “past their prime" in terms of desirability. Another equivalent, used by the social class structure in India which uses English as an elite marker is “behenji.” This is used pejoratively from a non-English speaking or traditional girl from a rural/semi-rural background who is not fluently English-speaking and thus not “cool” or desirable.

4. Vivek Braganza, lives in India, Updated August 9, 2020
"Short answer: any biologically unrelated female, of a generation preceding your own. Alternatively, a mild insult often implying advanced age.

Long answer: Indian culture emphasizes family relationships, and the ‘joint family' system is quite prevalent here. Tradition values respect for ‘elders', generally anyone older - hence perceived to be wiser - than oneself. Most Indian languages have nouns for very specific relationships, here are some examples from Hindi, the lingua franca of India -

Parents: Maa, Papa. Honorific Mata, Pita (note the similarity to other PIEProto-Indo-European language - Wikipedia derived languages).

Paternal grandparents: Dada, dadi

Maternal grandparents: Nana, Nani

Father's elder brother, his wife: Taya, Tai

Father's younger brother, his wife: Chacha, chachi

Father's sister, her husband: Bua, phupha

Mother's sister, her husband: Mausi, mausa

Mother's brother, his wife: Mama, Mami

Sister, her husband: Didi, jija (usually for elder sister's husband)

Brother's son, daughter: Bhatija, bhatiji

Sister's son, daughter: Bhanja, bhanji

And so on. They say every culture has the widest lexicon for what really matters to them. Where a westerner would have words to describe the immediate 'nuclear' family, perhaps till the level of 'cousins', much of the above wouldn't have cultural value, as the social construct tends to be more individualistic than it is in South Asia.

Perhaps this longish answer helps point out, that a cultured Indian, from a ‘good family', would address people out of their immediate family - as Aunty and Uncle. This is done as a sign of respect, and establishing status in the interaction (even before interacting, each person already knows where their perceived place in the social hierarchy).

This isn't unique to India, and tends to be prevalent where family values are strong.

On the flip side, the term can be used as a mild perjorative. For example, “that schoolmate of ours is so unfashionable, she's such an Aunty, no"? "...

Marshall E. Gass, Answered July 22, 2020
..."Two days ago I asked my manager in India what ‘aunty’ really meant. It sort of exploded in my face.

I now understand that ‘Aunty’ is used as a derogatory term for a female with loose morals and easily available for sexual activities. Apparently, the first time it was used to denote these permissive traits was from movies in Southern India."...

Sonal Bavadekar,Answered March 12, 2020 [lives in India]
"Originally Answered: What are people from India referring to when they say “auntie”?

Actually in the Indian culture there are 2 types of people who are called auntie.

One is my mother or father’s sister, my uncle’s wife or the wife of any male relative/family friend or an acquaintance.

Also an aunt could be an older person who is addressed as Sarika (her name) aunty because in our culture we are taught not to adress people older than us with their names alone. it signifies somebody older and mature and isn’t always taken in the right spirit by many.

It’s a constant joke amongst young women in their 20’s and 30’s who are single or without a child who abhor being addressed as an aunty, which goes like - “auntie mat kaho na (please don’t address me as an aunty)”. :D"

7. Shrishti Rajput, [lives in India], Answered June 24, 2020
"I can't talk on behalf of other Indians but for me it's a term I have used only for women/men who were married and known and older. Even as kid it was taught to me to not call everyone and anyone an aunt or uncle. The requisite was if I can see typical Hindu managalutra or sindoor on head.S he might be aunty yet if she appears younger I won't call her aunty may be didi (sis) .

However in recent times kids studying in well off schools ,call anyone or everyone an aunty/uncle. Dont be surprised if in Mumbai even roadside shopkeeper with gray hair and bald head calls you an aunty or uncle. I guess the word is nowadays used more like a taunt for someone who looks old or I am not sure what!!! Because people have been going old in India for ages. But we never called uncle or aunt etc.We in North use Didi ,bhaiya more frequently (sis and bro for unmarried or married ).Even the word miss or mam for girls.

 Do not even know where that's steming from. May be they think aunty means something else. Educated parents/teachers teaching kids otherwise is beyond me.

8. Harsha Kumar, [lives in India] Answered June 11, 2020
"Could be any woman who is older than you by at least 10 years. But to be used only if you yourself are young, as in less than 30.

 If you are 30 plus, you should call someone ‘aunty’ only if she is related to you, i.e., she is actually your aunt, or, say mother-in-law etc. Or maybe an old family friend.

You should NOT call someone ‘aunty’ if:

 You are more than 30 years old, and you don’t know the older woman well

The woman in question is only a little older than you

When in doubt, ‘madam’ or ‘maam’ is always safer, and much more dignified.

I have seen that sometimes people, more commonly in North India, call even relatively younger women ‘aunty.’ It signifies being old-fashioned, not being well-dressed, being ‘unsexy’ etc. It is demeaning, disrespectful, and crass, I am sorry to say, in a very North Indian way. Don’t do it."

Ritesh Kumar, studied at R.G.U.H.S Bangalore Karnataka (2005), Answered March 11, 2020
"Originally Answered: What are people from India referring to when they say “auntie”?

Auntie is word used mostly by small children’s or teenagers as they are not allowed to call names of elder ones. It’s a kind of respect.

 Auntie word is also referred to old persons as a kind of respect.

 for teasing purpose similar age group people in there 30s use this word.

 it’s like you are looking like a auntie. Here auntie referred to as some what fat, matured and tough face texture lady.

Sadhana Jayaram ,Updated March 25, 2020, [lives in India]
"In India adults are not addressed by names. So the unrelated people, like neighbors, parents' friends ( sometimes even strangers) are addressed respectfully as aunty and uncle. Mostly children and teenagers do this.

In recent times, aunty has become sort of a derogatory word too. In India, asking intrusive questions is not supposed to be rude, especially by elders. But western manners are taking hold strongly and youngsters resent this questioning and unabashed curiosity about their personal lives. So the middle aged women who poke their nose into their matters are sometimes disdainfully referred to as aunties."

Prem Chandran John, Answered July 15, 2020, [lives in India]
"Auntys are middle aged, middle class women whose primary occupation is to interfere in the lives of people around them, mainly students, both Male and female, younger relatives, those who have got their mark sheets, those who date, those who dress too well or shabbily - in fact in every facet of life of those around them. Mostly harness but also malicious often."

"Harness" is a typo for "harmless".


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What "Auntie" Means In Certain African Cultures

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post presents excerpts from several websites about who is referred to as "auntie" in certain African cultures. 

The content of this post is presented for socio-cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

These excerpts are given in no particular order.

Numbers are added for referencing purpose only.

Excerpt #1

[Pancocojams Editor's Note: I am unable to read this entire Jstor article. Consequently, I'm unable to credit the author of this excerpt.]


Re: African Family
Letter to the Editor Spring 2008

Dear Sirs,

We often hear the cry to extend our understanding of family beyond the traditional nuclear family.  Last year I had the opportunity to work with refugees from Uganda.  One element of conversation that regularly caused confusion was my trying to understand their family situation. Family can be a very broad and inclusive term in Africa.

Most of my Ugandan colleagues spoke English quite well and had degrees in History, Accountancy, and Education. However, I quickly learnt that we do not use the same English language when we speak of mother, brother, or daughter. We are told that in some Eskimo languages there are five words for snow compared with to one in English. French has two words for pride. In Ugandan languages the words to describe family relationships are confined to mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister. There are no simple words for aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, or cousin.  Therefore, a niece is described as a “daughter” and a nephew as a “son” and all cousins are “brothers and sisters”.  My colleagues, who are familiar with the English system, spoke of “brother cousin” or “mother aunt” and even then it can be confusing.  As for degrees, I can say that I met a grand nephew who described his departing grand aunt as his dear mother.”…

page 44 Studies vol 97, number 385"
The words in talics were written that way in this article.

Excerpt #2
Aunt [no author cited or publishing date given]
…”In many nonindustrialized cultures, distinctions between a paternal aunt and a maternal aunt are important because they reflect authority, ties to the mother's clan, or close kinship bonds. Whether the kinship system is matrilineal (descent is traced through females) or patrilineal (descent is traced through males), the father's sister is treated as a sort of female father. Among the Bunyoro, Swazi, and Ashanti in Africa, as well as Australian aboriginal tribes, for example, the father's sister may discipline her brothers' children, commands the same respect and authority as her brother, and arranges her nephew's marriage or may forbid it if the nephew chooses an unacceptable mate (Beattie 1960; Fortes 1969; Hart and Pilling 1960; Kuper 1950; Reed 1975)."

Excerpt #3
"Guide to being a Nigerian"
by little reader [no publishing date given]
"In the Nigerian culture, any woman who is significantly older than you is your auntie. In the same way, any man who is significantly older than you is your uncle. This is simply a way of being polite.

Yes, your mum/dad’s sister/brother is still your auntie/uncle, but it applies with others too.

But what do I do if I want to call one auntie but I’m in a room filled with women, all of whom I refer to as auntie?!

You do one of two things:
1. You call them by their first name e. g. Auntie Mary, Auntie Jane, Auntie Bukki (it is most likely that their name will be Nigerian so pronounce it right), although I don’t particularly like this method as depending on the kind of auntie you are talking to, they may not like a “youngster” using their first name. So refer to option #2:

2. You walk up to them and say “auntie” right next to them. Yes, it is that simple. That easy.”


Comment what other ways you can think of to identify one auntie in a roomful of aunties….

[Selected Comments]
1-800-Sarcasam, Dec 09, 2017
"Honestly my white friends think I have a huge family because of that 😂"

2. symplyayisha99, Aug 23, 2017
"What of a situation where you 
Enter the house and you see that the house is full with all your mum's family people.
You now have to start kneeling down and be greeting them one by one.

3. -,  Jan 13, 2017
No it's not. I was at church one day and I went up and stood beside an aunty who was talking to another aunty an  I didn't know either of their names so I said 'hello aunty' and they both said hello and I just stared blankly XD

4. skittlesromance, Dec. 26, 2016
"At times my dad makes me call some women that have given birth to children 👶 'mummy '"

5. PetrovaKathy, Oct 31, 2015
"An elderly person is your mummy or daddy while those that are just a bit older than you are your aunties and uncles"

6. Brianunnacodz, August 26, 2015
"My father does the whole mummy thing. Everyone's your mother or father. I do not see it as that".

Excerpt #4
"Why do Nigerians call everyone uncle/aunty instead of sir/madam?"

1. Kelechi Wachuku, Answered October 18, 2018
"I think it depends.

In my experience, one usually calls someone uncle or aunty if they’re introduced to or meet someone their parent, elder sibling, or guardian knows. This actually doesn’t seem to be Nigeria-specific, or even Africa-specific, since some friends of mine with roots in places like Ghana, India and the Philippines all tell similar stories. What’s kind of amusing is that we can become so used to saying this that we don’t realize who’s an actual aunt/uncle, another kind if relative, or a family friend.

In my case, until maybe the age of 14 or 15, there were maybe 10–12 other people I literally thought of as my aunt or uncle. The thing is, some of these people were not even from the same ethnic group, let alone country. Also, even after becoming well aware of the fact that they weren’t my uncles or aunts, it just feels weird to call them anything else other than those titles, like, say, sir or ma. Like, for one of my cousins, she calls my mother “aunty,” even though she’s very aware they’re actually cousins since my mother was well into her 20s by the time my cousin was born. On the flipside, though, my mom has only referred to my cousin as “my cousin.” It’s the same thing with one of my “uncles.” He was introduced to me in my mid teens as an uncle, but I soon became aware that he wasn’t an uncle. I still call him “uncle,” because of familiarity, but he has literally only ever referred to me to others as “my cousin.”

Sometimes, people will also call someone “uncle” or “aunty” if they feel some kind of connection with a person, but I noticed that women tend to do this the most, and the person being called that is almost always African in some way and must be older than they are. I see it all the time on YouTube. There’s a famous YouTuber called Jackie Aina, who’s half-Nigerian, and her followers routinely call her “aunty.”

I think it’s kind of like how young Korean women may call an older male “oppa (오빠),” which means older brother, though can apparently have a sexual connotation, or how boys may call an older male “hyung (형),” which also means the same thing. Then there’s “noona (누나)” for an older female if your male, and “unnie (언니)” for an older female if you’re female. Both these words technically mean older sister.[1]

Now, for sir or madam in Nigeria, they’re a different case. With sir, I’ve only known people to call a man “sir” if they are explicitly aware that the person they’re calling sir isn’t any of the aforesaid. It’s the same thing for madam in my experience, but with madam, I think it’s used more situationally. Most of the time, I think people would say ma instead of madam regardless of whether the situation is informal or highly formal. But, at the same time, I noticed that many, if not most, would say madam if she’s done something that would spark anger or irritation. So, instead of  “How are you doing today, ma?”,  it might be used in  “Madam, are you out of your mind?”,  which is kind of like how Nigerians may use “my friend” to generally mean the opposite of what it actually means."
The words written in bold font were given that way in this comment.

2. Onyinye, Answered August 23, 2018
"Uncle/aunt/aunty; Every older lady in any Nigerian family is an aunt. In the actual sense they may be your grandfather's brother's daughter (grandfather's neice) or some confusing story may follow. Growing in a family- oriented society where everyone is part of a big family and legacy -(1a)this one little act is a way we identify someone as your family.

b) It's also a form of respect to someone you've known for a while or long.

2. Sir/madam;

a) a formal way of exchanging to a colleague, a boss etc.

b) Also, it's common to address someone older whom you just met as madam or Sir.

Excerpt #5
1. Ahmed Mohamed, Answered January 27, 2019
"I grew up in Britain however my family come from Somalia. I know both cultures and in Somali culture, it is taboo to address people old enough to be your parents or older by their first name. It is only aunty or uncle or by their profession (teacher, doctor etc). If they are elderly then it is grandmother or grandfather. Outside the Somali community I address people by their first names and stick to British cultural norms. I just adapt to the situation that im in.

Somali culture has huge respect for elders and growing up in Britain, the most individualistic society on the planet, has allowed me to see the pros and cons of both cultures. Britain in my opinion could do with respecting elders more eg not getting up for older people on the tube and not taking care of their elderly parents more however I admire the critical thinking that comes from the individualism. The British believe that respect should be earned whereas in Somali culture the elder is respected no matter how much of a flawed individual they might be."

2. Chad Pelwan, Answered June 16, 2013
"Originally Answered: Is it common in your country or culture to address non-relatives as "aunt" "uncle" "grandmother" "grandfather" etc.?

As a South African I would have to say that, in my culture, yes. I am a coloured (which is a race defined to be neither white, black, indian or asian) and I was brought up to refer to older woman as 'aunt' or by the Afrikaans word 'tannie' and to older men as 'uncle' or 'oom' in Afrikaans. If I did not, it was always seen as disrespectful."

Excerpt #6
1. Michael Koeberg, Answered February 27, 2016
"As someone else has just said, it's a sign of respect but as a South African, I can tell you a bit of how I had to do things growing up.

Down here, addressing our elders with an honorific is still the norm here may it be "Mr X", "Mrs Z" or "Uncle F" and "Aunty G" due to the high levels of social conservatism that is still to be found here and it is done regardless of ethnic/racial group.

In fact, rural custom holds that if you are over the age of 35, then you must be addressed as "Oom" or "Tannie" which is Afrikaans for uncle and aunt respectively. This is associated with the White Afrikaans community especially.

My ethnic group, the Cape Coloureds, would often use the English honorifics in place of the usual Afrikaans ones irrespective of mother tongue unless we have to employ the more formal speech registers of Afrikaans. Even then, "oom" and "tannie" are still accepted in many circumstances but is generally reserved for acquaintances and the elderly.

With the Black South Africans, expect to hear the words "tata", "mama", "UMnumzana"(Mr), "UNkosikazi"(Mrs) and "UNkosazana"(Ms.) when among the Xhosa. All the above are used in addressing the elders. The word "gogo" is often heard up in the Gauteng Province and is isiZulu for "grandmother". This word is understandably used when addressing the elder women. "Mtate" and "Umfundisi" are also to be encountered as well with the latter denoting a priest or a pastor in any particular order. This is as much as I know.

In general, while the honorifics are still in use in the countryside, their use has waned in the urban areas, esp. with Anglophone White South Africans who are now starting to take issue to it because of its old-fashioned connotations and the feeling that it's too personal among other reasons."

Tinashe Michael Tapera, I prefer to go by nationality, I'm Zimbabwean
Answered March 3, 2016
I'm Zimbabwean and I approve of Michael Koeberg's answer . I can't call an adult by their first name, it's just not how we were raised in Zimbabwe (black OR white). In fact, even in high school, we were expected to never call seniors in high school by their first name. We always used "sir" or "ma'am" ...

 If it's a family member, or someone you have a friendly relationship with, you call them aunt or uncle, because there is some level of affection in it.

In a professional or newly acquainted relationship, we just go with Mr. or Mrs. or sir or ma'am."

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Friday, April 16, 2021

How The Words "Aunt" And "Auntie" Are Pronounced By Many African Americans

Tarle Speech & Language Services - English Pronunciation

Learn how to pronounce the English words  ANT & AUNT /ænt/ correctly with this American English pronunciation lesson.

ANT & AUNT are pronounced /ænt/ and rhyme with can't, pant, rant.  AUNT can also be pronounced /ɔnt/ and rhymes with bought, caught, fought, taunt.     

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides excerpts from various online discussion threads and articles about how African Americans usually pronounce the words "aunt" and "auntie".

The content of this post is presented for linguistic and socio-cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.    

For the record, I am African American and was born in 1947 and raised in Atlantic City, New Jersey until I went off to college in 1965. I and everyone Black I knew in my hometown pronounced the word "aunt" as "ahnt" (which rhymes with "gaunt" and "taunt" etc.). I don't recall anyone pronouncing it the same way as the ant insects.

I knew some White people in Atlantic City when I was growing up, particularly from my high school whose student population was almost 50% Black and almost 50% White along with a few Asian students. However, I don't remember if there were any differences in the way Black people and White people in Atlantic City pronounced any words.

Fast forward to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where I've lived since 1969.... African Americans pronounce "aunt" the same way I pronounced it in New Jersey. However, White Pittsburghers pronounce "aunt" exactly like the word "ant" is pronounced. 

Some of the comments below that mention Pittsburghers' pronunciation of the word "aunt"  confirm my experiences that there are racial differences between the way that Black people and non-Black people in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania pronounce that word. There are also other words that are pronounced differently besides "a" and "aunt", but I'll save that for another post.  


These quotes are given in no particular order. Numbers are assigned for referencing purposes only.

However, the numbers for the excerpted comments don't correspond to their numbers in that discussion thread.
Excerpt #1

1. DaleC; San Diego, California; Apr 18, 2006
…"Lower Delaware Valley: ahnt (I've never heard 'awnt' but maybe that's the New England way?). (West of the Great Plains, 'aw' becomes 'ah', so that 'caught' rhymes with 'cot'.)

 Ahnt is basically eastern United States. Since one member from Ohio says 'ant', while African-Americans, New Englanders, and Delaware Valley people say 'ahnt', this points to the Appalachian Mountains as the dividing line. I'm interested to find out for sure."

2. Joelline, USA (W. Pennsylvania), Apr 18, 2006
"Born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, I say ANT (just like the teeny creatures), but as many have noted, most of the black people I grew up with said "AWNT." Because of that, I've always associated the "awnt" pronunciation with blacks--or with veddy proper Brits!"...

3.  DaleC; San Diego, California; Apr 18, 2006
"And Pittsburgh, PA is just slightly west of the Appalachians.

Foreigners should be aware that African-Americans almost all speak with Southern accents, even those whose families have lived far from the southeast USA ("The South") for generations. So it is not surprising that Joelline would say 'aunt' one way and the local A-A's would say it the other way."

4. SouthJerz, American English/United States, Apr 18, 2006
"I have always pronounced it 'ant'. I did have one relative that preffered that we call her Awnt Nancy. She was from Kentucky, so there is another instance of it being a southern thing."

5. jinti, New York City and Pennsylvania, April 18, 2006
"I'm from the Philadelphia area of Pennsylvania originally.

I say ant, but now that I'm in NYC, I hear ahnt more than ant. It's definitely part of AAVE, but not limited to it. Of course, NYC is quite a crossroads, with people from all over....

A quick poll of my officemates reveals that:

1. We don't have too many native speakers of English in my office

2. Everybody here who is originally from NYC says ant, with the exception of the African-Americans, who say ahnt "because ants are those little insects", and my boss, who says ahnt but wonders why he does so, since no one else in his family pronounces it that way. A further poll of the office attributes my boss' pronunciation phenomenon to psychosis, treatable only by letting us go home early. He is now teaching us his pronunciation of "no". ;)"

6. SarahBeth, English/USA; Apr 18, 2006
"I'm from the southern US and my family and a lot of friends say "ant", but my African American friends usually say "awnt". My friend is from the West coast and she says "awnt" also."

7. Jacob, New Jersey/United States, Apr 19, 2006
"StrangeAttitude said:

Not to sound racist (because my wife is black), but I hear a lot of black people say it the way you mentioned. I say aunt as in ant and my wife and her family say awnt.
[end of quote]

I've noticed that too. The black side of my family says aunt (with awe sound) and the white side of my family says aunt so it sounds like ant."

8. MarcB, US English, Apr 19, 2006
"Before reading this post I had never heard of AAVE. I have heard many African Americans say awnt but certainly not all. In the general population I mostly hear ant but often awnt as well. Many of the people who say awnt are from the south, but many also say ant. Some New Englanders say awnt but many do not. In my little corner of the world most people say ant but again some say awnt. Since there are many people from other countries where I live most of them, whether native English speakers or not seem to say awnt, again not all. So I would say my findings are not conclusive."

9. Lizzo, English USA, May 29, 2016
I think this is an interesting discussion. I went looking for information about this because last night someone commented on my pronunciation of the word (awnt). I am currently living in Montreal among people from all over Canada and Europe, and a couple from the midwestern us. I grew up in Maine and Massachusetts, and both parents are from the Boston area (mother's extended family is from Connecticut and upstate new york.) A girl from Michigan told me that my pronunciation sounded like "a pretentious New England" way of pronouncing the word. I had never given much thought to it - it's not pretentious, it's just the way I've always said it, and pretty much all natives of my region use this pronunciation. I think it's surprising that there seems to be a pattern here of people associating this pronunciation with African-Americans. Maine is one of the whitest states in the country, and if I heard an African-American pronouncing the word "awnt," I would assume it was because they grew up in my region, not because it was a pronunciation used by the majority of African-Americans. But it is interesting that people in regions where the pronunciation "ant" is usually used note that African Americans use the other pronunciation. So... some people think it sounds like "pretentious New England"-speak, and others associate it was AAVE! (Which I am not judging, but it is not something I would equate with pretentious New England-speak.)"

10. CarolSue C, English, USA, May 29, 2006
I have noticed that here in the Midwest many African American young people refer to an "aunt" as "auntie," pronounced either "AHNtee" or "ahnTEE." I don't think the majority of native Midwesterner speakers of any race distinguish between the "ah" and "aw" sound either, usually using the "ah" for both sounds. I know that they pronounce "Boston" with the "ah" sound, while I use the "aw" sound for the initial "o." "


11. la_cavalière, St. Louis, MO, |"anglais États-Unis, May 29, 2006
"I was raised in Minnesota, and I say "aunt" like "awnt" with the "awe" sound, as did everyone I knew (and no, I'm not African American, and there were very few where I grew up).

In Missouri, where I live now, everyone says "ant."

Although I've been here for many years, I REFUSE to say "ant." That sounds absolutely ridiculous to my ears. An "ant" is a small insect. My "aunt" is my mother's sister.

Examples of words beginning with "au" (all have the "aw" sound):












I rest my case."
One blogger mentioned "AAVE" in their comment. Acouple of people asked what that meant, and someone responded that "AAVE" means "African American Vernacular English".

Excerpt #2

1. Heidi Cool, Native speaker of American English., Answered April 10
"The pronunciation of Aunt varies from place to place. Ant is the most common pronunciation in the U.S., but you will hear ahnt in parts of the Northeast and parts of the South. I live in Cleveland, Ohio and refer to my dad’s sisters as my ants. My friend Larry lives in Boston and he called his parent’s siblings ahnts. Neither of us say awnt."

2. Ari Hoptman, lives in The United States of America, Answered April 10
"I can’t speak for all of the US, but I have heard variation between ethnic groups. I grew up in a racially mixed city in the Midwest. White people tended to say [ænt], to rhyme with ant, and black people tended to say [ant], to rhyme with haunt."

Excerpt #3

1. Patti Charron, Answered January 25, 2016
"There are a lot of words that people pronounce differently. It depends on how the individual learned to pronounce it initially, and then upon influences later on.

When I was a kid, we called my Irish mother's sisters ANT Muggie, ANT Martha, ANT Dierdre. Everyone at my school talked about their ANTS. To make matters worse, this was with the nasally A, which is common in Cleveland.

When I went away to college, I started hearing AUNT from kids from up east and from the south. This appealed to me as it differentiates between the blood relation and the insect.

In the area where I live now, most white folks say ANT. African-Americans say AUNT and AUNTIE.

2. Heidi Cool, Native speaker of American English, Answered April 4, 2016
"The pronunciation of Aunt has evolved differently in different areas. I'm in Cleveland (where Patti was raised) and say "Ant." My friends in Boston say "Ahnt."

Auntie anxiety gives a nice overview of this topic. Apparently "Ant" used to be the common pronunciation in England but over time it changed to "Ahnt.""
An excerpt of that article is given immediately below.

Excerpt #4 

Q: I would like to know why some people pronounce “aunt” like AHNT and others like ANT. I grew up in the Midwest where everyone said ANT, but I now live in NYC where everyone says AHNT. Please explain which is correct.

 A: A blog reader wrote in earlier this year with this explanation: an AHNT is a very rich ANT. But, seriously, the word “aunt” has two correct pronunciations: ANT (like the insect) and AHNT.

Both pronunciations are given, in that order, in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.).

The first (ANT) is by far the predominant American pronunciation. The second (AHNT) is common in the Northeast, some Southern dialects, and among African Americans.

British speakers today also prefer the second pronunciation (AHNT), according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

But many phonologists and other scholars have shown that the pronunciation of “aunt” varies widely in Britain, and that “ant” and “aunt” are pronounced the same by many speakers in the northern counties.

In fact, ANT was once the preferred pronunciation in Britain, so the dominant American pronunciation is actually older, a relic of British usage in the late 18th century.

The linguist and lexicographer M. H. Scargill has written: “Acceptable late-18th-century British pronunciation rhymed ‘clerk’ with ‘lurk,’ ‘caught’ with ‘cot’ and ‘aunt’ with ‘ant,’ and those pronunciations are the ones immigrants brought with them.”

The “a” in words like “after,” “aunt,” “last,” “past,” “class,” “dance,” “path,” and “chance” is pronounced the old way (like the “a” in “bat”) by most Americans, while most British speakers now pronounce it as “ah.”

In its entry for “aunt,” the Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary notes that the ANT pronunciation “was brought to America before British English developed the ah in such words as aunt, dance, and laugh.“

“In American English,” Random House adds, “ah is most common in the areas that maintained the closest cultural ties with England after the ah pronunciation developed there in these words."…

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