Japanese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

When native speakers of Japanese use おばあさん to refer to an older woman who is not that that individual's own grandmother, does their concept of the woman include any expectation that she would have had children at some point during her life?

share|improve this question
Chinese has an analogous usage of the word for "grandmother" (perhaps the Japanese calqued it from Chinese?); the "grandmother" is most likely with children simply due to age, but to me, a Mandarin native speaker, the question of whether the old woman has any children would not enter my mind at all. – user54609 Jan 3 '14 at 5:31
In Chinese, "that old grandmother" is used extremely generally to mean "that old woman". In fact, "that old woman" reeks of awkwardness and CSL. – user54609 Jan 3 '14 at 5:35
Asking for answers from "native speakers" is superfluous. Information is either correct or not, regardless of source. The request only makes the asker seem hostile to non-native sources which could be potentially be helpful in ways that native speakers can't be. Not to mention that anyone on this site can claim to be a native speaker when giving an answer, but there is no way of verifying that. – Questioner Jan 3 '14 at 6:22
@DaveMG. I've edited the question to express that what I want to understand is a native speaker's concept and thus derefenced any question about the identity of the answerer. – virmaior Jan 3 '14 at 6:53
@virmaior, nice. Thanks for your understanding. :) – Questioner Jan 3 '14 at 7:24
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Generally speaking, yes, there is that assumption in our minds, but this custom rarely, if ever, causes problems when the older woman addressed as おばあさん by a stranger actually turns out to be someone who has never had a child in her life. That is because it is likely that she herself has been addressing any older lady おばあさん since she was little.

share|improve this answer
I can't imagine a woman ever being offended at the term おばあさん based on whether or not she's had children. Far more important is whether or not she feels she's too young for the term. But more importantly, doesn't every culture default to assume that people above a certain age have led a life that includes the expecation of having had children? I'm not sure if the use of おばあさん conveys anything particular that isn't assumed in just about every language. – Questioner Jan 3 '14 at 6:59
@DaveMG, regarding the larger expectation, part of why I bothered asking is that while we do have the term "granny" in English, it is a slightly derogatory term to say about random older women whereas おばあさん is the common term. Moreover, in contemporary English (at least American English), I wouldn't assume "older woman" means she had children at this point in time. – virmaior Jan 3 '14 at 8:33

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.