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When American people ask you, "Do you have a family?" does that mean "Do you have any children?" or just "Are you married?"

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They probably don't mean "...or are you an orphan brought up by the State without even a close relationship with any particular foster-parents?" – FumbleFingers Jan 21 '12 at 14:06
up vote 6 down vote accepted

The question is susceptible to a broad interpretation. It can mean either of the two meanings you suggest, or it can be an inquiry about parents, brothers and sisters and cousins and possibly others. The circumstances of the question will usually make it clear what is meant.

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I've given this +1, but in the absence of other context, I think "have you children" is the most likely meaning – Colin Fine Jan 21 '12 at 14:34
It depends a great deal on the culture. In America, among strangers, it's usually a request for fill-in on ordinary family attachments, but normally only for nuclear family, unless something more complex is in the context. So it signals a polite request for some kind of family background to fill out the speaker's emerging mental picture. How one responds depends on the circumstances; this is just small talk, after all. – John Lawler Jan 21 '12 at 15:19
Here are a couple of "Do you have family here? A wife?" constructions, where plainly adding "a wife" recognises that just a wife might not be understood as "family" in such a question. There are lots more similar usages found by "do you have a family a wife" in Google Books. – FumbleFingers Jan 21 '12 at 15:33
@ColinFine: True, but whatever the intention of the questioner, there's always the possibility that the answer might be something like 'No, only a cousin in Australia.' – Barrie England Jan 21 '12 at 15:36

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