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"My female cousin working for a finance company was dismissed. Disappeared along with her job were her confidence and smiling face."

There is a very complicated system in Chinese for naming different relatives. For example, in Chinese, different words are used for a female cousin and a male cousin. Also, the word for an elder female cousin is different from the word for a younger one.

I'm having some trouble writing this sentence in English. I used "female cousin" in the first part, to translate the word that actually means "elder female cousin" in Chinese, but it still sounds awkward. I suspect that the "female" may be redundant too, because in the second part I use the pronoun "her".

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    'Redundant' usually has a pejorative connotation. There is no 'ungrammaticality' or 'illogicality' in your sentence, though, as you say, 'female' is not necessary as this fact comes out later. I'd expect 'My cousin Ann ...' in colloquial English, unless there has to be an emphasis on 'female' (are you addressing discrimination, say?) – Edwin Ashworth Jan 7 '15 at 12:51
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    A different issue: the way you use disappeared...**were** is not grammatical. You might use: Along with her job, her confidence and smiling face disappeared. Her confidence and smiling face disappeared along with her job. Along with her job, gone were her confidence and smiling face. There is new transitive euphemistic meaning of the verb to disappear borrowed from Spanish-speaking countries in South America: "to take someone away by force in order to imprison or kill them". "To be disappeared" in that sense is "to be taken away... etc". – TRomano Jan 7 '15 at 13:17
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    @Kris The Chinese have too many gender-specific word. Fun fact: nephew from your sister is called differently from nephew from your brother, which is called differently depending on whether it's your older/younger brother. Have fun. On the contrary, IIRC Chinese does not have a concept of "boyfriend" or "girlfriend", it merely has a "lover" – Raestloz Jan 7 '15 at 14:39
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    You're correct that for those two sentences together, you don't need 'female' to know the sex of your cousin, because it is specified by 'her'. But for the first sentence by itself, you don't know that. So if all you have is the first sentence and you need to convey the sex of your cousin, you must specify 'female'. – Mitch Jan 7 '15 at 14:55
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This comes up a lot with cousin as many other languages have more words for different types of cousin than English, though not always in the same way as you say for the Chinese languages.

Generally, we just say "cousin" unless it's particularly relevant. If it was relevant we might be happy enough that the subsequent her does indicate her being female.

We might include it if it was particularly relevant, even given the subsequent information from her. E.g. if you suspected discrimination.

But in terms of translation, normally the natural way to talk about any such relative is just a bare "cousin".

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    To extend upon this, the use of "female" there implies that the speaker thinks this is important--that she was fired for being female. Thus it's not only redundant but misinformation. – Loren Pechtel Jan 8 '15 at 6:42
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    @LorenPechtel: …Unless the speaker indeed does think it was discriminatory, of course. – Jan Hudec Jan 8 '15 at 8:52
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    A good example to make this clearer is the following: saying "my female cousin" is a bit like saying "my blond cousin": it highlights the fact that the cousin has blond hair, and that this bit of information is stated explicitly because it is relevant. – Federico Poloni Jan 8 '15 at 15:11
  • One consideration would be the word-for-word accuracy of the translation; it looks like the OP is trying to balance about halfway in between a word-for-word translation and making the sentence sound natural in English. "Female cousin" isn't redundant or unnatural at all, though "Elder female cousin" is unnatural by default. I agree that adding the word "female" makes it sound like her sex is particularly relevant, but it doesn't do so very strongly; the reader should just be slightly curious if it's relevant at that point... – Panzercrisis Jan 8 '15 at 15:21
  • ...I've heard "female cousin" used in spoken English on a couple of rare occasions when the sex wasn't relevant, and it actually sounded natural. If the OP is doing something that is advertised as a translation, they'd have to carefully weigh whether it's good to strike that kind of balance here. – Panzercrisis Jan 8 '15 at 15:21
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This is not just a gender issue. In English, cousin is incredibly non-specific (even when you take into account that first cousin is usually implied). When translating Chinese kinship terms to English, there is no escaping the loss of information without awkwardness — unless you are talking about your father, mother, husband, wife, son, or daughter.

Assuming that you meant to translate from 表姐 with perfect precision, you could say something ridiculous like

My female first cousin, who is older than me, in the same generation as me, and is not my father's brother's daughter, …

Once you accept the fact that you're going to lose precision in translation, you might as well accept that "My cousin" is the natural translation, especially since your cousin's gender is clear from the context provided in the following sentence. It is not idiomatic to include any additional information in English unless the information is specifically relevant to what you are trying to say.

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Spanish also makes this kind of distinction: prima and primo, between a female and male cousin.

In English, we do not care about the gender unless it is relevant to the topic. Otherwise, why bother to say it? If I said "My female cousin got a new job today", someone might then expect to find out what my male cousin must be doing. It just sounds odd to a native since we generally do not care if the person was a man or woman. English is very gender-neutral because we don't want to emphasize that it matters someone is a male or female, and you'll probably get strange looks, or someone correcting you, if you continually add it in when gender is irrelevant to the discussion. Or they may think you are a feminist for adding female - especially if you emphasize it. It is simply more correct to say "My cousin ..." than "My female cousin", in English, for these reasons.

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By order of appearance, it's the word "her" that is redundant, but English doesn't have an appropriate gender-neutral alternative. That means that, strictly speaking, "female" provides information that is already available, albeit only later.

Whether this should be considered redundant depends on whether that information is important, and whether it's important that it be shared at that point. Personally, I like removing "female" and letting the deferred pronoun subtly provide the extra info on her gender.

A great value of asking this question comes from considering why it matters at all that your cousin is female? Is it important to the rest of the writing? Are you - or is your reader - left uncomfortable with either not knowing, or with that knowledge delayed? If so, is that discomfort usefully transgressive, or merely annoying?

It's almost always possible to recast without gender, and often (almost) unnoticeably:

Dismissed from a finance company was my cousin, whose confidence and smiling face left as well.

or

Dismissed from a finance company was my cousin, whose confidence and smiling face - and boyfriend - left as well.

or

Dismissed from a finance company was my cousin, whose confidence and smiling face, - and boyfriend - left as well. Fortunately, he soon found another.

  • Very good point! – keshlam Jan 8 '15 at 2:09
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    If, in your second example, "boyfriend" is intended to imply that the cousin is female, then that's a heteronormative assumption. Your third example is incomprehensible. – 200_success Jan 8 '15 at 5:50
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    @200_success - in #2, "boyfriend" is intended to convey that the boyfriend left. That is all. It is, secondarily, intended to roust out heteronormative assumptions, as you observed. In that light, "he soon found another" is the payoff: my cousin was a boy, and he soon found another... boyfriend and/or job. :) The point of my examples was to demonstrate the opportunities in deferring information. – schnitz Jan 8 '15 at 6:09
  • Upvoted because of the messing about with the hetero-centric worldview :-) People still make hetero-centric assumptions all to easily. – Tonny Jan 8 '15 at 12:38
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    I need to say something about your questions in the third paragraph of your post. These questions actually explore more deeply the difference between Chinese and English. Suppose my readers are Chinese, I would say that they will feel very uncomfortable for the delayed "her" and for the vagueness concerning the fact whether he/she is older than you or the person you describe. The superficial reason is that Chinese people know all these information about their relatives whenever they use the word standing for those relatives. – benlogos Jan 8 '15 at 16:02
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No, it's not.

Redundancy is if you're re-iterating a point. "Cousin" is a gender neutral word and therefore clarifying the gender of the subject is not redundant. The gender can be implied by the usage of "her", but that does not make the usage of "female" redundant.

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    But then it is redundant, as it adds nothing more. It could be a useful redundancy (to clarify) or it could be useless even if it wasn't redundant (if we didn't have anything providing the same information but didn't care anyway) but it's definitely redundant. – Jon Hanna Jan 7 '15 at 16:20
  • It's not. "Her" is the proper way of referencing a female subject. If the cousin is, in fact, a male, the sentence then goes from "avoiding redundancy" to "outright wrong" – Raestloz Jan 7 '15 at 16:21
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    But then "female cousin" would be equally wrong, so that isn't really to the point. – Jon Hanna Jan 7 '15 at 16:24
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    The best I can guess is that you have an unusually narrow concept of redundancy. Maybe you consider "female sister" redundant because the word sister already contains the concept of female. But redundancy doesn't operate solely at a word level. Any unnecessary repetition of any information is redundant. In fact, I would argue that "reiterating a point" is not redundant, because the speaker feels the point is important enough that it needs repeating. That is, the repetition is serving a meaningful purpose. – John Y Jan 7 '15 at 18:25
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    @JohnY I agree that I should have added "without any meaningful purpose" on my answer, because that is the definition of redundancy. See what I did there? ;). – Raestloz Jan 8 '15 at 3:32
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I am not an expert in English, but I do think simply "My cousin sister working for a....", makes it more sensible for reading and hearing. This is a common expression in Indian English dialects.

  • "Cousin sister" does sound fairly natural, and I could readily see it catching on, at least in dialects of English influenced by some other language already using such a construction. But as @rumtscho correctly notes, it's not currently a standard or generally understood kinship term in most varieties of English. – Ilmari Karonen Jan 7 '15 at 18:30
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    "cousin sister" exists in Indian English and Australian English. Collins (new word suggestion): "'Cousin sister ' (likewise, cousin brother) is widely used in Andhra Pradesh and other states of India." As the OP doesn't specify a particular variety of English, Tilak's answer is completely valid. – A E Jan 8 '15 at 10:30
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    @AE OK, sorry, I mistakenly assumed that Tilak is literally translating it from another language, not giving an example from an English dialect I have not been exposed to. I'm removing my downvote. – rumtscho Jan 8 '15 at 20:59
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    "Cousin sister" doesn't exist in American English, and I doubt in U.K. English. I had never heard of it. Did you mean "cousin's sister"? I'd have no clue who you meant if you said this. – vapcguy Jan 10 '15 at 1:46
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    "cousin sister" isn't valid Australian English. To my Aussie ears, it's a contradition: a given person could be your cousin, or your sister, but not both. – ben_h Jan 14 '15 at 7:22

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