Essay On My Grandparents In English Translation

"Grandad" redirects here. For other uses, see Grandad (disambiguation).

"Grandpa" and "Grandma" redirect here. For other uses, see Grandpa (disambiguation) and Grandma (disambiguation).

Grandparents are the parents of a person's father or mother – paternal or maternal. Every sexually-reproducing creature who is not a genetic chimera has a maximum of four genetic grandparents, eight genetic great-grandparents, sixteen genetic great-great-grandparents, 32 genetic great-great-great-grandparents, 64 genetic great-great-great-great-grandparents, etc., although the numbers will be lower in cases of pedigree collapse. In the history of modern humanity, around 30,000 years ago, the number of modern humans who lived to be a grandparent increased.[citation needed] It is not known for certain what spurred this increase in longevity, but it is generally believed that a key consequence of three generations being alive together was the preservation of information which could otherwise have been lost; an example of this important information might have been where to find water in times of drought.[1][2]

In cases where parents are unwilling or unable to provide adequate care for their children (e.g., death of the parents), grandparents often take on the role of primary caregivers. Even when this is not the case, and particularly in traditional cultures, grandparents often have a direct and clear role in relation to the raising, care and nurture of children. Grandparents are second-degree relatives and share 25% genetic overlap.

A step-grandparent can be the step-parent of the parent or the step-parent's parent or the step-parent's step-parent (though technically this might be called a step-step-grandparent). The various words for grandparents at times may also be used to refer to any elderly person, especially the terms gramps, granny, grandfather, grandmother, nan, Maw-Maw, Paw-Paw and others which families make up themselves.


When used as a noun (e.g., "... a grandparent walked by"), grandfather and grandmother are usually used, although forms such as grandma/grandpa, granny/granddaddy or even nan/pop are sometimes used. When preceded by "my ..." (e.g., "... my grandpa walked by"), all forms are common (anywhere from "... my grandfather ..." to "... my Gramps ..."). All forms can be used in plural, but Gramps (plural Gramps) is rare.

In writing, Grandfather and Grandmother are most common, but very rare when referring to a grandparent in person. In speech, Grandpa and Grandma are commonly used in the United States, Canada and Australia. In Britain, Ireland, United States, Australia, New Zealand and, particularly prevalent in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nan, Nana, Nanna, Nanny, Gran and Granny and other variations are often used for grandmother in both writing and speech.

In many parts of India, maternal grandparents are called Nana and Nani. Similarly, paternal grandparents are called Dada and Dadi.

Numerous other variants exist, such as Gramp, Gramps, Grampa, Grandpap, Granda, Grampy, Granddad, Grandad, Granddaddy, Grandpappy, Pop(s), Pap,Pappy, and Pawpaw for grandfather; Grandmom, Grandmama, Granny, Gran, Nanny, Nan, Mammaw and Grammy for grandmother. Gogo can be used for either, etc.

Given that people may have two living sets of grandparents, some confusion arises from calling two people "grandma" or "grandpa", so often two of the other terms listed above are used for one set of grandparents. Another common solution is to call grandparents by their first names ("Grandpa George", "Grandma Anne", etc.) or by their family names ("Grandpa Jones", "Grandma Smith"). In North America, many families call one set of grandparents by their ethnic names (e.g., Hispanic grandparents might be called abuelo and abuela or "abuelito" and "abuelita", French grandparents might be called papi and mamie, Italian grandparents might be called nonno and nonna, or Dutch and German grandparents might be called Opa and Oma. In Flanders pepee or petje and memee or metje are most used). Mandarin-speaking Chinese Americans refer to maternal grandparents as pó pó (婆婆) and gōng gōng (公公) and paternal grandparents as nǎi nǎi (奶奶) and yé yé (爷爷). In the Philippines, grandparents are called lolo (grandfather) and lola (grandmother), respectively.

Languages and cultures with more specific kinship terminology than English may distinguish between paternal grandparents and maternal grandparents. For example, in the Swedish language there is no single word for "grandmother"; the mother's mother is termed mormor and the father's mother is termed farmor.[3] However, the other Scandinavian languages, Danish and Norwegian, use words which specifies the kinship like in Swedish (identically spelled among all three languages), as well as using common terms similar to grandmother (Danish: bedstemor, Norwegian: bestemor).


The parents of a grandparent, or the grandparents of a parent, are called the same names as grandparents(grandfather/-mother, grandpa/-ma, granddad/-ma, etc.) with the prefix great- added, with an additional great- added for each additional generation. One's great-grandparent's parents would be "great-great-grandparents".

To avoid a proliferation of "greats" when discussing genealogical trees, one may also use ordinals instead of multiple "greats"; thus a "great-great-grandfather" would be the "second great-grandfather", and a "great-great-great-grandfather" would be a third great-grandfather, and so on. This system is used by some genealogical websites such as Geni.[4] One may also use cardinal numbers for numbering greats, for example, great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother becomes 6×-great-grandma.

Individuals who share the same great-grandparents but are not siblings or first cousins are called "second cousins" to each other, as second cousins are the grandchildren of one's grandparent's siblings.

History of the term[edit]

The use of the prefix "grand-" dates from the early 13th century, from the Anglo-Frenchgraund. The term was used as a translation of Latinmagnus.[5] The prefix "great-" represents a direct translation of magnus to English.[6] In Old English, the prefixes ealde- (old) and ieldra- (elder) were used (ealdefæder/-mōdor and ieldrafæder/-mōdor). A great-grandfather was called a þridda fæder (third father), a great-great-grandfather a fēowerða fæder (fourth father), etc.

Grandparental involvement in childcare[edit]

Grandparents are becoming increasingly involved in childcare. Since 2007, approximately one-third of children in the USA live in a household consisting of both parents and a grandparent.[7] Around 67% of these households are also maintained by either two grandparents, or a grandmother.[7] Likewise, more than 40% of grandparents across 11 European countries care for their grandchildren in the absence of the parents.[8] In Britain, around 63% of grandparents care for their grandchildren who are under 16 years old.[8] Grandparent involvement is also common in Eastern societies. For instance, 48% of grandparents in Hong Kong reported that they are taking care of their grandchildren.[9] In China, around 58% of Chinese grandparents who are aged 45 or older are involved in childcare.[10] In Singapore, 40% of children from birth to three years old are cared by their grandparents and this percentage is still increasing.[11] In South Korea, 53% of children under the age of 6 years old are cared by their grandparents.[12] Therefore, grandparents taking care of their grandchildren has become a prevalent phenomenon around the world.

There are a few reasons why grandparent involvement is becoming more prevalent. First, life expectancy has increased while fertility rates have decreased. This means that more children are growing up while their grandparents are still alive, whom can become involved in childcare.[7] In addition, the reduced fertility rates mean that grandparents can devote more attention and resources to their only grandchildren.[13] Second, more mothers are involved in the workforce, and thus, other caregivers need to be present to care for the child.[7] For instance, in Hong Kong, 55% of grandparents reported that they took care of their grandchild because his or her parents have to work.[9] In South Korea, 53% of working mother reported that they once received child care services from their parents.[12] Third, the increasing number of single-parent families creates a need for grandparental support.[14]

The degree of grandparent involvement also varies depending on the societal context, such as the social welfare policies. For example, in European countries such as Sweden and Denmark, where formal childcare is widely available, grandparents provide less intensive childcare.[8] By contrast, in European countries such as Spain and Italy, where formal childcare is limited and welfare payment is low, grandparent provides more intensive childcare.[8] In Singapore, the grandparent caregiver tax relief was established in 2004, which enables working parents (Singapore citizens with children age 12 and below) whose children are being cared for by unemployed grandparents to receive income tax relief of 3,000 Singaporean dollars.[11]

Different types of grandparental involvement[edit]

There are different types of grandparental involvement, including nonresident grandparents, co-resident grandparents, grandparent-maintained household, and custodial grandparents.[15][16]

  • Nonresident grandparents: Grandparents who do not live with their grandchildren, but provide care for them,[15][16] such as picking them up from school.
  • Co-resident grandparents: Grandparents who live with their grandchild, as well as his/her parents. This type of household is also known as three-generational households.[15] According to a report that uses data from the 2010 Census, the American Community Survey (ACS), the Current Population Survey (CPS), and the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), co-resident grandparents are more likely to be in poverty and suffer from an illness or disability.[7]
  • Grandparent-maintained households: A grandparent who is in charge of the household. In this type of household, the parents may or may not be present.[7] In the USA, 33% of children who live in a grandparent-maintained household have only the grandparents present; this is comparable to another 30% who live with a grandmother and one or more parents.[7]
  • Custodial grandparents: Grandparents who raise their grandchildren without the presence of the grandchildren’s parents in the household. This type of involvement is especially common among ethnic minority groups.[17] For instance, approximately 50% of custodial grandparents in the USA belong to an ethnic minority group.[18] In general, grandparents adopt the primary caregiving role for various reasons, such as when the grandchild is neglected or abused by his/her parents, when his/her parents suffer from drug and/or alcohol addiction, when his/her parents have relocated due to job demands, died, incarcerated, or deployed. In some cases, parents remain in contact with their children.[15][16] 

Impact of grandparental involvement on child development[edit]

Grandparents have different functions in child development. Not only do they provide instrumental support such as picking grandchildren from school or feeding them, but they also offer emotional support.[19] Furthermore, grandparents protect children from being impacted by negative circumstances, such as harsh parenting, poor economic status, and single-parent families.[20][21] In addition to providing support, grandparents can also help grandchildren with their schoolwork or teach them values that are integral to their society.[19]

Grandparents can have a positive or negative impact on child development. On the one hand, previous research suggests that children and adolescents who have a close relationship with their grandparents tend to have better well-being, experience fewer emotional problems, and demonstrate fewer problematic behaviours.[20][21] They are also more academically engaged and are more likely to help others.[22] On the other hand, there are also research studies indicating that grandparent involvement is associated with more hyperactivity and peer difficulties among young children.[23] In other words, children who are cared by their grandparents can have more interpersonal relationship problem.[23] Also, children who are under the care of their grandparents have poorer health outcomes, such as obesity, more injuries due to low safety awareness.[24]

Impact of grandparental involvement on grandparents[edit]

Since taking care of grandchildren could be a highly demanding job that requires constant energy and time devotion,[25] grandparental involvement in child raising could have a negative impact on grandparents’ physical and emotional health. For example, taking care of grandchildren can reduce grandparents’ own time for self-care such as missing the medical appointment. Therefore, they are likely to have a higher chance to suffer from physical health issues.[26] In the USA, compared with those who do not take care of their grandchildren, grandparents who are involved in childcare are more likely to have poor physical conditions, such as heart disease, hypertension or body pain.[27] Besides physical health issues, grandparents are also likely to have emotional issues. To be more specific, raising young children again could be a stressful and overwhelming experience and thus results in different kinds of negative emotions such as anxiety or depression.[28] In addition to physical and emotional issues, grandparents who are involved in caring for their grandchildren can also suffer socially. For instance, grandparents will be forced to limit their social activities so as to care for their grandchildren. By doing so, grandparents become more isolated from their social relations.[29] Taking care of grandchildren also means more responsibilities, grandparents would fear for their grandchildren’s future well-being because of their disability and death in the future.[30] If grandparents cannot handle the caregiver role of their grandchildren well, this job can eventually become a burden or stressor and bring more severe physical health and emotional issues to grandparents.[31]

However, there are also positive effects of being involved in grandchildren raising. Compared with grandparents who do not provide caregiving to their grandchildren, those who take care of their grandchildren with long hours are more likely to have better cognitive functions.[32] To be more specific, taking care of grandchildren helps elder grandparents maintain their mental capacities in later life, they are also less likely to develop diseases such as dementia.[33] Moreover, frequent interactions with their grandchildren could reduce the cognitive aging process, allowing grandparents a chance to live a more vibrant and active life.[15][32] Grandparents also get benefits of physically exercising more during this process.[34]

Taking care of grandchildren can also have benefits on grandparents’ emotional health. As an example, many grandparents start to feel a sense of purpose and meaning in life again after their retirement; as another example, their ties with their adult children and grandchildren are also strengthened.[35] Many grandparents also think of the caregiving experience as positive because it provides another chance for them to make up mistakes they made with their own children and give them more opportunities to educate their grandchildren and improve their parenting styles.[36] 

Cultural comparisons of grandparent involvement in childcare[edit]

Grandparental involvement differs between Western and Eastern cultures. Grandparents taking care of their grandchildren is a common phenomenon in China due to Chinese traditions which emphasize family harmony, collective well-being, intergenerational exchanges and filial responsibilities.[31] China’s unique philosophies, Buddhism and Taoism, play important roles in forming these cultural values. While Chinese Buddhism emphasizes prioritized role of the family in Chinese society and harmonious relations among family members,[37] Taoism emphasizes the importance of harmony in interpersonal relations and relations between nature and the humans.[38] These philosophies underline the important role that families play in Chinese cultures. Besides cultural factors, grandparents taking care of their grandchildren also appears in the context in which their adult children need to work full-time, and the child care services are either too expensive (in big cities) or too scarce (in remote areas).[39][31] Grandparents serving as their grandchildren’s caregiver is particularly common in rural China. Due to the fast development of urbanization in China since the 1980s, up to 220 million migrant workers from rural areas move to urban areas to seek for more job opportunities, which leave around 58 million children behind in rural areas,[39] grandparents, therefore, undertake the role of parents and become caregivers to their grandchildren. A new population named “left-behind grandparents”[40] appears in this context, these grandparents live in rural China, and their main job is to look after their grandchildren, most of these grandparents are facing financial burdens and wish their adult children could come back. The mental and physical health of “left-behind grandparents” needs more attention from the public.[41] Even though in urban areas where child care services are available, nearly all grandparents still prefer to take care of their grandchildren voluntarily. Not only because this can reduce their adult children’s financial burdens on child care services but also taking care of their own grandchildren is a more effective way to maintain family harmony.[31]

In the USA, taking care of grandchildren is not a necessary responsibility of grandparents. Grandparents taking care of their grandchildren is often caused by involuntary events or crisis, and it is more like a solution to a problem, not an initiative desire, which is a distinct difference from that in China.[30] For example, grandparents in the USA often take care of their grandchildren when their adult children get into troubles such as substance abuse, incarceration or parental death.[30][42] Differences also exist in different ethnicities in the USA, Caucasian individuals generally regard individual independence as more important, so grandparents are less likely to take care of their grandchildren. However, African American and Latino individuals are more likely to regard looking after grandchildren as a family tradition and are more willing to provide help for their adult children.[43] Ethnic differences in grandparents looking after their grandchildren reflect different cultural values that different ethnic groups hold. To be more specific, African American grandparents are more likely to provide guidance and discipline to their grandchildren due to their flexible family system in which relatives, nonblood kin are all willing to help each other.[44] Latino families have a strong preference to live together and keep frequent contact with family members because most of them are immigrants or first-generation born in the USA, they are more likely to live and function as a unit. Grandparents in Latino culture also play important roles in stabilizing the family unit as family leaders.[45] Although Caucasian grandparents are less likely to raise their grandchildren,[46] they have more cognitive or physical burdens of taking care of grandchildren compared with other ethnic groups,[47] mainly because their caregiver roles are less normative, and they rely more on remote or companionate parenting styles. On the contrary, African American and Latino grandparents rely more on disciplinary and instructional parenting styles and they are less likely to have cognitive or physical burdens when taking care of their grandchildren.[48]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


A grandfather teaching his granddaughter to use a kick scooter
A grandmother playing with her grandson
Timurid conqueror Babur seeks the advice of his grandmother.
  1. ^Wong, Kate. "The Mysterious Downfall of the Neandertals". Scientific American. Retrieved 2013-03-24. 
  2. ^Caspari, R. (2012). "The Evolution of Grandparents". Scientific American. 22: 38. doi:10.1038/scientificamericanhuman1112-38. 
  3. ^Dale, Philip S.; Ingram, David, eds. (1981), Child language, an international perspective: selected papers from the First International Congress for the Study of Child Language, 1, Baltimore, Maryland: University Park Press, p. 275, ISBN 978-0-8391-1608-0, OCLC 6863252 
  4. ^"Family Tree & Family History at". Retrieved 2013-03-24. 
  5. ^"Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 2013-03-24. 
  6. ^"Online Etymology Dictionary". 1957-10-01. Retrieved 2013-03-24. 
  7. ^ abcdefgEllis, Renee; Simmons, Tavia (October 2014). "Coresident Grandparents and Their Grandchildren: 2012"(PDF). 
  8. ^ abcdGlaser, Karen; Price, Debora; Montserrat, Eloi Ribe; di Gessa, Giorgio; Tinker, Anthea (March 2013). "Grandparenting in Europe: Family policy and grandparents' role in providing childcare". Grandparents Plus. 
  9. ^ ab"Family Survey 2015"(PDF). Family Council. November 2016. 
  10. ^Ko, Pei-Chun; Hank, Karsten (2013). "Grandparents caring for grandchildren in China and Korea: Findings from CHARLS and KLoSA". Journals of Gerontology Series B. 69: 646–651. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbt129. 
  11. ^ abThang, Leng Leng; Mehta, Kalyani; Usui, Tsuneo; Tsuruwaka, Mari (2011-12-01). "Being a Good Grandparent: Roles and Expectations in Intergenerational Relationships in Japan and Singapore". Marriage & Family Review. 47 (8): 548–570. doi:10.1080/01494929.2011.619303. ISSN 0149-4929. 
  12. ^ abKim, Hye Jin (2017-02-02). "Grandparents providing care for grandchildren and employment status of grandparents in South Korea". Journal of Women & Aging. 30 (1): 1–13. doi:10.1080/08952841.2016.1259443. ISSN 0895-2841. PMID 28151086. 
  13. ^Arber, Sara; Timonen, Virpi (2012). "Grandparenting in the 21st century: New directions". In Arber, Sara; Timonen, Virpi. Contemporary Grandparenting: Changing Family Relationships in Global Contexts. Great Britain: The Policy Press. pp. 247–264. 
  14. ^Lam, TianYuan; Lam, Chun Bun; Chan, Kevin Ka-Shing (2017). "Grandparental involvement and young adults' cognitive and social adjustment: The moderating role of filial piety in Hong Kong". Journal of Social and Personal Relationships: 1–20. 
  15. ^ abcdeDunifon, Rachel (2012). "The influence of grandparents on the lives of children and adolescents". Child Development Perspectives. 7: 55–60. doi:10.1111/cdep.12016. 
  16. ^ abcMargaret, Platt Jendrek (1994). "Grandparents who parent their grandchildren: circumstances and decisions". The Gerontologist. 34: 206–216. 
  17. ^Kataoka-Yahiro, Merle; Ceria, Clementina; Caulfield, Rick (2004). "Grandparent caregiving role in ethnically diverse families". Journal of Pediatric Nursing. 19: 315–328. doi:10.1016/j.pedn.2004.05.010. 
  18. ^Stykes, Bart; Manning, Wendy D.; Brown, Susan L. "Grandparenthood in the U.S.: Residence Status of Grandparents"(PDF). Retrieved November 20, 2017. 
  19. ^ abXu, Ling; Chi, Iris (2015). "Ageing and grandparenting in Asia". In Quah, Stella R. Routledge handbook of families in Asia. New York: Routledge. pp. 246–258. 
  20. ^ abBarnett, Melissa A.; Scaramella, Laura V.; Neppl, Tricia K.; Ontai, Lenna L.; Conger, Rand D. (2010). "Grandmother involvement as a protective factor for early childhood social adjustment". Journal of Family Psychology. 24: 635–645. doi:10.1037/a0020829. PMC 2976599. PMID 20954774. 
  21. ^ abRuiz, Sarah A.; Silverstein, Merril (2007). "Relationships with grandparents and the emotional well-being of late adolescent and young adult grandchildren". Journal of Social Issues. 63: 793–808. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.2007.00537.x. 
  22. ^Yorgason, Jeremy B; Padilla-Walker, Laura; Jackson, Jami (2011). "Nonresidential grandparents' emotional and financial involvement in relation to early adolescent grandchild outcomes". Journal of Research on Adolescence. 21: 552–558. doi:10.1111/j.1532-7795.2010.00735.x. 
  23. ^ abFergusson, Emma; Maughan, Barbara; Golding, Jean (2007). "Which children receive grandparental care and what effect does it have?". Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 49: 161–169. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2007.01840.x. 
  24. ^Pulgaron, Elizabeth R.; Marchante, Ashley N.; Agosto, Yaray; Lebron, Cynthia N.; Delamater, Alan M. (2016). "Grandparent involvement and children's health outcomes: the current state of the literature". Families, Systems & Health. 34: 260–269. doi:10.1037/fsh0000212. 
  25. ^Winefield, Helen; Air, Tracy (2010). "Grandparenting". International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare. 8 (4): 277–283. doi:10.1111/j.1744-1609.2010.00187.x. 
  26. ^Baker, Lindsey A.; Silverstein, Merril (2008-09-08). "Depressive Symptoms Among Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: The Impact of Participation in Multiple Roles". Journal of Intergenerational Relationships. 6 (3): 285–304. doi:10.1080/15350770802157802. ISSN 1535-0770. PMC 2772115. PMID 19890447. 
  27. ^Lee, Sunmin; Colditz, Graham; Berkman, Lisa; Kawachi, Ichiro (2003-11-01). "Caregiving to Children and Grandchildren and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Women". American Journal of Public Health. 93 (11): 1939–1944. doi:10.2105/ajph.93.11.1939. ISSN 0090-0036. 
  28. ^Musil, Carol; Warner, Camille; Zauszniewski, Jaclene; Wykle, May; Standing, Theresa (2008-11-19). "Grandmother Caregiving, Family Stress and Strain, and Depressive Symptoms". Western Journal of Nursing Research. 31 (3): 389–408. doi:10.1177/0193945908328262. 
  29. ^Ehrle, Glenda M.; Day, H. D. (1994-02-01). "Adjustment and family functioning of grandmothers rearing their grandchildren". Contemporary Family Therapy. 16 (1): 67–82. doi:10.1007/bf02197603. ISSN 0892-2764. 
  30. ^ abcHayslip, Bert; Kaminski, Patricia L. (2005-04-01). "Grandparents Raising Their Grandchildren: A Review of the Literature and Suggestions for Practice". The Gerontologist. 45 (2): 262–269. doi:10.1093/geront/45.2.262. ISSN 0016-9013. 
  31. ^ abcdZhou, Jing; Mao, Weiyu; Lee, Yura; Chi, Iris (2016-01-04). "The Impact of Caring for Grandchildren on Grandparents' Physical Health Outcomes: The Role of Intergenerational Support". Research on Aging. 39 (5): 612–634. doi:10.1177/0164027515623332. 
  32. ^ abArpino, Bruno; Bordone, Valeria (2014-04-01). "Does Grandparenting Pay Off? The Effect of Child Care on Grandparents' Cognitive Functioning". Journal of Marriage and Family. 76 (2): 337–351. doi:10.1111/jomf.12096. ISSN 1741-3737. 
  33. ^Hauser, Robert M.; Weir, David (2010-03-01). "Recent developments in longitudinal studies of aging in the United States". Demography. 47 (1): S111–S130. doi:10.1353/dem.2010.0012. ISSN 0070-3370. 
  34. ^Hughes, Mary Elizabeth; Waite, Linda J.; LaPierre, Tracey A.; Luo, Ye (2007-03-01). "All in the Family: The Impact of Caring for Grandchildren on Grandparents' Health". The Journals of Gerontology: Series B. 62 (2): S108–S119. doi:10.1093/geronb/62.2.s108. ISSN 1079-5014. 
  35. ^Xu, Ling; Tang, Fengyan; Li, Lydia W.; Dong, Xin Qi (2017-07-01). "Grandparent Caregiving and Psychological Well-Being Among Chinese American Older Adults—The Roles of Caregiving Burden and Pressure". The Journals of Gerontology: Series A. 72 (suppl_1): S56–S62. doi:10.1093/gerona/glw186. ISSN 1079-5006. 
  36. ^Crowther, Martha R.; Huang, Chao-Hui (Sylvia); Allen, Rebecca S. (2015-09-02). "Rewards and unique challenges faced by African-American custodial grandmothers: the importance of future planning". Aging & Mental Health. 19 (9): 844–852. doi:10.1080/13607863.2014.967175. ISSN 1360-7863. PMID 25345592. 
  37. ^Lee, Kin Cheung (George); Oh, Alice; Zhao, Qianru; Wu, Fang-Yi; Chen, Shiyun; Diaz, Thomas; Ong, Chez Kuang (2017-07-03). "Repentance in Chinese Buddhism: Implications for Mental Health Professionals". Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health. 19 (3): 210–226. doi:10.1080/19349637.2016.1204258. ISSN 1934-9637. 
  38. ^Chen, Ellen Marie; Center, Philosophy Documentation (1969-08-01). "Nothingness and the Mother Principle in Early Chinese Taoism". International Philosophical Quarterly. 9 (3): 391–405. doi:10.5840/ipq19699332. 
  39. ^ abCong, Zhen; Silverstein, Merril (April 2012). "Caring for grandchildren and intergenerational support in rural China: a gendered extended family perspective". Ageing & Society. 32 (3): 425–450. doi:10.1017/s0144686x11000420. ISSN 1469-1779. 
  40. ^滕雪. "【吾老吾幼·大山深处的留守】留守祖母:大山深处的奉献与思念_新闻频道_央视网(". Retrieved 2017-11-23. 
  41. ^"留守奶奶去世多日无人知 1岁半孙女险饿死". Retrieved 2017-11-23. 
  42. ^Minkler, Meredith; Driver, Diane; Roe, Kathleen M.; Bedeian, Katherine (1993-12-01). "Community Interventions To Support Grandparent Caregivers". The Gerontologist. 33 (6): 807–811. doi:10.1093/geront/33.6.807. ISSN 0016-9013.

My grandmother was fearless. Yet if I asked her about the past, she would start crying. What kind of monster would have questioned her? So I resisted and now it is too late.

She and her husband, my maternal grandparents, were Hungarians. Or so I thought. They spoke Hungarian, impenetrably, to each other. Even after 50 years in Britain, their accents remained so strong that kindly strangers would direct them to tourist attractions. To my sister and me, their English-born grandchildren, they seemed entirely, comically foreign. Daring, touchy and fond of puns, prone to expansive hand gestures and public emotion, they were the big-eyebrowed and ferocious heirs of Dracula and Attila the Hun. We saw them weekly, took them on holiday, ate their garlicky food and waved our hands around as they did – how could we not have inherited the Magyar temperament? Our father's family, equally foreign, just as marked by tragedy and courage but harder to define, was quietly and unfairly sidelined. We were too busy being proudly Hungarian; it explained us.

I was in my 30s before I noticed something peculiar. My grandmother always told people she was Czech. I couldn't ask her about it. A central tenet of Hungarianness, or at least my grandparents' variety of it, was the protection of young relatives from any reference to death or sadness and our family history involved too much of both.

Besides, there was the crying. So my monumental ignorance persisted, and my innocence: about her numerous lost sisters, her murdered parents, my sweet, handsome grandfather; about skiing to school or being a Communist, an early female student at Charles University, a refugee. I had a dim phonetic knowledge of the name of her and my grandfather's villages, yet they seemed not to exist in my atlas. I asked a second cousin for information, but the napkin-map she drew seemed to involve Transylvania, the Carpathian mountains, Ukraine.

Old people make mistakes. The young know best, and my grandmother was so clearly Hungarian. She spoke the language, for God's sake! What else could she possibly be? But she was growing old. I decided that, as her (I hoped) favourite grandchild, it was my duty to preserve her memories. "Just talk normally," I said, as I recorded her voice on to tapes I no longer have the technology to play. Weeping matter-of-factly throughout, she told me extraordinary stories: how Czech Catholics helped her, although she was a young Jewish woman ("they didn't care, they didn't want Hitler either"); how, with illegal passport stamps, no money and her family facing horror at home, she strode on to the last train out of Prague, hit a policeman, escaped to England, became a maid and then a cook, writing to her sisters in concentration camps, refusing to give up.

"So," I said bravely at the end. "You are Hungarian?"

"Don't be funny," she said.

Then the internet was invented and slowly, with one eye closed to avoid the horrible details, I discovered the extraordinary complexities of my grandparents' nationality: born in neighbouring Czechoslovakian towns in Austro-Hungarian TransCarpathia, taught to read in Russian, citizens of extinct Ruthenia, Jewish atheists, seeming entirely Magyar but considering themselves simultaneously Hungarian Czechs and proud English citizens, lifelong Labour voters out of gratitude to the working classes who let them into Britain and saved their lives.

Yet, even as this puzzle was partially solved, another presented itself: the world's most impossible language. Hungarian, as everybody knows, is extraordinarily difficult. Its sole linguistic link is to Finno-Ugric; Finnish inflections sound Hungarian, if you can't hear actual words. On the rare occasions when I meet other Hungarians' grandchildren, disbelief in our absurd ancestral language unites us. For the record, the best Hungarian word means central heating: központi fütés, pronounced kers-pontifutaysh; boldog születésnapot bull-dog soo-lertaishnop (happy birthday) comes a close second. I am as astonished as you are by the spelling.

As children, my sister and I would sit in our grandparents' minuscule kitchen, gorging on sponge fingers and, to our infantile English ears, their language sounded ridiculous: "ongy-bongy, ongy-bongy, vosh-ingmochine." Yet, despite my swotty and preternaturally middle-aged youth, my love for my polyglot grandfather and father, my plans to learn Ancient Greek and read Pepys' diary before I turned 11, I didn't try very hard to master Hungarian. At its peak, my vocabulary never encompassed more than 40 words, none of which I ever learned to spell. Indeed, it barely occurred to me that they could be spelled. Finding them in dictionaries has proved difficult. They were simply sounds, a background commentary: szeretlek – sair-etleck (I love you); néz – nayz (look!); nagyon édes! – nodj-yon ey-desh! (very sweet); yoy (actually a Yiddish multi-purpose exclamation).

It is only in adulthood that I realise the value of my 40 words. I have photographs, strange felt mats, a horrible Czech crystal bell and postcards in foreign-lady writing, but these tell me nothing – they could be a stranger's. All the memories are in the tiny bits of Hungarian I learned from them.

We hear so often about unconditional love and so rarely receive it – I did, I now realise, every time they watched our magnificent gym displays on the living-room rug with straight faces; stood behind me for 30, 40 minutes in WH Smith while I agonised over the Beano versus Whizzer and Chips; sent me jars of apple puree at university. I know that, even at my most unadorable, they adored me.

How could I repay them? By amusing them, of course. I evolved a speciality, a sort of tribute act; I would pretend to order a meal, using as much of my ridiculous vocabulary (paradicsom – por-odichom (tomato); krumpli – croom-pli (potato); mikrohullám – mee-cróhulam (microwave)) as possible. "Good day," I would say to the imaginary waiter, "how are you? Dressing-gown potatoes! Hot tomatoes! No! Thank you very much!", until tears of (I think) laughter ran down their cheeks.

This became easier once I had persuaded them to teach me the numbers one to 10, which I mastered with colossal effort. They seemed proud of my triumph but oddly reluctant to tell me more. Their friends forced language classes and folk-dance lessons on their grandchildren; they did not. They were ambivalent about Hungary, for reasons they did not discuss. But now, although my grandparents are long dead, I want to hold on to the little I remember. And I still hear three-syllable English words in their accent: mim-ósó; com-putair; Vosh-ington; rid-iculos; and, most of all, von-darefool and tair-ible, which was their response to everything, from poorly chosen mascara (mosc-óró) to sudden death.

So, in their honour, I present a selection – OK, all – of my remaining vocabulary. You will never meet my grandparents, but their lives in England, their enormous influence on me, life-saving love and sense of humour and sadness, is in these words.

Csúnya – choon-yó (ugly)

My grandparents had style. They dressed up for the dentist, the cinema. In rare circumstances of extreme relaxation, such as the seaside, my grandfather would wear a vest under his shirt and a cardigan on top; my badger-haired grandmother, on her 90th birthday, wore bronze leather shoes and plum-sized clip-on earrings. I must have been a colossal disappointment: scruffy, speccy, toothy, pom-pom-haired, without a trace of fashion sense. They never criticised me, whatever the outfit: shorts, worn with a mullet, binoculars, an anxious expression and a Free Nelson Mandela sweatshirt. Yet whenever I leave the house in writing-clothes, I think of what my grandmother would say, and I feel ashamed.

Macska – motch-ko (cat)

Despite my linguistic ignorance I am, in one word only, bilingual, even actively Hungarian. Whenever I see a cat, I think "hello motchko", although my grandparents lived in a flat and did not, as far as I know, like cats.

Köszönöm szépen – kers-enem say-pen (thank you very much)

My grandmother was fantastically generous: not only with money, and visits to "poor sick boys" of 86, and accommodation for acquaintances' nieces' schoolfriends' visiting neighbours, but also in smaller ways. She went nowhere without multi-purpose presents: handkerchiefs, spectacle-cases, "sweeties", small Czech crystal animals. Every milkman or, horrifyingly, teacher, was rewarded; on holiday she left a brooch or a bracelet "for the chambermaid" beside her bed. When she died we found a vast supply of gifts, awaiting distribution.

Popsi – pop-shi (bum); popó – po-po (diminutive – little bumlet)

As the only grandchildren of an elderly Hungarian woman, our bottoms were not our own. Our grandmother and great-aunts were obsessed with pinching and patting them; we'd go upstairs protecting them with our hands, usually in vain. They wanted flesh, the old ladies; it was how they measured our health and youth and, I suspect, the passing of their own.

They were startlingly forthright on this and other physical matters – "Why do you hide your lovely bosom?", "Still your period does not start?", "Darling, I take you to hairdresser. Don't you want to look pretty?" – and my grandmother thought nothing of chatting while she stumped around the flat in firm-control undergarments and orthopaedic rubber clogs. However, on most physical matters, medical, sexual, she was silent. She would never have sworn, or burped, or argued in public; lavatorial matters, even being seen on the way to the toilet, were taboo. And she once became completely hysterical with laughter and embarrassment when I asked her the word for "buttocks"; I insisted, until at last, quite beside herself, she spluttered, popsi – the rudest word I ever heard her say.

Kavitchka – kaa-vitchkó ('little coffee' in my family; coffee in Hungary is 'kávé'); pongyola – pond-yuló (dressing gown)

My Hungarian is domestic. I can't say "sea" or "England", only the words I used to hear during evenings in the grandparental flat, finding their slippers, fetching orange juice from the fridge on legs, foraging in much-washed Pyrex patterned with ghostly harvest scenes. Consequently, to me the scent of paprika and garlic is the smell of home, and I have absorbed their bedtime routine to the point where "to pongyola" has become a normal-seeming verb.

Palacsinta – pol-oshintó (pancake); körözött – ker-erzert (cream cheese spread with caraway and paprika); diostorta – dee-oshtortó (walnut cake); kukorica – koo-koritsó (corn); madártej – mod-arté (îles flottantes or floating islands, literally "bird's milk")

More than anything, I know words for food. My grandmother cooked heroically, like someone in a fairy story. Well into her 80s she would work a six-day week, shop, drive 60 miles to our house and casually produce sour-cherry soup, pancakes filled with cream cheese, lemon rind and raisins, creamed spinach, chicken paprikás and then drive home again, while I moaned about having to clean out the guinea pig. She had a nokedli-maker, from which she would extrude little dumplings into boiling water. She had a mincer, and it is her meatloaf and stuffed cabbage I long for now, like grandchildren the world over: hungering for the cheap and labour-intensive food they believe themselves too busy to recreate. The internet is no help; I need her.

Hogy vagy – hodge vodge (how are you?); szervusz – sare-vus (hello, literally "I am at your service"); kezét csókolom – kez-et choc-olom (children's greeting to older people, literally "I kiss your hand")

My grandparents were heartbreakingly formal; they ate fruit, including bananas, with a knife and fork. Of course many English people are, or were, polite. However, my grandparents' standards were exhausting. As children we were expected to show our elders the greatest respect but, not having grown up in the Austro-Hungarian empire, I lack certain instincts. I still offer my seat to anyone who will let me but should I stand to greet people my age? When an older man approaches a doorway, should I let him through first?

Gyenge – jen-ge (weak)

I have not inherited my grandmother's courage. She would march up strangers' paths to rip boughs of mog-nolió from their gardens; when I visit her at the crematorium, I dare steal only a bit of blossom for her nameplate. Yet I try to be brave in minor ways. How can I not trudge around galleries, swim in icy water, add huge numbers in my head when she could at 85? I have her photograph on my desk to remind me of hard work.

Nem-tudom – nem-toodom (I don't know)

When asked "where are you from?" which happens surprisingly often, I hesitate. Despite my strange prewar BBC accent, my passport, how can I claim to be English with grandparents who sounded as they did? What do I call them, if not Hungarian? I loved everything about them. I miss them more than I can say. And 40 words of their language is all I'll ever know.

Charlotte Mendelson's novel Almost English, published by Mantle on 15 August, £16.99, has been longlisted for the Man Booker prize. To order a copy for £12.99, including free UK p&p, go to or call 0330 333 6846

• This article was amended on 13 August 2013. Several of the Hungarian words were originally misspelt, for which the author takes full responsibility, explaining: 'I should have confirmed them in a dictionary, as I did for the book, but stupidly this time I just checked online and/or relied on memory. It proves that Hungarian is incredibly difficult, but that's no excuse.' 

The errors have been corrected.


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