Ar 1:12 PM -0400 9/22/98, scríobh Francine Nicholson:
> Do I understand correctly that there is another word that
>carries the generic meaning of "nephew" while nia is specifically
>"sister's son" with its special role in the society?
There was no generic term for 'nephew' in Old Irish, as far as
I know, nor for 'niece', 'uncle', 'aunt', or 'cousin' either.
Irish has generally preferred to use a phrase to exactly describe
the relationship, so that "a cousin of mine" (male? female? father's
side? mother's side?) is narrowly defined: "mac deartháir athar liom"
(= son of brother of father with-me). The alternative in this case
is to use a term from a complex system measuring consanguinity as
an incest issue. "Col" means "incest" or "prohibition".
col ceathrair = first cousin (lit., col of four)
col cúigir = first cousin once removed (col of five)
col seisir = second cousin (col of six)
Irish has borrowed the English words "aunt" (aint) and "uncle"
(uncail), and has revived the Old Irish words "nia" (= nephew in
general, not just "sister's son") and "neacht" (= niece, although
it's meaning in OI is somewhat uncertain). Scottish Gaelic has
borrowed English "cousin" as "ciosan" although the preferred term
is "co-ogha" (co-grandchild, first cousin), but has resisted using
"aunt" and "uncle", sticking instead with the descriptive "piuthar
athar, piuthar màthar", etc.
To get back to "nia", there is a very useful article by Tomás Ó
Cathasaigh in _Peritia_ vol.5, 1986, called "The Sister's Son in
Early Irish Literature". A few tidbits of terminology:
The societal role of the the "sister's son" was important enough
that there were two common terms for it, "nia" and "gormac". The
latter literally means "dutiful-filial-'warm' son" (cf. "goire" =
filial duty, duty toward incapacitated relatives). Gormac could
also mean "adopted son" and in Modern Irish means "grandson".
Old Irish also had a specific term for "maternal uncle", the
correlative of "sister's son": "amnair". Although it dropped out
of use in literature early on, "amhnair" was still remembered as
the proper term for "mother's brother" by some older Irish speakers
on Tory Island. For "paternal uncle" there was only "bráthair athar"
(= father's brother) in OI.
Hoping this is of interest,