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Hearing the word “family,” it’s quite normal to reminisce of holidays spent traveling in packed cars with one’s siblings and parents, of gift giving and festive meals, of white-haired, cheek-pinching grandmothers, of back-yard barbeques and celebrations. In the traditional sense, “Family” has generally come to refer to this group of people, those who are related by blood or marriage. But the term today actually has several other meanings as well (especially in the American English vernacular) and carries various sociolinguistic implications: the term, for one, applies to people who are as close on a personal level as family, if not more so. “Family” can refer to those who may belong to the same religious or spiritual group or community. Lastly, “Family” also has scientific meanings, one of which refers to a group of objects associated by a significant shared characteristic.
Quite naturally, “family” refers to one’s blood-relatives – such as one’s immediate family: one’s brothers and sisters and parents; and then one’s extended family: one’s grandparents, cousins, nephews, uncles and aunts, et al. But, then again, since the social institution of marriage is constantly evolving, notions of the family are also bound to be changing and having different meanings for everyone. For example, some people’s family may include other people who are not even related to them through marriage or blood or adoption. They may be their most cherished of friends or life companions and even future spouses. Bonds with these kinds of family members are sometimes stronger than the ones shared by siblings. Because society should not decide who exactly one is allowed to consider family, it should be accepted and even encouraged for people to consider their best friends and companions as family, even if they’re not related through blood or marriage.
Secondly, while “family” most certainly refers to one’s immediate family, the term can also include all the descendants of a common ancestor. And since many religions, such as Christianity and Islam, consider themselves and others the children of God or Allah, believers of those religions are believed to be familial to others who practice the same faith. Also, “family” can refer to those who belong to the same, immediate faith-based community, if they attend the same local church, synagogue, or mosque. People who are part of these communities do spend a great deal of time together, attend many of the same events and ceremonies, and consider themselves part of their “Christian” or “Islamic” family.
And, finally, although “family” does suggest a group of people united by blood or marriage, it can also refer to a group of animals, or any group of objects, with a similar characteristic. For example, a fox is a carnivorous mammal of the dog family, with its pointed muzzle and bushy tail. The common characteristic in this example is the fox being part of a species of animal – the dog family – because it shares similar physical traits, DNA and even similar habits of survival with the dog. In such a scientifically and technologically developed society, most people would be able to understand the context of “family” used as a way that indicates a group with a shared feature or attribute.
In conclusion, people in the 21st century, as a whole, see, understand and use the word “family” in different ways. So a person should not be caught off-guard if another refers to their life companion or best friend as family, or if by “family,” a person means the people who attend their local church; and, once again, a person who says that a certain flower or group of flowers belong to the “rose family,” most people will understand the context of “family.” And since the social institution of family is changing, one may inquire if the change is detrimental or beneficial, though it is a question that is quite subjective in nature.