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Typology of Kinship Terms


Larysa Nikolayeva

A kinship term is defined as a lexical item which is used to name a person who is connected by certain blood relations with other persons or a group of persons. Kinship term systems were first studied scientifically in the latter half of the 19th century by the American anthropological school, whose scholars researched the culture of inhabitants of the North American continent, often drawing on linguistic data from many Indian tribes. This book presents an analysis of structural and semantic peculiarities of kinship terms in forty languages belonging to ten families. It suggests general typological classification of kinship terms and semantic classification of reciprocal kinship terms. A number of typological generalizations – universals – of a probabilistic nature are formulated regarding the structure and semantics of kinship terms.
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Section 5: Typology of The Semantics of Reciprocal Consanguineal Kinship Terms



← 154 | 155 → The group of terms designating reciprocal relationships (hereinafter reciprocal KT), represents a unique phenomenon from the perspective of ethnography and linguistics. In the practice of both disciplines there exist several terms which are used to designate this layer of kinship terminology. They are called mutual (Uaylder 1999), reciprocal (Kroeber 1909; Gokhman 1999) or nonpolar (Murdock 1949) terms.

This group includes terms which differ in their semantic structure from the entire terminological range of LSG being studied. As defined by U.D. Uaylder, they are based on a symmetry or equivalency in which one may speak of “zero kinship”, i.e., not that there is no kinship, but that there is no genealogical distance between relatives (Uaylder 1999, 9). This means that one and the same lexical item is used to designate two or several relatives.

Alfred Kroeber believed that “reciprocal KT are formed when all people related by kinship expressed using a single term, use it (the term) to name all those who use that term with respect to them” (Dziebel 1998(1), 138).

Robert Lowie was of the opinion that reciprocal KT serve to designate not so much relatives as kinship itself. They unite relatives of different generations. And it is impossible to determine who is older (Dziebel 1998(1), 138).

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