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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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General Conclusions


1. Kinship terms as one of the most ancient layers of the lexicon in each language demonstrate a certain similarity and difference in their morphological and semantic structure.

This work analyzed 1,008 KT of 40 languages belonging to 10 language families (see the Introduction).

2. Depending on the number of KT representing kinship LSG, five degrees of group fullness were identified in each language. The most widespread turned out to be degree II (15 languages out of the 40), whose boundaries include 20-29 linguistic units (see Section 2.8).

3. Analysis of the morphological structure of KT evidences that the core of the paradigm is comprised of KT with a simple morphological structure, in contrast to KT located closer to the periphery and having a more complex structural form. This fact is explained in part from the position of the theory of markedness and “natural morphology,” according to which semantically simpler meanings are more easily encoded than complex ones (cf. Kaliuščenko 2000, 133). Complication of the semantics of KT by additional features is reflected in their structure, i.e., semantically more complicated lexical items also have a more complicated formal structure.

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