Varikin Findings: There are no universals in the cultural evolution of kinship terminology

There is huge potential for variation between kinship terminology (systems of words for relatives) cross-culturally. In fact, for a set of 16 relatives, there are 10,480,142,147 theoretically possible ways to categorise them. Given the potential for effectively unbridled variation in kinship terminology, observed diversity seems remarkably constrained, and has previously been categorised into six key … Read more

Varikin Findings: How Pama-Nyungan Grandparent Naming Systems Change

The VariKin project has examined the cultural evolution of kinship terminology from a range of perspectives and methods. Considerable research by our group and others has focused on the comparison of cousin and sibling terms, but grandparent terms, the topic of this paper, are largely understudied. The social salience of grandparents, due to their frequent … Read more

New paper on Murrinhpatha children’s understanding of kinship lexicon and grammar (post by Dr Alice Mitchell)

Among the vast number of things children need to learn about language is how to appropriately refer to other people. One way to do this is to use kinship terms—words like ‘great-grandmother’, ‘brother-in-law’, or ‘sister’. The particular set of kinterms a child needs to know will obviously depend on the languages they’re learning to speak. … Read more

A second-hand treasure

Finding classic ethnography in second-hand bookstores or charity shops is one of my great pleasures. This weekend I rumbled a copy of Te Rangi Hiroa Sir Peter Buck’s “The Coming of the Maori” for the bargain sum of £2.50.         Te Rangi Hiroa was an amazing man – an anthropologist, politician, doctor, health … Read more

[scrapbook] On generalizing from case studies

Köbben (1970 and in other papers) was concerned with the folly of making general statements based on case studies. In his study of the Siriono of Bolivia, Holmberg (1950) concluded that hunting and gathering tribes tended to be underfed and obsessed by food. From his celebrated study of Western European nations during the 1880s and 1890s, … Read more

[scrapbook] the fundamental and the freakish

From Adam Kuper’s Huxley lecture: Kuper, A. 2008. “Changing the Subject About Cousin Marriage, Among Other Things.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 14, 717-735. Malinowski never delivered a Huxley lecture, but I will give him the last word in mine. In a note for a never completed textbook he remarked that when he … Read more

[scrapbook] On the value of comparative anthropology

From: Burton, M, C Moore, J Whiting, A Romney. 1996. “Regions Based on Social Structure.” Current Anthropology 37 (1) (February 1): 87–123. I often go back to this paper. The analyses themselves are interesting (bottom-up culture regions based on the data rather than geography) but problematic (correspondence analysis on non-phylogenetically-controlled data). But the remarks in the … Read more

[scrapbook] Morgan’s Question.

From LH Morgan’s introduction to “Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family“: The tables, however, are the main results of this investigation. In their importance and value they reach far beyond any present use of their contents which the writer may be able to indicate. If they can be perfected, and the systems … Read more