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Kinship terminology and the evolution of semantic systems


Jordan,  Fiona
Evolutionary Processes in Language and Culture, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Jordan, F. (2010). Kinship terminology and the evolution of semantic systems. Talk presented at Integrating Genetic and Cultural Approaches to Language [CEE 2010 Symposium]. London, UK. 2010-02-26 - 2010-02-26.

Kinship terminologies express how societies encode familial relationships in language. While words such as "schwester", "soror", and "sister" have evolutionary histories particular to their language families or areas, patterns of equivalence among a language's terms (such as calling all cousins your "brothers" and "sisters", or referring to one's mother's brother and sister's son with the same term) are recurrent worldwide. Such equivalence patterns have long been thought of as tightly-bound semantic systems, rather than independent "bits" of culture, but the evolutionary processes underlying this type of language-culture coevolution remain poorly understood. I'll demonstrate using Indo-European and Austronesian examples how we can use phylogenetic comparative methods to track changes in the form of kinship words along with changes in their meaning. We aim to understand the worldwide diversity in semantic categories of kin-types, the dynamics of how they evolve, and how these sematic categories may relate to important human social behaviours.