kinship terminology


kinship terminology

      in anthropology, the system of names applied to categories of kin standing in relationship to one another. The possibilities for such nomenclature would seem limitless, but anthropologists have identified a small number of basic systems that are found in all world societies. Six of these systems use the criterion of classification of kin in the same generation as “ego,” a given individual designated as the starting point in genealogical (genealogy) reckoning. Four terminological systems that focus on ego's parental generation have also been identified.

      Historically, the systematic study of kinship terminology began with the American ethnologist Lewis Henry Morgan (Morgan, Lewis Henry), whose pioneering work, Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family, was published in 1871. An important element in Morgan's formulation was the distinction between classificatory and descriptive systems of kinship. In a classificatory system some collateral kin—relatives not in ego's direct line of descent or ancestry—are placed in the same terminological grouping as lineal kin—relatives in ego's direct line of descent. Classificatory systems such as that of the Iroquois designate the father and his brother, and conversely the mother and her sister, by the same term. In many societies with unilineal descent—that is, systems that emphasize either the mother's or the father's line, but not both—ego uses one set of terms to refer to brothers, sisters, and parallel cousins (those whose genealogical ties are traced through a related parent of the same sex, as in a father's brother or a mother's sister), while another set of terms is employed for cross-cousins (cross-cousin) (the offspring of a father's sister or a mother's brother). This arrangement emphasizes the fact that cross-cousins do not belong to the lineage with ego, ego's siblings, and ego's parallel cousins, thus designating marriage between cross-cousins as exogamous (exogamy).

      Descriptive terminology, in contrast to classificatory terminology, maintains a separation between lineal and collateral kin; for example, mother and mother's sister, although of the same generation and sex, are distinguished. Descriptive systems are typically found wherever the nuclear family operates as a relatively autonomous unit economically and socially; as a result, they are relatively rare in ethnographic literature.

      The standard European-American system of kinship uses descriptive terminology, but it also demonstrates that the distinction between descriptive and classificatory kinship systems is not absolute. In contemporary U.S. social organization, for example, kinship terminology distinguishes lineal members of ego's generation (siblings) from collateral members of ego's generation (cousins) but, with the exception of father, groups the men of the previous generation together, so that mother's brother, mother's sister's husband, father's brother, and father's sister's husband are all referred to by the term uncle.

      Kinship systems convey important social information, but the problem of the cultural meanings and correct translations of kinship terminology has proved to be intractable. To a great extent, this is because kinship terms represent the competing realms of social and genetic relatedness; thus, it cannot be assumed that two or more persons for whom ego uses a single term are socially indistinguishable. For example, although it is quite common for all men of ego's parental generation to be called by a single term (e.g., to use the same kin term for father and uncles), nobody in such a community would confuse ego's biological father with the other men in that generational cohort. One method used by anthropologists to avoid bias is the development of a precise descriptive language. For example, when a father and his brother are referred to by the same term within a kinship system, the anthropologist may express the position of father's brother as “a male agnatic relative of the ascending generation.”

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Kinship terminology — Genitor redirects here. For the light cavalryman, see Jinete. Kinship terminology refers to the various systems used in languages to refer to the persons to whom an individual is related through kinship. Different societies classify kinship… …   Wikipedia

  • kinship — is one of the main organizing principles of human society, and kinship systems have been extensively studied by social anthropologists , for whom they are of particular importance because of their primacy in non state societies. Kinship systems… …   Dictionary of sociology

  • kinship — /kin ship/, n. 1. the state or fact of being of kin; family relationship. 2. relationship by nature, qualities, etc.; affinity. [1825 35; KIN + SHIP] Syn. 1. See relationship. 1, 2. connection. 2. bearing. * * * Socially recognized relationship… …   Universalium

  • Kinship — For other uses, see Kinship (disambiguation). Relationships …   Wikipedia

  • kinship system — noun (anthropology) the system of social relationships that constitute kinship in a particular culture, including the terminology that is used and the reciprocal obligations that are entailed • Topics: ↑anthropology • Hypernyms: ↑arrangement,… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Chinese kinship — The Chinese kinship system (simplified Chinese: 亲属系统; traditional Chinese: 親屬系統; pinyin: qīn shǔ xì tǒng) is classified as a Sudanese kinship system (also referred to as the Descriptive system ) used to define family. Identified by Lewis Henry… …   Wikipedia

  • Eskimo kinship — (also referred to as Lineal kinship) is a concept of kinship used to define family in anthropology. Identified by Lewis Henry Morgan in his 1871 work Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family, the Eskimo system was one of six… …   Wikipedia

  • Serbo-Croatian kinship — Part of a series on the Culture of Serbia Arts …   Wikipedia

  • Fictive kinship — is the process of giving someone a kinship title and treating them in many ways as if they had the actual kinship relationship implied by the title. People with this relationship are known as fictive kin. Fictive kinship is also known as… …   Wikipedia

  • Crow kinship — is a kinship system used to define family. Identified by Lewis Henry Morgan in his 1871 work Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family, the Crow system is one of the six major kinship systems (Eskimo, Hawaiian, Iroquois, Crow,… …   Wikipedia


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.