Dene-Caucasian Kinship and Dene-Caucasian Kinship Terms

June 26th, 2015

John Bengtson and George Starostin have posted a synopsis of the current status of the Dene-Caucasian, or Dene-Sino-Caucasian hypothesis. While any long-range linguistic proposal faces considerable challenges gaining acceptance among mainstream historical linguists who specialize in the reconstruction of first-order language families, Dene-Caucasian, according to Bengtson & Starostin, is a hypothesis that “offers the most logical, simple, and systemic explanation to a set of stunning similarities that manifest themselves as exclusive links between a number of linguistic taxa.” Kinship terms rarely furnish good material to test long-range linguistic connections but Dene-Caucasian is somewhat special in this regard because there is a number of intriguing similarities not only between the grammatical and lexical properties of Dene-Caucasian kinship terms from Na-Dene all the way west to Basque but also between the developmental trajectories inferred for Dene-Caucasian grammatical and kinship terminological structures. Bengtson & Starostin observe that

“the original stage [in the linguistic evolution of Dene-Caucasian.-G.D.] was characterized by significant complexity of phonology and a system of noun classification that permeated the whole morphological structure.”

And this is the precisely the conclusion I reached when comparing Dene-Caucasian sibling terminologies (The Genius of Kinship, 324-5). Yeniseian and North Caucasian sibling terms sets are radically simplified compared to Proto-Na-Dene sets, while Sino-Tibetan, Burushaski and Basque sets are intermediate (with a couple of Sino-Tibetan languages showing apparent structural archaisms placing them closer to Proto-Na-Dene systems). All sibling terminologies progressively undergo simplification but the dramatic drop in the internal diversification of the sibling set between Na-Dene, on the one hand, and Yeniseian and North Caucasian, on the other, is remarkable. Similarly, grandparental terminological complexity reconstructible for Proto-Na-Dene must have undergone simplification in the other Dene-Caucasian branches. Both diachronic tendencies fit the above description by Bengtson & Starostin of the grammatical changes affecting the putative Dene-Caucasian phylum.

Bengtson & Starostin go on to write:

“As the Na-Dene family developed separately in what is now Alaska, the overt class marking of nouns diminished, while the marking of verbs remained fully developed and, perhaps, even extended. The level of phonetic complexity in Na-Dene remained relatively high, probably because most of the non-DSC Native American languages, with whom speakers of Na-Dene had to have areal interaction, were fairly complex in that regard themselves.”

This assessment of Na-Dene grammatical and phonological conservatism again finds confirmation in Na-Dene kinship terminologies. Although kinship terminologies in all Na-Dene branches underwent noticeable changes, our best perspective on the original Dene-Caucasian kinship terminological system comes from Proto-Na-Dene.

Of special interest to the students of comparative kinship terms in Eurasia is the proposed reconstruction of Dene-noun prefixes (see below, Table 7).

KinshipStudies-DeneCaucasianNounPrefixes copyThe origin of Basque osaba ‘uncle’ and iseba ‘aunt’ is clarified by comparing the initial formants o– and i– to the pervasive and productive North Caucasian noun prefixes such as Avar was ‘son’ vs. yas ‘daughter’, wac ‘brother’ vs. yac ‘sister’. Notably, in Na-Dene the potential cognate (e.g., y– in Eyak yahs ‘woman’s child’ or in Birket-Smith & De Laguna’s [The Eyak Indians of the Copper River Delta, Alaska, 1938, 566] notation siac, with a possessive prefix s-) indexes Ego-Gender and not Alter-Gender. Harry Hoijer (“Athabascan Kinship Systems,” 1956, 330, no. 50) reconstructs –yaze ‘woman’s son’ for Proto-Athabascan but a number of other forms for children (nos. 48-52) show a similar prefix (see below).

KinshipStudies-AthabascanHoijer copy


This is very much in agreement with the presence of Ego-Gender in Proto-Na-Dene sibling terminologies – precisely the feature that gives the only New World branch of Dene-Caucasian its archaic complexity, which is barely found in the Sino-Caucasian languages of the Old World (see above).

Note also how Alter-Gender is neutralized in both Eyak yahs, Avar –as ‘child’ and Basque –saba ‘parent’s sibling’ (without the noun prefixes), a semantic development that likely reflects an archaic emphasis on Ego-Gender vs. Alter-Gender.

Basque –saba ‘parent’s sibling’ (with fossilized possessive s-?) is intriguing in the light of Navaho shibizhi ‘father’s sibling; step-father’. Navaho and Western Apache are unique among Na-Dene languages in neutralizing Alter-Gender in the terms for ‘parent’s sibling’ (see Opler, “The Kinship Systems of the Southern Athabaskan-Speaking Tribes,” 1936) and this is precisely the development observed in Basque. Nav shibizhi was extended to ‘father’s brother’ from the original concept ‘father’s sister’ (Proto-Athabascan *ma-, *me-, *metce ‘father’s sister’ in Hoijer 1956 (see below, although in the light of Basque –seba one may need to reconstruct *ba-, *be-, *betce).

KinshipStudies-AthabascanHoijerFZ copy

It’s likely that the Proto-Na-Dene term for ‘father’s sister’ also covered its reciprocal, namely ‘woman’s brother’s children’ (as in Navaho and Western Apache) – an ancient semantic pattern altogethaer missing from Basque. Bengtson & Starostin lament that Na-Dene internal reconstruction is still work-in-progress and this fully applies to Proto-Na-Dene kinship systems. This is what Kroeber (“Athabascan Kin Term Systems,” 1937) had to say about the cognates of Nav shibizhi:


Finally, a note on the possible connection between Dene-Caucasian and Kartvelian sibling sets. I have already pointed out (also The Genius of Kinship, 325-6) that the structural similarity between Basque, Burushaski and Svan (the most divergent of Kartvelian languages) sibling sets is remarkable, while nothing even remotely reminiscent of the Svan sibling set is found among the so-called “Nostratic” languages. One of Svan sibling terms, udil, widil ‘woman’s sister’ (< *udild, *widild) is composed of a fossilized possessive prefix u-, root –d– and a diminutive –ild. The possessive prefix can be compared with the Dene-Caucasian noun prefix u-. It’s quite likely that a generalized possessive prefix evolved from a more specific Ego-Gender marker (‘my, the woman’s, sister’).



Proto-Indo-European Palatovelars and Palatolabiovelars: The End of the Centum-Satem Division of Indo-European Dialects

May 24th, 2015

In an earlier post, I showed that, contrary to the established opinion among Indo-European linguists, PIE labiovelars split into dental, labial and velar reflexes (in various environments) already in PIE times, rather than in the subsequent history of the Greek branch alone. The additional known cases of the labialization of labiovelars in Germanic, Celtic and Italic can now be seen as systematic and interconnected. But, most importantly, a more nuanced etymological analysis has identified cognate sets that prove the presence of the phenomenon of the labialization and dentalization of labiovelars in the so-called “satem” languages (Indo-Iranian, Balto-Slavic and Armenian).

This re-analysis of PIE labiovelars suggests that the division of IE languages into centum and satem languages is likely to be just an artifact of comparativist methodology. This can now be confirmed by a few new etymologies that show that PIE palatovelars were palatalized into /s/ already in PIE times. This is established by showing that a) palatovelars that are clearly attested as such in “satem” languages are also assibillated in centum languages; b) plain velars across satem and centum dialects alternate with /s/ also across all IE languages. The latter implies that some of the reflexes of PIE palatovelars have been misclassified as “plain” velars by Indo-Europeanists because of the flawed belief in the reality of satem vs. centum languages.

Here is some revealing comparanda:

1. IE *k’erd– ‘heart, core, root’ (Hitt kard, Skrt hrd-, Avest zered-, Gk keer [<*keerd-], kardía, kradíee, Arm sirt, Goth hairto-, Lat cor, Gen. cordis, OIr cride [<*kerdyo-], Lith sirdis, Latv sirdsheart, courage, anger’, OPruss seyr [< *seerd-], Slav *srudice) ~ IE *wrH2d– ‘root, branch’ [EIEC 80] (Gk rhiza root’ [< *sridya], rhadiks ‘branch’ (< *sreH2dikos), rhadamnos ‘branch, shoot’, Lat raadiix ‘root’, raamus ‘branch’, Goth waurts ‘root’, OEng wyrt ‘herb, plant’, OHG wurz ‘plant’, ONorse root ‘root’, OIr freen [< *wrdnio], Welsh gwraidd ‘root’, greddf ‘instinct’, Corn gwreydh ‘root’, Alb rrënjë ‘root’ < *wradnya). In the light of the anlaut of Gk rhiza, one has to reconstruct IE *s(w)reH2d-. The affixation of Lat raadix ‘root’ (< *raadi-c-s) is a perfect match for Slav *srudice ‘heart’, while the affixal morphology of Gk kardía, kradíee is built just like that of rhiza. Welsh greddf ‘instinct’ shows the same “psychological” extension of the primary organic, physiological meaning as Lith sirdis ‘courage, anger’.

In view of w– in Germanic, Celtic and Albanian, it’s possible that the isolated Gk phreen ‘diaphragm; Sitz aller Seelentätigkeit, Sinn, Seele, Geist, Verstand, Herz’ (Frisk, GEW, 1041-2) belongs here as well (if from *FreH2d-n– with an aspiration throwback), although the exact phonetic development is unclear.

2. IE *sro-bh– ‘gulp, ingest noisily’ [EIEC 175] (Hitt srap– ‘gulp’, Gk rhopheoo ‘gulp down’, Lat sorbeo ‘sup, swallow, absorb’, Arm arbi ‘drank’, Lith srebiu ‘sup, spoon’, Latv strebju ‘slurp, spoon’, SlavH1esnos *srubati ‘drink noisily’, Alb gjerb ‘sip’) ~ IE *korm– (Gk korennumi, koresko ‘satiate’, Lat cremor ‘thick juice’, Lith seriu, serti ‘feed’, pasaras ‘fodder’, OIr coirm ‘beer’, Slav *kormiti ‘feed’, kormu ‘fodder’).

3. IE *kreuH– ‘blood’ (Gk krea ‘raw flesh’, kreas ‘piece of meat’, Skrt kravis– ‘raw flesh’, Lat cruor ‘thick blood, gore’, MIr kruu– ‘blood’, Welsh crau ‘blood’, Lith kraujas ‘blood’, OPruss krawjan ‘blood’, Slav *kruvi ‘blood’) ~ IE *sreuH– ‘stream, flow’ (Gk rheoo ‘stream, flow’, rhoos ‘stream’, rheuma, rhuma [< *sreumn-], ‘rheum, bodily fluid’, Skrt sravati ‘flow’, Lith srauja ‘stream’, srava ‘blood flow, menstruation’, Latv strauja, Slav *struja ‘stream’. The semantic overlap between the two sets is obvious, and the meaning of IE *sreuH– ‘stream, flow’ is consistent with the existing interpretation of IE *kreuH– ‘blood’ as specifically ‘outside blood’ (EIEC 71) or ‘blood that left the body’ in contradistinction from IE *H1esr ‘blood’ (see no. 5).

4. PIE *k’weH2– ‘tasty, sweet, sour’: IE *sweH2du– ‘sweet’ (Toch A swaar, Toch B swaare ‘sweet’, Skrt svaadhu– ‘sweet’, Gk heedus ‘pleasing to the senses’, Lat suaavis ‘pleasing to the senses’, OHG swuozi ‘sweet, pleasing’, Lith suudyti ‘to salt’) ~ IE *suHro– ‘raw, sour, acid’ (Slav *syru ‘raw, cheese’, *surovy ‘raw, rough’, Lith suuras ‘salty’, Latv suurs ‘salty, bitter’, OPrus suris ‘cheese’, ONorse surr ‘sour, unpleasant’, OHG suur ‘sour’) ~ IE *kveH2t-: Skrt kuthitas ‘stinky’, kvathati ‘boils, brews’, Lat caaseus ‘cheese’, Alb kos ‘sour sheep milk’, Goth hwasoo ‘foam’, Slav *kvasu ‘sweet and sour drink’, *kisly ‘sour’ (< *kuuts– or *kuuds-), Latv kusat ‘boil’, kuusuls ‘spring’. The volatile semantics of this cognate superset is typical for this conceptual zone (comp., [Mallory & Adams, The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World, 20.5]). It likely stems from the ambiguous taste of ancient drinks. Strangely enough, IE *sweH2du– ‘sweet’ has never been compared with IE *suHro– ‘raw, sour, acid’ despite their obvious connection supported by the morphology of Toch swaare ‘sweet’ and the complementary geographic distribution of the two sets. The PIE base *kweH2– is enlarged with unrelated affixes –d-, –r– and ?? ??-s-, although the loss of –d– can be expected for Toch A swaar and Toch B swaare (< *sweH2dro-, Adams, 2013, 795]) and suspected for forms such as Slav *kvasu ‘sweet and sour drink’, *kisly ‘sour’ (< *kuuds-) if not for the whole *suHro– nest.

5. PIE *k’eH2u-/*k’euH2– ‘forge’: IE *keu– ‘forge’ (Toch B kaut ‘split’, Lat cuudo ‘hit, strike’, OIr cuad ‘strike, fight’, OHG houwan ‘chop, strike’, Lith kauti, Latv kaut ‘forge, strike’, Slav *kovati, *kujo ‘forge’) ~ IE *seH2ul– (Gen. sH2wens) ‘sun’ (Skrt svar-, Avest xvare (Gen. xveng), Gk heelios [< *saavel-], Lat sool, Goth sauil, sunno ‘sun’, Lith saule, Latv saule, OPruss saule ‘sun’, Slav *slunice ‘sun’, Alb hyll ‘star’). The rationale behind the semantic link is a mythological one. Sun was originally a product of forging by a mythic hero (comp. the Indian celestial blacksmith Tvastar). Slav derivatives such as Ukr koval ‘blacksmith’ and Russ kuznica ‘blacksmith shop’ show the same root extensions as –l– in Gk heelios and –k– in Slav *slunice. The phonetic match, with a laryngeal and a diphthong in both cases, is perfect.

6. IE *H1esr– (Gen. H1esnos) ‘blood’ (Hitt eshar [Gen. eshnas], Toch A yasr, B yasar, Gk ear ‘blood’, Skrt asrk [Gen. asnas], OLat aser, assyr, Arm ariwn, Latv asins ‘blood’) ~ IE *ak’ru– ‘tear’ (Hitt ishahru– [influence of eshar is suggested in Tischler 377-8), Toch A aakar ‘tear’, Skrt asru-‘tear’, Avest asru-azan- ‘Tränen vergiessend’, Lith asara, Latv asara ‘tear’. The TEAR set also includes forms with an initial *d– (Gk dacruma, Lat lacrima, OIr deerArm artaswr, OHG zahar, trahan, OEng teear, tehor) the origin of which remains unresolved. Notably, there is a semantic parallel between the blood-rheum connection in no. 3 and the blood-tear connection in no. 5, which indicates that ancient Indo-Europeans may have distinguished between different bodily fluids not on the basis of their respective sources of origin in the body but on the basis of their texture and other factors.

7. PIE *menk’– ‘skin and meat from any part of the body’: IE *mems– (Gen. memsos) ‘meat’ (Toch B miisa ‘meat’, ‘Gk meenigks ‘skin, meninges’, Skrt maas, maamsa ‘meat’, Arm mis ‘meat’, Goth mimz ‘meat’, Lith mesa ‘meat’, Latv miesa, OPruss mensa, Slav *menso ‘meat’), *mems-ro– (Gk meeros ‘meaty part of the leg, femur’ [Frisk, GEW, 230-1], Lat membrum ‘member’, membraana ‘membrane’, OIr mirr ‘bit’ ([< ‘bit of meat’, EIEC 374-5], Slav *menzdra ‘inner side of skin, hide’ ~ IE *(s)mek’– ‘chin, jaw, beard’ (Hitt z(a)mankur- ‘beard’, Skrt smasru– ‘beard, moustache’, Arm mawruk’ ‘beard’, Lat maala ‘cheek, jaw’ [< *smaksla], maaxilla ‘jawbone, lower part of the face’, OIr smech ‘chin’, OEng smaeras ‘lips’, Lith smakras, Latv smakrs ‘chin’, Alb mjeker ‘chin, beard’. Semantically this superset is somewhat loose (although comp. the meaning of Gk meenigks ‘meninges’ referring to the head region if the body just like all the items in the CHIN set). It’s possible that the original meaning of the root referred to the surface, meaty and skinny parts of the body that were removed from a human or an animal corpse. The superset does show strong morphological affinity. For example, the nasal in Hitt z(a)mankur, otherwise missing from its immediate cognates, is supported by the pervasive nasal in the MEAT set.

8. PIE *k’leu– ‘lock’: Gk kleeis ‘key’, kleioo ‘I lock’, Lat claavus ‘nail’, claavis ‘key’, OIr clo ‘nail’, Slav *kluci ‘key’ next to OHG sliozan ‘lock’, sluzzil ‘key’, OSax slutil ‘key’. The Germanic forms are known to be related to the rest of the IE forms, and the shared protoform usually advanced to explain their onset is *skl-. The identity between PIE *k‘ and *s make the phonetic development more straightforward.

9. PIE *k’leu– ‘listen, hear, obey, oblige’: IE *k’leu– ‘listen, hear, obey, oblige’ (Toch klyos– ‘hear’, Skrt çrosati ‘he listens’, çrustis ‘trust, agreeableness, obligingness’, çrutas ‘famous’, çrutis ‘ear, hearing faculty’, Avest sruti– ‘message’, sruta– ‘heard of’, Gk kleoo ‘I praise’, klutos ‘glorious’, Lat cluere ‘to be called’, inclutus ‘famous’, OIr cloor ‘I listen’ [< *klusoor], clunim ‘I hear’, OHG hlosen ‘listen, obey’, hlut ‘loud’, Arm lu ‘famous’, lur ‘news, message’, Lith klausyti, klausau ‘listen, obey’, Latv sluvet ‘be known for’, sludinat ‘announce’, Slav *slusati ‘listen, obey’, *slysati ‘hear’) ~ IE *sleu-g– ‘serve’ (Lith slaugyti, slaugau ‘support, help’, paslauginti ‘perform work for someone’, slauga ‘service, servant’, paslauga ‘help, service’, OIr sluag ‘military detachment’, teg-lach ‘housefolk’ [< *tegoslougo-], Slav *sluziti ‘serve’, *sluga ‘servant’. The LISTEN-HEAR-OBLIGE subset shows both k– and s– onsets in “satem” languages (Lith klausyti next to Skrt çrosati). The connection between *k’leu- and *sleu-g– was first proposed by V. Terras (“Slavische Etymologien.” Zeitschrift fur Slavische Philologie 19 (1947): 123). Vasmer rejected it for the reason of the incompatibility of the *k’l- and *sl– onsets, a barrier that now can be overcome.

10. PIE *k’ei– ‘lay down seed, procreate, be native to’: IE *seHi– ‘sow’ (Hitt saai– ‘throw, sow’, Toch A, Toch B saary ‘plant’ (< *soHryo-), saarm ‘seed, cause’, Gk heetheoo ‘sift through’, Lat seroo ‘sow’, seemen ‘seed, stock, offspring’, Goth saian, OEng saawan, OHG saa(w)en ‘sow’, Lith seju ‘sow’, semens ‘seed’, Slav *sejo ‘sow’, *seme ‘seed’ ~ IE *k’ei– ‘lie’ (Skrt seva ‘intimate, dear’, siva ‘kind, friendly, auspicious, dear’, Gk koomee ‘village’ [< *kooimeH2], Arm seer ‘devotion’, sirem ‘love’, Lat ciivis ‘citizen’, Goth haims ‘village, countryside’, heiwa-frauja ‘head of the household’, OHG hiiun ‘married couple, parents, family members’, hii(w)o ‘husband’, hii(w)a ‘wife’, heim ‘home’, OEng hiiwen ‘household’, hiiwan ‘members of the household’, haam ‘home’, haeman ‘have intercourse, cohabit, marry’, OPruss seimiins ‘household servants’, kaymis ‘village’, Lith siema ‘family’, kaimas ‘village, countryside’, kiemas ‘courtyard’, Latv sieva ‘wife’, saime ‘family’, Slav *semija ‘family, household servants’. While the resulting meaning of this superset is somewhat broad and abstract, the phonetic match and the shared morphology of the subsets justifies postulating a single protoform.

11. PIE *k’wen– ‘sacred, holy, powerful’: IE *k’wento– ‘sacred, holy’ (Avest spenta– ‘holy’, Goth hunsl ‘sacrifice’, OEng huus(e)l ‘sacrifice, Eucharist’, Lith sventas, OPruss swent– ‘sacred, holy, Latv svinet ‘sanctify, celebrate holiday’, Slav *sventu ‘holy’) ~ IE *swent– ‘strong, healthy’ (Goth swinths ‘strong, healthy’, ONorse svinnr ‘powerful, wise’, OEng swiið ‘strong’, OHG gisunt ‘healthy’) ~ IE *swend-/*swent– ‘disappear, wilt’ (OHG swintan ‘disappear’, Slav *vendati, *venonti ‘fade, wilt, wither’, *onditi ‘smoke, cure in smoke’). The meaning of IE *swend-/*swent– ‘disappear, wilt’ is the exact opposite of IE *swent– ‘strong, healthy’, which can be explained as the outcome of the inherent semantic ambivalence of the notion of ‘power’ in sacrificial contexts because a sacred entity is both other-worldly powerful and this-worldly challenged. Scholars (EIEC 493) also cite Avest suura ‘strong’ and Gk kuurios ‘lord’ in conjunction with IE *k’wento– ‘sacred, holy’ (all presumably derived from the verbal base *k’eu– ‘swell’).

Etymological evidence also warrants the postulation of a complex palatolabiovelar phoneme for PIE.

1. PIE * k’wek’wo– ‘domesticated animals, wealth’: IE *H1ek’wo– ‘horse’ (HierLuw asuwa, Toch A yuk, B yakwe, Skrt asva, Myc i-qo, Gk hippos [< *sekwo-], Lat equus ‘horse’, Goth aihws, OHG ehu– ‘horse’, Lith asva ‘mare’) ~ IE *pek’u– ‘livestock’ (Skrt pasu, Avest pasu ‘cattle’, Lat pecu ‘cattle, livestock’, OEng feoh, OHG fihu ‘livestock, property, money’, Goth faihu ‘money, movable goods’, OPruss peckus, Lith pekus, pekas ‘cattle’. Old Indic pasu included horses, cattle, sheep and goats (EIEC 23), and this seems to be the oldest, undifferentiated meaning from which the meaning ‘horse’ associated with the *H1ek’wo- phonetic form is derived. For the HORSE words, Indo-Europeanists tend to reconstruct a cluster –k’w– instead of a single phoneme. But this leaves the labiovelar, which is clearly attested in Mycenaean, Greek and Latin, unexplained and some form of contamination needs to be postulated. A PIE palatolabiovelar requires no irregular processes. Arm asr ‘wool, fleece’ is typically associated with the *pek’u subset but its phonetic shape is a good match for the HORSE subset. Toch B yok ‘hair, wool’ is compared to Arm asr in [Adams 550] (both are a neuter u-stem) and the connection between yok and Toch A yuk and B yakwe ‘horse’ is straightforward.

2. PIE *skwek’w-/*k’wek’w– ‘see, dream, have a vision’: IE *swep-/*swop– ‘sleep, dream’ (Hitt supp– ‘sleep’, suppariya– ‘dream’, Toch A spam, B spane ‘sleep, dream’, Skrt svapna ‘sleep’, Avest xvafna ‘sleep’, Gk hypnos ‘sleep’, hypar ‘true dream, vision, walking reverie’, Lat somnus [< *swepno-] ‘sleep’, sopor ‘overpowering sleep’, OEng swefn, ONorse svefn ‘sleep, dream’, sofa ‘sleep’, OIr suan, Welsh hun ‘sleep’, Lith sapnas, Latv sapnis ‘dream’, Slav *supati ‘sleep’, *sunu ‘sleep, dream’, Arm k’un ‘sleep’, Alb gjume ‘sleep’ ~ IE *skep-/*spek’– ‘see’ (Gk skeptomai ‘observe, look carefully, consider’, skopos ‘target, purpose, aim, spy’, Lat specio ‘I look, I see’, Skrt pasyati ‘look’, spasa ‘spy’, Avest spasyeiti ‘look’, OHG spehoon ‘regard, spy’, spahi ‘wise, skillful’, ONorse spaar ‘prediction, prophecy’. ONorse spaar and Gk hypar show the best formal and semantic alignment. Toch A spam, B spane ‘sleep, dream’ is shaped just like IE *spek’– forms. The original meaning of the etymon was less about the physical state of sleep (for which there was a different root *ses– EIEC, 527) as the subjective experience of being in a dream-like state. Dreams must have had a prophetic significance for early Indo-Europeans and used as a rationale for critical judgment in the waking state. The “metathesis” found in Gk skeptomai, skopos (see below on the similar Gk form (arto-)kopos as a reflex of PIE *k’wek’w- ‘bake, cook, liver’ likely indicates the ancient root with two (palato)labiovelars. Phonetically and morphologically Gk skeptomai, skopos agrees with Arm k’un. (Comp. different outcomes of the same IE *sw in Armenian in skesur ‘wife’s mother’ and k’oyr ‘sister’.) The velar in Arm k’un, therefore, represents not a late, narrow Armenian reflex of PIE *sw-, as it’s presently believed, but an inherent property of the ancient IE root.

3. PIE *k’weid– ‘to split, to shed (sweat, etc.)’: IE *skeid– ‘to split, to shed’ (Skrt chinatti ‘to cut off, chop, split, pierce’, cheda– ‘cut, section, portion’, chidra– ‘torn asunder, pierced; hole, slit, cleft’, Gk skhidzoo ‘I split, divide’, Lat scindoo ‘I split’, Lith skiesti ‘water down, separate’, skaistas ‘clear, shining’, skaidrus ‘clear’, skystas ‘liquid, thin’, Latv skaidit ‘water down’, Goth skaidan ‘separate’, ONorse skita ‘defecate’, OHG scetan ‘watery, thin’, OEng sceadan ‘divide, separate’, Welsh chwyd ‘break open’, Slav *cediti ‘sift water’, *cistu ‘clean’ ~ IE *sweH2id(ro)– ‘sweat’ (Toch B syaa– ‘to sweat’, syelme ‘sweat’, Skrt svedate ‘perspire’, sveda ‘sweat’, Avest xvaeda ‘sweat’, Gk hidros ‘sweat’, Lat suudor ‘sweat’, OEng swaetan ‘sweat’, Welsh chwys ‘sweat’, Arm k’irtn ‘sweat’, Latv sviedri ‘sweat’, Alb djerse ‘sweat’). The semantic connection between the two sets is very compelling. IE *skeid– offers a plausible source for one of the IE words for ‘sweat’ that likely replaced a more ancient form retained in Hitt allaniye– ‘to sweat’, OIr alias ‘sweat’. Just like in no. 2 above the velar in Arm k’un matches the velar in Gk skeptomai, skopos, here the velar in Arm k’irtn matches the velar in Gk skhidzoo, Lith skaidrus, etc. Aspiration in Gk skhidzoo directly corresponds to aspiration in Arm k’irtn and to -w- in Skrt svedate, etc.

4. PIE *k’wleu– ‘paired body part of ritual significance’: IE *pleu– ‘lung’ (Skrt kloman– ‘the right lung’, Gk pleumoon ‘lung’, Lat pulmoo ‘lung’, Lith plauciai ‘lungs’, Latv plausas, plauksi ‘lung’, Slav *pljuute, *pluutje ‘lungs’) ~ IE *k’louni– ‘buttocks’ (Skrt sroni– ‘buttock, hip, loin’, Avest sraoni– ‘buttock’, Gk klonis ‘coccyx’, Lat cluunis ‘buttock, haunch (of animals)’, Welsh clun ‘haunch’, ONorse hlaun ‘buttocks’, Lith slaunis ‘haunch, hip’, Latv slauna ‘haunch, rump’. The onset of Skrt kloman has never received an explanation based on the principle of the regularity of sound change. Instead, dissimilation pl > kl in the distant environment of labial –m– has been proposed, but this explanation is entirely ad hoc. The reconstruction of *kw– instead of *p– resolves this problem nicely. The origin of IE *pleu– ‘lung’ from the verb base ‘to swim’ (EIEC 359) (under the assumption that lungs looked like a floater to the administers of sacrifices) now seems doubtful as lungs and buttocks are semantically linked not because they ‘float’ but because they are similarly looking paired body parts. In a ritual context, they were similarly separated by a sacrificial knife. In this context, comp. Lat clunaculum ‘culta sanguinarius quod ad clunes dependeat, vel quia clunes hostiarum dividat’ (Waucquier, M. M., and J. Nicolaides. Novum dictionarium tetraglotton. Amsterdam, 1759, 122-3).

3. PIE *k’wek’w- ‘bake, cook, liver’: IE *pekw-/*kwekw– ‘bake’ (Skrt pacati ‘cooks, bakes, roasts, boils’, Gk pesso ‘cook’, peptos ‘cooked’, Toch A pak, Toch B pak ‘cook, boil, ripen’, papaksu ‘cooked’, Welsh poeth ‘baked, roasted, hot’, pobi ‘bake’ (p– < *kw-), Alb pjek ‘I bake’, Slav *peku, *pekti ‘bake, roast, oven’), *pesteni ‘liver’, *pektera ‘cave’ ~ IE *yekwr(t)-/*yekwn(t)– ‘liver’ (Skrt yakrt, Gen. yaknas, Gk heepar, Gen. heepatos [< *sepr-, Gen. *sepn-], Lat iecur, Gen. iecinoris, OHG lebara, OEng lifer, ONorse lifr, Arm leard, Lith jeknos ‘liver’, Slav *(j)ikra ‘calf (of leg), fish roe’) ~ Gk hepso ‘cook, boil’ [< *septyo-). Usually reconstructed as *pekw-, the root COOK-BAKE manifests itself in such forms as Lat coquo ‘cook’, Lith kepukepti ‘bake’, kepenos ‘liver’ and Gk arto-kopos ‘bread-baker’, which point to a labiovelar in the anlaut and not a labial stop. Scholars tend to dismiss them as products of irregular metatheses and assimilations but this is a problematic and unverifiable approach. In the light of Balto-Slav *peken-/*kepen– ‘liver’, which is transparently derived from the root ‘to bake’, the otherwise obscure Gk hepso ‘cook, boil’ cannot be divorced from Gk heepar ‘liver’. The second segment in Lith kepenos ‘liver’ and Slav *pecen– reveal an unmistakable connection to, respectively, Gk Gen. heepatos [< *sepn-] and Lat Gen. iecinoris (< *pecinoris or *kwecinoris), so the loss of kw-/p- has to be postulated to explain Lith jeknos ‘liver’, Slav *(j)ikra ‘calf (of leg), fish roe’), Skrt yakrt, Lat iecur and Gk heepar. OHG lebara, OEng lifer, ONorse  Arm leard remain problematic because of l– but their second consonant is now fully consistent with the reconstructed PIE *kw-.

4. PIE *k’wed– ‘foot, walk, step’: IE *ped-/*pod– ‘foot’ (Hitt pad ‘foot’, Toch A pe-, B paiyye ‘foot’, Skrt padam ‘footprint, foot’, padyate ‘walks, falls’, Avest paidyeiti ‘comes, walks’, pada– ‘footprint’, Arm het ‘footprint’, otn ‘foot’, Gk pous, Gen. podos ‘foot’, pedon ‘ground’, Lat pees, pedis ‘foot’, pessum ‘on the ground, grounded’, Lith peda ‘foot, footprint’, padas ‘sole of foot’, pescias ‘on foot’, Latv peds ‘footprint’, pads ‘floor’, Goth footus ‘foot, step’, OHG gefezzan ‘fall’, OEng fettan ‘fall’, Slav *pesiji ‘on foot’ [< *pedsyos], *padati ‘fall’, *podu ‘under, bottom, ground’) ~ IE *sed-/*sod– ‘walk, sit’ (Slav *sedeti ‘sit’, *xoditi ‘walk’, *sid ‘went’, Skrt sidati ‘he sits’, Avest hidaiti ‘he sits’, hecanim ‘I sit, I ride’, Gk hodos ‘path’, hodeuoo ‘wander, roam’, hoditees ‘wanderer’, hedzomai ‘I sit’, Lat sedeoo ‘sit’, Goth sitan ‘sit’, Lith sedeti, Latv sedet ‘sit’. Phonetically Arm het, Slav *xoditi, Avest hidaiti and Gk hodeuoo show the same weakening of s to h/x. In Armenian, h frequently corresponds to both p and s in other IE languages.

5. PIE *k’wenkw– ‘hand, five, ten, one hundred’: IE *penkw– ‘five’ (Toch A pan, B pis, Skrt panca, Avest panca, Gk pente, Lat quiinque, Arm hing, OIr coic, Welsh pempe, Goth fimf, OHG fimf, Lith penki, Latv pieci, Slav *penti, Alb pese) ~ IE *k’mtom ‘hundred’ (Toch A kant, B kante, Skrt catam, Avest satem, Gk hekaton, Lat centum, OIr cet, Goth hund, Lith simtas, Slav *suto) ~ IE *de-k’mtm ‘ten’ (Toch A sak, B sak, Skrt daca, Avest dasa, Gk deka, Lat decem, Arm tasn, Goth taihun, OHG zehan, OIr deich, Lith desimtis, Slav *desenti, Alb dhjete). There’s a general agreement between scholars that IE *k’mtom ‘hundred’ and *de-k’mtm ‘ten’ are related but the origin of the first segment in *de-k’mtm is subject to different interpretations. Similarly, scholars often link *de-k’mtm ‘ten’ and *penkw– ‘five’ semantically: five is ‘first with clenched fingers’, while ten is ‘two hands’ (Gamkrelidze & Ivanov 747, with further literature). Under the hypothesis of the PIE voiceless palatolabiovelar phoneme, *penkw– ‘five’, *k’mtom ‘hundred’ and the second segment of *de-k’mtm are formally identical. PIE *k’wenkw– shows that the labial, velar and dental phonemes seen in the affix to the underlying root *k’wen– are also likely reflexes of a PIE palatovelar phoneme. Initial h– in Arm hing alternates with -s- in tasn and, as in the case of het ‘footprint’ above, it represents not PIE *p but directly PIE *k’w. Correspondingly, the underlying forms meaning ‘fist, hand, finger’ (Goth figgrs ‘finger’ [< *fingra-], handus ‘hand’, OHG fust [< *funhsti-] ‘fist‘, fingar ‘finger’, hant ‘hand’, OEng fyst [< *funhsti-] ‘fist’, finger ‘finger’, hand ‘hand’, Lith kumste ‘fist’, OPrus kuntis ‘fist’, Slav *pensti ‘palm of the hand, first, hand’) are also related. Persistent attempts to brush off Lith kumste ‘fist’, OPrus kuntis ‘fist’ as belonging to a different root (see Vasmer, III, 423-4) or to explain Lat quiinque, OIr coic, Welsh pempe, Goth fimf as products of irregular assimilation are superfluous and rooted in flawed PIE reconstructions. See also no. 7.

6. PIE *k’wer-/*kwerH2– ‘first, frontal, upper, protruding’: IE *k’erH2– ‘head, horn’ (Hitt karavar ‘horn’, harsar ‘head’, Skrt sira ‘head, skull’, srnga ‘horn, tusk’, Gk keras ‘head, horn’, kranion ‘upper part of the head, skull’, Arm sar ‘tip, end, top, summit’ mountain’, Lat cerebrum ‘brain, skull’ [< *keresrom], cerviix ‘neck’, cornuu ‘horn’, OEng haern ‘brain’) ~ IE *per– ‘first, frontal’ (Skrt purvas ‘first, frontal’, prstham ‘ridge, mountain top’, Avest purva– ‘first’, parsta– ‘back’, Lat postis ‘pole’ [< *porstis], Alb pare ‘first’, Toch A parvat ‘oldest’, B parwesse ‘first’, OEng forwost ‘first, head, leader’, OHG first ‘ridge of roof’, Lith pirmas ‘first’, pirstas ‘finger’, OPrus pirmas ‘first’, pirsten ‘finger’, Latv pirmais ‘first’, pirksts ‘finger’, Slav *pervu ‘first’, *perstu ‘finger’. This is a semantically and morphologically compelling connection (especially revealing is the isogloss linking Hitt harsar, Proto-Italic *keresrom and Balto-Slav *perst-) supported by distributional complementarity: Balto-Slavic does not have reflexes of IE *k’erH2- with the meaning ‘head, horn’ but it does have plenty of derivatives of IE *per- with the meanings ‘first, finger’. Other derivatives from the IE root *k’erH2– ‘head, horn’ such as Slav *korwa ‘cow’, *sirna ‘roe’, Lith karve ‘cow’, Latv sirna ‘roe’, OPruss sirvis ‘roe’, Gk keraos ‘horned’, Lat cervus ‘deer’, etc. show alternation between IE *k and IE *k’ (in the traditional reconstruction).

7. IE *k’wengwh– ‘hand, foot, nail, fist’: IE *H3nogwh– ‘hand, foot, nail’ (Hitt sankui– ‘nail’, Toch A maku, B mekwa ‘nails’, Skrt anghris ‘foot’, nakham ‘nail, claw’, Gk onuks, Gen. onukhos ‘nail, claw’, Lat unguis ‘nail’, ungulus ‘hoof’, OIr ingen ‘nail’, OHG nagal ‘nail’, Lith nagas ‘nail’, naga ‘hoof’, Latv nagas ‘hands and feet’, OPruss nage ‘foot’, Slav *noga ‘foot, leg’, *noguti ‘nail’) ~ IE *pngw– ‘metacarpus, fist’ (Gk pugme, Lat pugnus ‘fist’ (< *pngwn-, with a metathesis), OHG fuust [< *funhsti-), OEng fyst ‘fist’, Lith kumste, OPruss kuntis ‘fist’, Slav *pensti ‘metacarpus, hand, fist’). Toch A maku, B mekwa are thought to derive from PToch *nekwa– but in light of Skrt musti, Avest musti, Toch B masce [ *< masteis] ‘fist’ (EIEC 255) instead of expected *pngwsti-), which belong here as well, the origin of m– may be more complex, namely from *pnkwa-. (On the unmotivated nature of the postulated *nekwa– > *mekwa– development, see Blazek, Vaclav. “Tocharian A muk ?yoke’ and A maku, B mekwa pl. ?(finger)nails’ – why m-?” Historische Sprachforschung 114, Bd. 1 (2001): 191-5.) Lith kumste  is derived from *punkste (EIEC 255, 389), which may be redundant considering the original form had an initial velar anyhow. It’s tempting to include here Lith pentis, OPruss pentis, Slav *penta ‘heel’ (if from *pengwt-) and OHG hant, OEng hand ‘hand’ (if from *kwengwt-) but there’s no trace of a second velar in those forms. Hitt sankui– ‘nail’ proves that there was a palatalized consonant in front of Narrow European *H3nogwh-. Semantically, ‘hand and foot’ (potentially, in their active, aggressive function) seems to be the common denominator across all the forms, with meaning ‘nail’ (toenail and fingernail) emerging later on the basis of that primary meaning. The application of the protoform to both ‘hand’ and ‘foot’ is secure as in the *H3nogwh- subset ‘nail’ means ‘toenail and fingernail’ across all the dialects.

Indo-European Words for “Wheel”: Evidence for Transition from Agriculture to Pastoralism

February 3rd, 2015

The impetus for this post comes from a recent review by David W. Anthony and Don Ringe “The Indo-European Homeland from Linguistic and Archaeological Perspectives” (Annual Review of Linguistics 1 (2015): 199-219) that summarizes the best-in-class linguistic and archaeological arguments in favor of the Bronze Age Pontic Steppe theory of Indo-European homeland (contra the Neolithic Anatolian model). The Proto-Indo-European (PIE) “wheel” terminology and the earliest archaeological attestation of wheeled transport is an absolutely essential evidential nexus that can prove or disprove the Recent Pontic Steppe theory beyond reasonable doubt. From an archaeological standpoint,

“The invention of the wheel-and-axle principle, which first made wagons and carts possible, is solidly dated by radiocarbon after 4000-3500 BCE, a very well studied external fact (Bakker et al. 1999; Fansa & Burmeister 2004, Anthony 2007). This external fact ties late PIE to a real-world date after wheeled vehicles were invented, that is, after 4000–3500 BCE” (Anthony & Ringe 2015, 201-2).

Indo-European linguists supporting the Recent Pontic Steppe hypothesis adduce as proof not one word for ‘wheel’ but a whole lexico-semantic set related to wheeled vehicles. Anthony & Ringe (2015) illustrate the geographical distribution of reflexes of this set on a map:

KinshipStudies-IndoEuropeanWheelMap copy 2

The distribution of the reflexes of the PIE wheeled transport vocabulary by subfamily is pooled in the table below:

KinshipStudies-IEWheelWords copy

An important observation that can be made from these distributions is that the most divergent Anatolian and Tocharian branches have clear gaps in the wheeled-transport vocabulary compared to the rest of the IE subfamilies. These gaps are different: Anatolian has a reflex of PIE *H2/3eyHos ‘thill’, while Tocharian has reflexes of *kwekwlo– ‘wheel’ (with a meaning shift to ‘chariot’) and *wegheti ‘s/he transports it in a vehicle’. Outside of Anatolian and Tocharian, most branches display transparent reflexes of the reduplicated form*kwekwlo– with the same meaning ‘wheel’ derived from PIE *kwel– ‘to turn, to move around, to cultivate’ (Gk tellomai ‘turn around in circles’, pelomai ‘am in motion, go’, poleoo ‘go around, range, haunt (intrans.); turn up the soil (trans.)’, Lat coloo ‘I cultivate, I inhabit’, Skrt cárati ‘he roams’). Anatolian and Tocharian are also united in having reflexes of PIE *H2werg– with the same meaning ‘turn’: Hitt hurki-, Toch A warkant (< *H2wergwnt-, Adams, Douglas Q. A Dictionary of Tocharian B, 1999, 506), Toch B yerkwanto all mean ‘wheel’. Outside of Anatolian and Tocharian this root is poorly attested and, unlike PIE *kwel-, does not show a plethora of reflexes. The morphology of Hitt hurki and Toch *H2wergwnt- is different, which is usually taken as an indication of a possibility of independent formation from the same underlying root.

Anthony & Ringe spend a long time demonstrating the uniqueness of the *kwekwlo-/*kwekwlos formation shared by most IE languages. It’s the only verb-derived reduplicated formation shared by a large number of IE branches. Plus, it’s a zero-grade root with a thematic vowel and a nominative singular ending. They make a strong case that *kwekwlo– could not have been invented multiple times in already well-differentiated IE branches – the interpretation that the proponents of the Neolithic Anatolian model advocate for.

It’s noteworthy, however, that in Baltic – a subfamily with no reduplicated formations for ‘wheel’ – the same reduplicated root is found with the meaning ‘neck’ (Lith kaklas, Latv kakls). It’s an example of a reduplicated verb-derived noun that, unlike *kwekwlo– ‘wheel’, is found in just one branch of IE. But the very fact that *kwekwlo– can have a meaning other than ‘wheel’ in an IE subfamily suggests that at the time of the formation of the IE wheel-transport vocabulary and long thereafter the root *kwel– ‘to turn’ was productive and, as such, generated nouns in already isolated early IE subfamilies. The Baltic forms for ‘neck’ could not have been derived from *kwekwlo– with the existing meaning ‘wheel’ because the latter are not attested in the Baltic languages (OPruss kelan ‘wheel’, Latv du-celis ‘two-wheeled vehicle’). Slavic languages (that form a sister subfamily to Baltic, by many accounts), too, have only unreduplicated reflexes of IE *kwel– ‘to turn’ with the meaning ‘wheel’ (e.g., Rus koleso) suggesting that Lith kaklas and Latv kakls ‘neck’ are independent reduplicated formations from the underlying verb *kwel– ‘to turn’ that occurred in an early IE geographic area devoid of *kwekwlo– ‘wheel’. Besides Baltic and Slavic, other IE branches have unreduplicated derivatives of *kwel- in their wheeled-transport vocabulary (e.g.., Gk polos ‘axle’).

This also suggests that Fortson’s idea (2010, p. 130) that kwekwlo– was “an expressive neologism for a new gadget,” which Anthony & Ringe (2015, 205) consider a “reasonable speculation” is not reasonable at all, as neck is not a “new gadget.” A more reasonable speculation would be that reduplication iconically represented repetitive circular movement and a product or an agent thereof. This understanding may be helpful to semantically differentiate between two forms for ‘wheel’ reconstructed by Anthony & Ringe (2015) for PIE: *kwekwlo– and *Hroto-: if *kwekwlo– emphasized repetitive, circular but ultimately static movement, *Hroto– interpreted wheel as an enabler of linear, forward movement (from PIE *Hret– ‘to run, to ride’: OIr rethim ‘I run’, Lith ritu ‘I roll’). The two concepts may bleed into each other in daughter languages (comp. Lat rota ‘wheel’ but also ‘circle’ and ‘potter’s wheel’), but the possibility that in PIE wheel was interpreted in two very different ways has implications for the question of PIE homeland and the timing of IE migrations and language divergence.

Earlier, I attempted to show that IE labiovelars (kw in PIE *kwel- and *kwekwlo-) have a more complex system of reflexes in daughter languages. The triple split of PIE *kw, *gw and *gwh into k/p/t, g/b/d and gh/bh/dh (in different phonetic environments, namely before u, back vowels and front vowels, respectively) described for Ancient Greek is in fact a PIE phenomenon. One of the illustrative examples of this overlooked phonetic law has a bearing on the origin of the IE term for ‘wheel’. It’s known that IE root *pol-/*pel- yielded Lat pollen ‘finely milled flour’, pulvis ‘dust’, Gk palee ‘finely milled flour, dust’, Skrt palalam ‘ground seeds’, Lith pelenai ‘ashes’, pelene ‘hearth’, Slav *poleeti ‘burn’, *polmen ‘flame’ and *pepelu/*popelu ‘ashes’. If the etymological material that I advanced in my previous post is correct and labiovelars indeed gave labial reflexes before back vowels already in PIE times, then PIE *kwel– and *pol– are cognates. The meaning ‘ashes, burn, flame, hearth’ found in Balto-Slavic suggests that burning was perceived by early Indo-Europeans as a repetitive, circular movement and ashes as the final product of a cycle. (Comp. in this context tellomai ‘turn around in circles’, teleoo ‘finish’, telos ‘end’.) The robustness of this hypothesis is indicated by the fact that it provides a verbal source for the pol-nouns, which is missing if the two cognate sets are treated separately. Another indication that we are on the right track here is Slav *pepelu/*popelu ‘ashes’ that has the same rare reduplicated morphology as IE *kwekwlo– ‘wheel’ and Lith kaklas/Latv kakls ‘neck’. Importantly, there is a strong semantic link between the two cognate sets: Lat pollen ‘finely milled flour’, Gk palee ‘finely milled flour’, Skrt palalam ‘ground seeds’ make perfect sense in the light of OPruss maluna-kelan ‘mill wheel’ and Lat coloo ‘I cultivate’. Importantly, the semantic link between the two branches of PIE *kwel– – the large *kwel-group and the small *pol-group – exists not on the level of wheeled-transport vocabulary but on the deeper level of agricultural vocabulary. It appears that early Indo-Europeans may have developed the concept of a wheel first on the basis of the idea of repetitive, circular but static movement as manifested in such agricultural tools as a quern, a millstone or a mill wheel. The concept of linear, progressive, forward movement, which is very appropriate for a population that migrates to new lands) and is best represented by PIE *Hroto-, now completely devoid of static agricultural connotations, emerged as a second phase in the evolution of IE wheeled transport.

IE *H2werg– ‘to turn’ manifested in Hitt hurki-, Toch A warkant, Toch B yerkwanto (< *H2wergwnt-) ‘wheel’ is a puzzle because it’s clearly old but it does not have strong cognates (and absolutely no cognates in cultural vocabulary) outside of the two most divergent branches of IE languages. But there’s one IE cognate set that needs to be re-examined in the light of a possibility that early Indo-Europeans derived their first terms for wheeled transport drawn forward by horses from pre-existing static, agricultural applications of the wheel. It’s IE *gwreH2won/*gwreH2nu– ‘millstone, quern’ represented by Toch B karwene ‘stone’, Skrt graavan ‘stone for pressing the soma’, Arm erkan ‘quern’, OIr brau (Gen. broon) ‘millstone, quern, hand-grinder’, Goth asilu-qairnus ‘donkey-mill’, OHG quirn, OEng cweorn, ONorse kvern ‘quern’, OPruss girnoywis, Lith girna ‘millstone’, girnos (pl.) ‘quern’, Latv dzirnus (pl.) ‘quern’, OCS zruny ‘quern’. IE *H2werg– ‘to turn’ and IE *gwreH2won/*gwreH2nu– ‘millstone, quern’ have a lot in common phonetically and morphologically: both have a second laryngeal, a resonant and a labiovelar (Toch *H2wergwnt also shares with *gwreH2won the suffixal enlargement -n-) but the laryngeal and the labiovelar are placed differently in the two roots. Their placement suggests that the two roots are related through a metathesis, so that the more fundamental PIE *gwerH2w– ‘quern’ metathesized into *H2wergw– that yielded Hitt hurki-, Toch A warkant, Toch B yerkwanto ‘wheel’. Consequently, it’s unlikely that *gwreH2won/*gwreH2nu– is derived from *gwerH2– ‘heavy’ (EIEC, 474). Some key reflexes of IE *gwerH2– ‘heavy’ (Gk barus, Lat gravis) do not map well onto the reflexes of *gwreH2won/*gwreH2nu– (missing from Greek and Latin). Instead, there must have been a verbal root *gwerH2– ‘to turn’ that survived in Toch as wark- (Adams, A Dictionary of Tocharian B, 547-8).

A special mention should be made of the fact that Arm erkan ‘quern’ shows remarkable similarity to Toch B yerkwanto ‘wheel’. It’s currently assumed that the Armenian form underwent a typical Armenian metathesis from the CrV-type root to the rC-type root + prothetic vowel e-. But now it appears that, at least in this case, metathesis affected the Hittite and Tocharian forms as well.

Pending the ultimate phonetic validity of these interpretations, this analysis paints a picture of early Indo-Europeans developing their wheeled-vehicle vocabulary on the basis of pre-existing agricultural vocabulary. Rotation as a repetitive, circular, static movement employed by agriculturalists was reinterpreted as linear, progressive movement forward. Querns and millstones, which are archaeologically attested from the 9th millennium BC (first in Neolithic West Asia), seem to be the direct antecedents of wheels used for transportation, warfare and migration. This analysis also suggests that, by the time wheeled-vehicle vocabulary began developing among early Europeans, the agricultural vocabulary had long been in place, which is consistent with the Bronze Age Pontic Steppe theory. IE *gwreH2w-/*H2wregw- should be included into the IE wheeled-transport vocabulary. Although as a form for ‘wheel’ it’s an Anatolian-Tocharian isogloss, it belongs with a wider IE cognate set having a clearly older meaning – ‘quern’. It means that, although early Anatolian and early Tocharian may have been geographically isolated from the rest of IE languages, they don’t appear to be divergent (at least not in this cognate set) from other IE subfamilies in a phylogenetic sense. The gaps in the wheeled-transport vocabulary observed between Anatolian, Tocharian, on the one hand, and the rest of IE languages, on the other, should be interpreted as lexical loss in Anatolian and Tocharian, not as the preservation in Anatolian and Tocharian of an earlier “stage” in the IE lexico-semantic evolution.


Indo-European Labiovelars: A New Look

July 23rd, 2014

The standard theory behind Indo-European (IE) labiovelars (gwh, gw, kw) is that they were “primitive” IE phonemes that were lost in virtually all IE dialects and yielded velar-only reflexes in most languages outside of Greek. Presumably only Greek shows a triple split into dental (usually before e/i), velar (usually before u) and labial (usually before o and a) reflexes of PIE labiovelars. Some of the well-known examples include Gk theínoo “I strike, kill” < *gwhen-yoo vs. phónos “slaughter” < *gwhón-osdelphús “womb” < *gwelbh– (Skrt garbha-) vs. bíos “life” < *gwih3wos (Goth qius “alive”), tís “who?” < *kwis (Lat quis). A dissenting voice came from A. G. E. Speirs, The Proto-Indo-European Labiovelars (Amsterdam 1978). He argued that the Greek pattern of a triple-split of the PIE labiovelar phoneme depending on the quality of the following vowel was in fact a proto-Indo-European phenomenon and hence dental and labial reflexes of labiovelars can be found in all IE dialects, not just in Greek. Speirs takes three well-known IE roots, *bhudh– ‘ground, bottom’, *dheg’h-n-/*dheg’h-m– ‘earth’ and *pekw– ‘bake, cook’. He notices that in all the three cases some IE dialects show developments that look like an irregular metathesis. But, instead, Speirs suggests, *bhudh– ‘ground, bottom’, *dhegh-n-/*dhegh-m– ‘earth’ and *pekw– ‘bake, cook’ should be reconstructed as roots with PIE labiovelars.


Speirs collected a number of examples in which labial and dental reflexes of labiovelars seem to occur in IE branches other than Greek. However, his effort was dismissed. Most recently, Jouna Pyysalo (System PIE: The Primary Phoneme Inventory and Sound Law System for Proto-Indo-European, 355-6), in an otherwise very thought-provoking and open minded dissertation, summarizes the objections to Speirs’s argument in the following way:

“the underlying superphonemes – allegedly yielding velars, labials and dentals – would violate the principle of the regularity of sound change. On the contrary, it must be concluded that the places of articulation PIE *k p t are irreducible and the oppositions are distinctive. Any attempt to derive these items from other places of articulation is doomed to failure.”

Meanwhile, the velar, dental and labial split of a primitive labiovelar phoneme is a well attested and universally accepted phonetic development in ancient Greek, and there can be no doubt that it does not contradict the “principle of the regularity of sound change.” The counterargument based on a general principle is therefore invalid. It’s all the matter of how well the etymological material from IE languages supports the triple split of labiovelars at the deeper, PIE level. In the following I will show that Speirs was basically right but he didn’t go far enough.

PIE *kw

1. PIE *wlkwo– ‘wolf’ (Gk lukos, Lat lupus, Skrt vrka, Toch B walkwe, Slav *vliku, Lith vilkas, OHG wulf, OEng wolf, ONorse ulfr ‘wolf’, ylgr ‘she-wolf’) ~ Slav *lutyji ‘crazy, vicious, angry’. It has long been observed that the Germanic forms going back to *wulhwaz show a labial reflex of the PIE *kw attested in Latin lupus, and hence labial reflexes of PIE labiovelars are indeed attested outside of Greek and Latin. Slav *lutyji completes the picture and proves that PIE *kw yielded velar, labial and dental reflexes across IE languages. Gk lussa ‘madness’ presently linked to *lukos agrees with the Slavic form semantically and may represent either *luk(w)iyo– or *lutiyo-.

2. PIE *penkwe– ‘five’: Skrt panca, Avest panca, Arm hing, Gk pente, Lat quiinque, OIr coic, Goth, OHG fimf, Toch pan, B pis, Lith penki, Slav penti. This well-known set shows a similar phonetic pattern to the WOLF set. Germanic yields –f– as a reflex of PIE *kw, while Slavic is aligned with Greek in having a dental reflex.

3. PIE *kwekw– ‘bake’: IE *pekw– ‘bake’ (Skrt pacati ‘cooks, bakes, roasts, boils’, Gk pesso ‘cook’, peptos ‘cooked’,  Toch A pak, Toch B pak ‘cook, boil, ripen’, papaksu ‘cooked’, Lat coquo ‘cook’, Welsh poeth ‘baked, roasted, hot’, pobi ‘bake’ (p– < *kw-), Lith kepu, kepti ‘bake’, Alb pjek ‘I bake’, Slav *peku, *pekti ‘bake, roast, oven’) ~ Slav *potu ‘sweat’, *poteti ‘to sweat’. It’s presently assumed that Slav *potu derives from *pokto, with –kt- developing into –t– before a front vowel. A simpler solution, however, postulates that Slav *poteti ‘to sweat’ (comp. Skrt pacati) stems directly from *pokwe-. Speirs above compared IE *pekw– ‘cook, bake, heat’ (with a suggestive “metathesis” seen in Latin coquo, Lith kepu ‘roast, bake’ and Gk –kopos in arto-kopos ‘bread-baker’) and IE *tep– (Skrt tapati ‘be hot, heat, burn’, etc.), with the resulting PIE *kwekw-. This completes the paradigm of labial, dental and velar reflexes of PIE *kwekw– ‘bake’.

4. PIE *yekwr(t)-/*yekwn(t)– ‘liver, innards’: IE *yekwr(t)-/*yekwn(t)– ‘liver’ (Skrt yakrt, Gen. yaknas, Gk heepar, Gen. heepatos, Lat iecur, OHG lebara, OEng lifer, ONorse lifr, Arm leard, Lith jeknos ‘liver’, Slav *(j)ikra ‘calf (of leg), fish roe’) ~ IE *enter– ‘innards’ (Skrt antra ‘entrails’, Gk enteron ‘innards’, Lat interior ‘internal’, Arm enderk’ ‘innards’, ONorse ithrar ‘innards’, Slav *jentro ‘liver, entrails’, *wentro ‘womb, liver, entrails’). Germanic LIVER forms have always been puzzling. Now, the medial labial stops being an anomaly but regularly reflects PIE *kw which is further supported by the medial –t– in the INNARDS set. The nasal infix in the INNARDS set is likely a secondary innovation originally derived from the heteroclitic *yekwn– form (*yekwn– > *yenkwn) and later distributed across the whole paradigm. The INNARDS is morphologically derived as it lost the ancestral heteroclitic paradigm. The initial l– in Germanic and Armenian forms (comp. also Hitt lissi ‘liver’) remains problematic, although it’s reminiscent of the n– in Slav *nentro ‘inside’. One possible explanation is that it dissimilated from *rekwor (> *lekwor) and the latter was formed by the same process of assimilation (*ekwor > *rekwor) as the forms in the INNARDS group (*yekwn– > *yenkwn). For a close morphological parallel see OHG zahar and trahan ‘tear’ (< *dakru-/*daknu-).

5. PIE *leikw– ‘stick, leave behind, leave’: IE *leikwo– ‘leave’ (Skrt rinakti, Gk leipoo ‘I leave’, Lat linquoo ‘I leave, abandon, forsake’, Arm lk’anem ‘to leave’, Goth leihvan, OHG liihan ‘to lend’, Lith likti ‘to stay’, at-laikas ‘remains’, liekas ‘that which is left over’, OCS ot-leeku ‘remains’) ~ IE *lep– ‘to stay, to stick, to leave’ (Skrt lepayati ‘applies ointment’, lipyate ‘glues on, sticks’, Gk lipos ‘grease’, Lat lippus ‘having watery eyes’, Toch lip– ‘stay’, Goth aflifnan ‘stay’, bilaibjan ‘leave’, Lith lipti ‘stick’, lipus ‘sticky’, Latv lipinat ‘stick’, laipns ‘friendly’, Slav *lep– ‘stick, form from clay’, *lipkiji ‘sticky’).

6. PIE *kwel– ‘revolve, turn, move’: IE *kwel– ‘revolve, turn, move’ (Gk kuklos ‘circle’, tellomai ‘turn around in circles’, pelomai ‘am in motion, go’, poleoo ‘go around, range, haunt (intrans.); turn up the soil (trans.)’, bou-kolos ‘cowherder’, ai-polos ‘goatherder’, amphi-polos ‘female servant’, polos ‘axis’, teleoo ‘finish’, telos ‘end’, Lat colere ‘cultivate, move around, inhabit’, Skrt carati ‘he moves, wanders’, cakra ‘wheel’, Toch kukal ‘wagon’, OEng hweohl ‘wheel’, Lith kelias ‘road, way’, kaklas ‘neck’, OPruss kelan ‘wheel’, maluna-kelan ‘miller’s wheel’, Slav *kolo ‘wheel’) ~ IE *pel- ‘flour, dust, ashes’ (Lat pollen ‘finely milled flour’, pulvis ‘dust’, Gk palee ‘finely milled flour, dust’, Skrt palalam ‘ground seeds’, Lith pelenai ‘ashes’, pelene ‘hearth’, Slav *poleeti ‘burn’, *polmen ‘flame’, *pepelu ‘ashes’). The highly productive PIE root with an abstract meaning ‘move in a circle’ could naturally yield forms with the meaning ‘flour, dust’ (the outcome circular movement of millstones). The meaning ‘ashes’ attested only in Balto-Slavic could either evolve by analogy with ‘flour’ or represent an independent development from the underlying notion of circular movement via the agricultural process of slashing and burning (comp. Lat colere ‘cultivate’) or via an existential understanding of ashes as the end (comp. Gk telos) of a cycle of life. The perfect morphological match between Slav *pepelu ‘ashes’, on the one hand, and Gk kuklos ‘cycle’, Skrt cakra ‘wheel’, Toch kukal ‘wagon’ and OEng hweohl ‘wheel’ is a further proof that the two cognate sets are related.

7. IE *kwel– ‘full, fertile’: IE *kwel– ‘crowd’ (Skrt kulam ‘herd, lineage’, OIr clan, cland ‘offspring, lineage, clan’, Lith kiltis ‘clan’, Gk telos ‘crowd’, Slav *celedi ‘serfs, servants’) ~ IE *pel– ‘full, offspring, multitude’: Gk pleerees ‘full’, pleethos ‘multitude’, Skrt puurnas ‘full’, Lat pleoo ‘fill up’, pleenus ‘full’, pleebees ‘crowd’, OIr lan ‘full’, Goth full ‘full’, Lith pilnas ‘full’, Slav *pulnu ‘full’, *plemen < *pled-men– ‘tribe’, *plodu ‘fruit, offspring’. There’s a complete semantic and morphological alignment between Slav *celedi ‘serfs, servants’, OIr cland ‘clan’, on the one hand, and Lat pleebees ‘crowd’ and Slav *pled-men ‘tribe’.

8. PIE *skwel- ‘split, tear, rip’: IE *skel- ‘split’ (Hitt iskallaa(i)– ‘break, smash’, Lith skeliu, skelti ‘split’, skilti, ski?lu ‘crack’, ski?ltis ‘cut piece’, skyle ‘hole’, Gk skallo ‘dig, chop’ , ONorse skilj? ‘divide’, Goth skilj? ‘butcher’, Arm celum ‘split’ [< *sk-] ~ IE *(s)pel– ‘skin’ (Gk spolia ‘fine wolf plucked from the legs of sheep’, pelma ‘sole of the foot’, Lat pellis ‘animal skin, hide’, spolium ‘animal skin, hide’, OHG fel, OEng fell ‘animal skin, hide, pelt’, filmen ‘film, membrane, foreskin’, Lith plene ‘skin (on milk), scab,’ OPruss pleynis ‘meninges’, Slav *pleva, *plena ‘membrane’). It has been observed (EIEC 269) that the underlying verb *(s)pel– ‘to tear’ is implied by the ‘skin’ nouns comprising the *(s)pel- set but is not directly attested in IE dialects. Now it can be seen that this is because this verb is widely attested in the more basic skel– form. The semantic alignment between the two sets is perfect as evidenced by Goth skilj? ‘butcher’ that naturally sits with both groups of forms. Finally, both sets feature s-mobile.

9. PIE *kweH2ur ‘fire’: IE *peH2ur– ‘fire’ (Hitt pahhur ‘fire’, Gk puur ‘fire’, Toch A por, Toch B puwar ‘fire’, Arm hur ‘fire’, hn-oc’ ‘oven’, Goth foon, OHG fiur ‘fire’, ONorse fuurr ‘fire’ (poet.), OPruss panno ‘fire’, Czech pyrzi ‘burning coal, firebrand’) ~ IE *kur– ‘smoke’ (Goth hauri ‘coal’, ONorse hyrr ‘fire’, Lith kurti ‘stoke fire’, Slav *kuriti ‘to smoke, to stoke fire’, Bulg chur ‘smoke’, churia ‘I smoke’.

10. PIE *aukw– ‘seeing faculty’: IE *okw– ‘eye as a physical organ’ (Skrt aksi ‘eyes’, Gk osse ‘eyes’, omma ‘eye’, opsomai ‘I shall see, perceive, inwardly appreciate’, ossomai ‘seeing with the mind’s eye, have a foreboding’, opsis ‘sight’, Lat oculus ‘eye’, Goth augo ‘eye’, Toch A ak, Toch B ek ‘eye’, Arm akn ‘eye’, Lith akis ‘eye’, Slav *oko ‘eye’ ~ Balto-Slav *aupmen ‘intelligence’ (Lith aumuo ‘mind’, aumenis ‘memory, omenis ‘sense, consciousness’, Slav *umu ‘mind, intelligence’). The morphology of the Balto-Slavic root is unmistakably the same as the morphology of Gk omma (< *opmn) and Arm akn (< *akw-mn, according to Olsen, Birgit A. The Noun in Biblical Armenian. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 1991, 171), hence we must postulate a labial in Balto-Slav *aupmen corresponding to a velar in Slav *oko and Lith akis. The loss of –p– before –m– would be an expected outcome of the cluster. The semantic alignment between Gk opsomai, ossomai and the Balto-Slavic forms is perfect (on the non-physical meanings of the Greek reflexes of IE *okw-, see Gonda, Jan. “Reflections on the Indo-European Medium II.” In Selected Studies. Vol. 1. Indo-European Linguistics. Leiden: Brill, 1975. Pp. 179-80). Without the Balto-Slavic forms the non-physical semantics of the Greek words would be an exception considering that in all other IE dialects (and IE *okw– is widely attested) the reflexes refer exclusively to the eye as a physical organ. Finally, the inclusion of the Balto-Slavic group derived from *aupmen explains *au– in Germanic forms for ‘eye’ (Goth augo, OHG ouga, OEng eeage). Hittite evidence confirms the proposed equation between IE *okw– ‘eye’ and Balto-Slav *aupmen ‘mind, intelligence’. It has 1sg. pres. uhhi ‘I see’, 2sg. pres. autti, 1pl. pres. aumeni, 2pl. pres. autteni, which implies *aukwi-, *aut-ti, *aup-meni with the same distribution of reflexes between velar (“laryngeal”), dental and labial places of articulation. The words denoting ‘seeing faculty’ must ultimately derive, by means of a –kw– affix, from PIE *au– seen in Slav *aviti ‘show oneself’, Lith ovyje, ovyties ‘come to someone in a dream’, Ved aavih, Avest aavis ‘obvious, revealed’, Lat audio ‘I hear’, Gk aioo ‘I perceive’ (< *aFioo), aisthanomai ‘I perceive, I realize’ (< *aFisthanomai). The IE forms for ‘ear’ (Gk ous [< *ousos], Lat auris, Goth ausoo, OHG oora, OEng eeare, Lith ausis, Arm unkn, Slav *uxo, Dual *ushi ‘ears, intellect’, Alb vesh ‘ear’) seem to belong here as well but they are formed from the basic root *au– by means of the affix –s– and not –kw-. This solution makes it unnecessary to explain the diphthong in the Germanic forms for ‘eye’ as contamination by the Germanic forms for ‘ear’ or the shape of Arm form for ‘ear’ (unkn < *ukn) as modeled on the form for ‘eye’ (akn). One remaining phonological challenge of this combined cognate set is the initial alternation between o– (H3-) and au– (H2ew-, H2u-). The same alternation is seen in Skrt ukha ‘cooking pot’, Lat aulla ‘pot’ (< *auksla), Goth auhns ‘oven’ next to Arm akut’ ‘hearth’, OHG ofan ‘oven’, OEng ofen ‘furnace’ (< *H2/H3ukw– in EIEC 443 but this doesn’t account for Gk ipnos ‘oven’, Myc i-po-no ‘cooking bowl’). The onset of the IE terms for ‘ear’ is uncertain (Nom. *Hous, Gen. H2eus, H2us are postulated in EIEC 173). Hitt uhhi shows that there was no initial laryngeal in this group (comp. Hitt huhhas but Lat auus ‘grandfather’ < *H2euH2o-) but it also, surprisingly, establishes identity between a laryngeal and a labiovelar.

11. PIE *kwerp– ‘body’: IE *kwerp– ‘body’ (Lat corpus ‘body’, Skrt krpaa ‘beautiful appearance’, Avest kerefs ‘form’, Gk prapis, prapides ‘midriff, diaphragm, understanding, mind’, OHG href, OEng hrif ‘womb, belly’ ~ IE *turp-/*trup– ‘dead body’ (Slav *trupu ‘body, dead body, tree trunk’, Lith trupus ‘breakable, fragile’, trupeti ‘break into small pieces’, Gk trupee ‘hole’, trupaoo ‘I bore’ (Vasmer, Max. Etimologicheskii slovar’ russkogo iazyka. Vol. 4, 109). Pokorny (620) mentions an opinion by Vendryes and Specht that the *kwerp- form could be metathesized *perkw– found in Goth fairhwus ‘life, world’. This fits the tendency noted above whereby roots with two labiovelars may develop mirror-like reflexes that look like products of a metathesis or dissimilation.

12. PIE *kwlokw-/*tlokw– ‘speak’: IE *tlokw– ‘speak’ (Lat loquor ‘say, speak, talk, declare’, Slav *tulku ‘make sense, interpret’, Skrt tarkas ‘suggestion’, tarkayati ‘contemplate’, OIr ad-tluch ‘thank’, totluch ‘ask’ ~ IE *lep-/*lop– ‘talk, mumble’ (Skrt lapati ‘he mumbles, moans, talks’, Pamir loowam, lewam ‘I speak’, Welsh llef ‘voice’ (< *lepmo-), Slav *lepetu, *lopotati ‘babble, talk’, Alb laperdi ‘dirty talk’). Although IE *lep-/*lop– comes across as onomatopoeic (and this may have caused the loss of the initial voiceless stop), but the second consonant is faithful to the underlying sound law. The initial consonant in *kwlokw-/*tlokw– is uncertain. The root very well may be the one with two labiovelars, although only t– forms have survived in the daughter languages.

13. PIE *anekw-/*H2nekw– ‘grandchild, sister’s son, sister’s daughter’: Slav *wnenku-/*wnuku- ‘grandchild’, OCS netiji ‘nephew’, ORus nestera ‘niece’, OIr necht ‘niece’ ~ IE *H2nepoot ‘grandchild’ (Skrt napaat– ‘grandson’, Avest napaat– ‘grandson’, Gk anepsios ‘cousin’, nepodes ‘descendant’, Lat nepoos ‘grandchild’, Lith nepuotis ‘grandson’, nepte ‘granddaughter’, OIr nia ‘sister’s son’, OHG nefo ‘sister’s son’, OEng nefa ‘grandson, sister’s son’, Alb nip ‘grandson, nephew’, mbese ‘granddaughter, niece’ (< *nepotiya). There’s a complete agreement among scholars that  Slav *wnenku/*wnuku ‘grandchild’ is related to the root of IE *H2nepoot- but it’s assumed that the Slavic form has a different affix representing an ancient *-ko-. In the light of the examples above showing that ancient labiovelar phonemes split into dental, velar and labial reflexes already in PIE times it’s possible to postulate that Slav *wnenku-/*wnuku- maintained a velar reflex of the underlying PIE *kw, which yielded /p/ in the majority of other IE dialects. Correspondingly, OCS netiji ‘nephew’ and ORuss nestera ‘niece’ may represent *nekwt– or even *nekwi– > *neti and not *nepti-, as presently assumed. The phonetic reconsideration of the PIE term for ‘grandchild’ as *H2nekw– instead of *H2nepoot– allows one to connect it to Hitt nekna, nikna ‘brother’, nika, neka, nega ‘sister’. Semantically Hitt neka/nekna will be closest to Gk anepsios ‘cousin’. For a parallel semantic development connecting kin categories in Gen 2 with kin categories in Gen0, comp. Lat avus ‘grandfather’, avunculus ‘mother’s brother’ next to Alb vella ‘brother’ (< *awentlo or *awenklo ‘mother’s brother’s son, cousin, brother’).

14. PIE *wekw-/*wokw– ‘give vocal utterance’: IE *wekw– (Gk epos ‘word’, eipon (aor.) ‘spoke, said’, ops ‘voice’, Skrt vakti ‘speaks, says’, vacas ‘word’, vaak ‘voice, sound’, Avest vac– ‘speak, say’, vaxs ‘voice, sound’, Lat vox ‘voice, sound, utterance, cry, call’, Toch wek ‘voice’, OHG giwahan ‘mention’, Arm gocem ‘cry, roar’, OPruss wackis ‘outcry’) ~ IE *wep-/wop– ‘cry out, yell’ (Slav *upeti/*vopiti ‘cry out, yell’, *vopli ‘outcry’, vypu ‘Ardea stellaris’, Latv uupet, uupeju ‘I cry’ (in reference to owls and wild pigeons), upuot ‘cry, call loudly’, upis ‘eagle owl’, Lith upas ‘echo’, OHG ufo, uvo, ONorse ufr ‘owl’, Avest ufyeimi ‘invoco’). OPruss wackis, Arm gocem andAvest ufyeimi secure a strong semantic link between the forms with a velar and the forms with a labial. The semantic integrity of this extended cognate set can be supported by a quote from Carl Buck (“Words of Speaking and Saying in the Indo-European Languages.” American Journal of Philology 36, no. 1 (1915), 16-17): “It is only in Indo-Iranian and Greek that the root has furnished the regular verb of ‘speaking, saying’. The more wide-spread noun, Skt. vak, Lat. vox, etc., means primarily ‘voice’, and the use of the other forms which occur outside of Indo-Iranian and Greek indicate for the parent speech a general application to the voice and to its product, speaking, calling, crying, etc. The more precise semantic source is hidden in the remote past, but it can hardly be doubted that it belongs somewhere under the general head of ‘sound’.”

15. PIE *sekw-/*swekw– ‘sap, juice, syrup’: IE *sekw-/*swekw– ‘juice, sap’ (Gk opos ‘juice’, Lith sakai ‘tree sap’, OPruss sackis ‘tree sap’, Latv svek?i ‘sap, tar’, Alb gjak ‘blood’, Slav *soku ‘juice, sap’) ~ IE *sap- ‘sap’ (OEng saep, ONorse safi ‘tree sap’, Mid Low Germ sabben ‘spit out’, sabbelen ‘make dirty’, Lat s??? ‘syrup, must’, Arm h?m (< *s??m?-) ‘juice’, Avest v?-š???– ‘having poisoned juices’, Slav *sopuli ‘snivel’.

16. PIE *sekw– ‘follow’: IE *sekw– ‘follow’ (Gk hepomai ‘follow’, Lat sequor ‘to follow’, socius ‘companion’, Skrt sacate ‘follows’, sakha ‘friend, companion’, OIr sechithir ‘follows’, Lith seku ‘follow’, OEng secg ‘follower’) ~ IE *sekwtm ‘seven’ (Gk hepta, Lat septem, Skrt sapta, OIr secht, Lith septyni ‘seven’ but sekmas ‘seventh’, OEng seofon, Goth sibun, Toch A spat, Toch B sukt). The IE numeral ‘7’ can be seen as a formation parallel to a well-known Latin derivative of the *sekw– root, namely secundus ‘second’ (“the one that follows”) suggesting that *sekwtm originally meant ‘number that comes after the set of numbers from 1 to 6’. The consolidation of the two sets is facilitated by the presence of forms with –k– in the SEVEN cluster (OIr secht, Toch B sukt, Lith sekmas) and, of course, the presence of –p– forms in the FOLLOW cluster (Gk hepomai). The new cognate set eliminates the need to postulate contamination with okt ‘8’ to explain the anomalous Toch B sukt ‘7’. Uralic is believed (see, e.g., here) to have borrowed several of its forms for ‘7’ from at least two different IE branches (Finno-Permic from Balto-Slavic and Ugrian and Samoyedic from Tocharian B). It will be interesting to see if the reinterpretation of the IE numeral ‘7’ as originally *sekwtm clarifies the prehistory of the Uralic forms in any way.

17. PIE *kwer– ‘oak’: IE *perkwo– ‘oak’ (Lat quercus, Goth fairguni ‘mountain chain’, ONorse fjor ‘tree’, OHG fereh-eih ‘oak-tree’) ~ IE *kwresno– ‘oak, brush’ (Gk prinos ‘holm-oak’, OHG hurst, horst ‘wood, wooded eminence’, OEng hyrst ‘hillock, height, wood, wooded eminence’, Welsh prys ‘woods’, Slav *xvorstu ‘oak, brush’). The semantic alignment between the two subsets is perfect. Under the new reconstruction, Lat quercus does not need to be explained through an (irregular) assimilation from *perkwos as *kw– is original in this superset. The meaning ‘wooded eminence’ for OHG hurst, horst and OEng hyrst is a good match for Goth fairguni ‘mountain-chain’, while the n-affix found in Gk prinos is the same as that of Goth fairguni. Slav *xvorstu likely derives from *skwer. In the light of the possibility that PIE had a complex palatolabiovelar phoneme k’w (by analogy with an aspirated labiovelar gwh), –s– in *kwresno– could represent a palatal reflex of PIE *k’w, while the –kw– of *perkwo– its labial outcome, so that a more complex morphological entity *kwerk’wo– could be assigned to the PIE level.

18. PIE *kwe– ‘father, father’s brother; older male relative’: IE *pH2ter ‘father’ (Toch A paacar, Toch B paacer, Skrt pita, Gk pateer, Lat pater, Arm hayr, Goth fadar, OIr athir) ~ IE *te– ‘father’ (Lith tevas, tetis ‘father’, OPruss taaws, towis ‘father’, thewis ‘father’s brother’, Skrt tata ‘father’ (r.), ‘any male relative or acquaintance’ (a.) [Karve 1953, 38]). Currently one can often read in literature that the laryngeal in *pH2ter does not directly translate into Goth or Arm –a– because in those languages laryngeals are regularly lost and not vocalized (e.g., Goth dauhtar, Arm dustr next to Skrt duhita, Gk thugater). So, for Gothic, it’s assumed that an interconsonantal laryngeal was first lost and then an anaptyctic vowel emerged, which later merged with a. For Armenian, a very short vowel is postulated to occur before or after an interconsonantal laryngeal (Ajello, Roberto. “Armenian.” In The Indo-European Languages, edited by Anna G. Ramat and Paolo Ramat. Pp. 197-227. Taylor & Francis, 1998, 203). For Tocharian, long aa is considered to be analogical with maacer ‘mother’ but this explanation does not work in light of Toch A ckaacar, Toch B tkaacer ‘daughter’. These piecemeal and ad hoc explanations can be dropped if we reconstruct IE *kweH2ter yielding *paH2ter and regularly leading to Toch *pacer, Germ. *fater and Arm *hathir. IE *paH2ter was in complementary distribution with *pH2ter. The latter form prevailed in Sanskrit, Greek and Latin. (For the original CeC- shape of this root see Kloekhorst, Alwin. “Indo-European Nominal Ablaut Patterns: The Anatolian Evidence,” in Indo-European Accent and Ablaut, edited by G. Keydana, Paul Widmer and Thomas Olander. Pp. 107-28. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum, 2013, 117.) Szemerenyi (1977, 6-7) suspected that the two sets are related and postulated *pte-wis to explain the Baltic group. The proposed new phonetic law simplifies the solution. The difficult Slav *stryju ‘father’s brother’ receives a satisfactory explanation as derived from *tetrujos > *ttrujos > *struju (morphologically identical to Skrt pitrvya and Lat patruus ‘father’s brother’ and in terms of the onset similar to OPruss thewis ‘father’s brother’). Compared to the phonetic chain proposed in (Vey 1931), this new one drops the most difficult first step that required the conversion of pt into tt. (See above for the origin of ORuss nestera ‘niece’ from *netetera < *nekw– instead of *neptera.) Similarly, the otherwise-puzzling Arm yawray ‘step-father’ can now be seen as regularly derived from *tatros (comp. Gk patroos). Arm hayr (< *kweH2ter), just like Arm hur ‘fire’ (< *kweH2ur) above show that the Armenian velar spirant h does not constitute a delabialized reflex of PIE *p (as in p > f > h) but descends more seamlessly from the labiovelar without the change in the place of articulation. It’s likely that Hitt atta, Slav *otici, Goth atta ‘father’ are also derived from *akwa-, and hence there was only one PIE term for ‘father’ (*kwe-, *akwe-) and not two (*pH2ter and *atta) as presently believed. Interestingly, in Gothic, the form fadar occurs only once, with atta being the main term for ‘father’. If the two forms are linked phonetically, the puzzle of why a PIE term for ‘father’ fell out of favor in Gothic simply disappears. Proto-Germanic *fathoo ‘father’s sister’ (OEng fathe, OFris fethe) is a perfect morphological match for Slav *teta ‘father’s sister’.

Unlike *pHter and *te-, which are isolated in a Eurasian perspective, PIE *kwe-, *akwe ‘father’ find plenty of potential cognates in the so-called “Nostratic” or “Eurasiatic” languages (comp. Nostr eka ‘older male relative’ such as ‘father’, ‘father’s brother’, ‘older brother’, ‘grandfather’, etc.).

PIE *gw

18. PIE *wegw– ‘water’, *wegwr ‘water creature’: IE *ngwr- ‘water snake, eel’ (Slav *ongri/*ugri ‘eel’, Lith ungurys, OPrus angurgis ‘eel’, Gk (Hes.) imbeeris ‘water snake’, Lat anguis ‘snake’, anguilla ‘eel’, angis ‘snake, adder’, OHG unc ‘adder’, OIr esc-ung ‘eel, water snake’) ~ IE *udro– ‘water snake, water animal, otter’ (Lith uudra, Slav *wydra ‘otter’, Skrt udras ‘water animal’, Avest udra ‘otter’, Gk hydros, hydra ‘hydra, water snake’, OHG ottar ‘otter’). The first root can be traced back to IE *wegw-/*ugw– ‘wet’ (Gk ugros ‘liquid, fluid’, ONorse vokr ‘wet, moist’ [EIEC 639, with further possibilities). The second root is transparently related to a more basic IE root *wed– ‘water’ (Hitt watar, Toch war, Gk hudoor, Skrt udan, Goth watoo, OHG wazzar, Slav *woda, Lith vanduo) which now needs to be reinterpreted as *wegw-. The nasal infix in the EEL set is secondary and intrusive. It sporadically emerges in the WATER set as well (Lith vanduo ‘water’, Lat unda ‘wave’).

19. PIE *ngwen- ‘bulge, testicle’: *IE *ngwen– (Lat inguen ‘bulge in the genital region, genitals’, Gk adeen ‘gland’) ~ Skrt andas ‘egg’, andam ‘testicle’, Slav *jendro ’round core, kernel’, *jendra pl. ‘testicles’.

21. PIE *gweHw-/*gweHi– ‘be, become, grow, live’: IE *gwiHwo– ‘live’ (Skrt jivati ‘he lives’, jiiva ‘living’, Toch A so, Toch B saw ‘live’, Gk zoooo ‘live’, bios ‘life’, Lat viivo ‘live’, viita ‘life’, Goth qius ‘living’, OHG quek, OEng cwic, ONorse kvikr ‘quick’, OIr beeo, Welsh byw ‘alive’, Lith gyvas ‘living’, gyju ‘become healthy’, Slav *zivu ‘living’, *ziti ‘live’) ~ *IE *bhewH– ‘be, become, grow’ (*bhewHiyo– [pres.]: Lat fiioo ‘become’, OIr biiu ‘become’, Welsh byddaf ‘be’, OEng beeo ‘am’; *bhewH-: Skrt bhavati ‘is’, Gk phuomai ‘grow, become’, phuo ‘beget’, Arm busanim ‘sprout up’, OHG buuan ‘live’, Lith buuti ‘be’, Slav *byti ‘be’, Alb buj ‘lodge, stay’; *bhewH-t-, *bhewH-d– [nomin.]: Skrt bhuuti ‘being’, Gk phyton ‘plant’, physis ‘nature’, phylee ‘tribe’, phytla ‘nature, species’, Lat futurus ‘yet to be, going to be’, OIr both ‘hut’, Welsh bod ‘dwelling’, Lith buutas ‘house’, buukla ‘residence’, Slav *bydlo ‘dwelling, residence; cattle’; *bhewH-s-: Lith busiont ‘future’, Slav *bystru ‘quick’. Semantic alignment between the two cognate sets is compelling (comp., especially, OHG buuan ‘live’ as well as OEng cwic and Slav *bystru). The key phonetic barrier separating them is aspiration in the onset of PIE *bhewH-. However, this can be attributed to the subsequent laryngeal, just like in IE *dhugH2ter a voiced aspirated stop comes from a combination “plain voiced stop + laryngeal” (see below). The variation in the root vocalism of IE *gwiHwo– and IE *bhewH– can be accounted for as a metathesis in the ancient affixed forms *gweHi-wo vs. *gweHw-yo. IE *gwous– ‘cow, cattle’ (Skrt gau, Avest gaus, Toch A ko, Toch B keu, Myc qo-u ‘cow’, Gk bous, Lat boos, Umbr bum, Arm kov, OIr boo, OHG chuo, OEng cuu, Latv guovs ‘cow’, Slav *govedo ‘bull, cattle’, Osset qug, gog ‘cow’), which currently does not have an etymology, seem to belong here as well. The general semantic fit is perfect (cattle was a source of life and a foundation of being for cattle-growing pastoralists). In addition, Slav *byd-lo ‘cattle’ (in Polish and eastern Slavic languages) provides an outstanding formal and semantic parallel to Slav *goved-o ‘cattle’.

PIE *gwh

22. PIE *ghwegwh-: ‘earth, ground, bottom’): IE *dheg’h-/*dheg’h– ‘earth’ (Hitt tekan, Toch A tkam, Toch B, kam, Gk khthoon, Lat humus, Skrt ksam) ~ IE *bhudh-/*dhubh– (Skrt budhna, Gk puthm?nLat fundus, OHG bodam/boden, Slav *du(b)no) ‘bottom’, Lith dubus ‘deep’, Goth diups ‘deep’).

23. PIE *sneghw– ‘sky, snow’: IE *sneigwh– (OPruss snaygis, Lith sniegas, Goth snaiws ‘snow’, OHG sniwit ‘it snows’, Gk neiphei ‘it snows’, nipha ‘snow’, Lat niivit, ninguitnix ‘snow’, OIr snigid ‘it rains, it snows“, Skrt snihyati “it gets wet”) ~ IE *Cnebho– (Hitt nepiš, Luw tappas ‘sky’, Lith debesis ‘cloud’, Gk nephos ‘cloud’, dnophos, gnophos ‘darkness’, Skrt nabhas ‘fog, sky’, OHG nebul ‘fog’, Slav *nebo ‘sky’). The onset remains somewhat enigmatic due to the unexpected d– in Luwian, Lithuanian and Greek. The consolidation of IE *sneigwh– and *Cnebho– cognate sets into one opens possibilities to resolve the puzzling onset but since the SKY group is always reconstructed as *nebho– the connection between the two sets can be easily established on the assumption of an s-mobile in the SNOW group. The diphthong in the sneigwh– group adds a nuance of difference to this comparison. It can be explained as the product of metathesis of an affixal vowel into the root, so that *snegwhyo– > *sneigwho– (see also *Hledhwero > *Hleudhero below).

24.  PIE *gwhe– ‘burn, smoke’: IE *gwher– ‘ burn’ (Skrt ghrnoti ‘shines, burns’, gharmas ‘summer heat’, haras ‘heat’, Gk theromai ‘am burning hot’, theros ‘summer, harvest’, thermos ‘warm’, Arm jer ‘warm, warmth’,OIr gorim, guirim ‘am warming up’, Lat formus ‘warm’, Alb zjarm ‘heat’, Slav *goreti ‘burn’, Lith gariu, gareti ‘burn, get enflamed with anger’, OPruss gorme ‘heat’) ~ IE *dhuH2mo– ‘smoke’ (Hitt tuhhuis, Skrt dhumas, Lat fuumus,Gk thuumos ‘spirit’ > Mod Gk ‘anger’, OHG toum ‘smoke, fog, steam’, Lith dumai, Slav *dymu). The original root *gwhe– is enlarged with –r-, –m– and –H2– determinants, or a combination thereof.

25. PIE *gwhei– ‘strike, slay, beat’: IE *gwhe(n)– ‘strike’ (Hitt kuenzi ‘he/she/it kills’, Gk theino ‘I strike’, phonos ‘manslaughter’, Skrt hanti ‘he/she/it strikes, kills’, Lith genu ‘I hunt, drive’, OCS *goniti ‘hunt, drive’ (< ‘beat repeatedly’) ~ IE *bhei– ‘beat’ (Gk phitros ‘log, tree trunk’, OHG biihal ‘axe’, Arm bir ‘club’, OIr benim ‘I cut, I strike’, Slav *biti ‘beat, strike’, *boju ‘fight’. The diphthong in Gk theino may come not from *thenyo– but represent the original diphthong also reflected in phitros. Alternatively, the bright vowel in phitros may parallel the same “anomaly” seen in Gk bios ‘life’ (< IE *gwiiwo-) instead of expected **dios [see Meier-Brugger 2003, 135].

26. PIE *gwher-/*gwhor– ‘door, court, garden’: IE *dhwer– ‘door’ (Lith durys ‘door’, dvaras ‘court’, Goth daur ‘gates’, OHG turi ‘doors’, Gk thura ‘door’, Lat forees ‘double-sided door’, foris ‘door’, forum ‘court’, Skrt dvaras ‘doors’, Alb dere ‘door’, Slav *dveri ‘door’, dvoru ‘court’) ~ IE *ghordho-/*ghorto– ‘garden, town’ (Skrt grhas ‘house’, Lat hortus ‘garden’, Alb garth ‘fence’, Goth gards ‘house’, Toch B kerciye ‘palace’ [< *ghordhiiom], Lith gardas ‘fence’, Slav *gordu ‘town’).

27. PIE *gwhegwh– ‘yearn, long for, be greedy, ask for’: IE *gwhedh– ‘yearn, desire’ (Skrt thessasthai ‘pray for, beseech’ [< *gwedhiyo-], pothos ‘desire, need, longing’, Avest jaidyat ‘he asked’, OIr guidim ‘I beseech’, Lith pasigendu ‘feel a lack of something’, gedauju ‘wish, yearn, strive’, godas ‘greed’, godus ‘greedy, stingy’, godziuos ‘wish, desire’, Slav *zendati ‘desire, be thirsty’, *zadnyji ‘greedy’) ~ IE *bhogho– ‘devour, part, lot’ (Gk phagein ‘swallow, eat up, devour, consume’ [< *phagFein?), Skrt bhajati ‘endows, allots’, Skrt bhagas ‘lot, happiness’, also ‘bestower’ as an epithet of gods, Avest baxsaiti ‘partakes’, baga– ‘lot, part’, Slav *bogu ‘god’). The semantic connection between the cognate subsets reveals a complex, reciprocal notion of yearning for a missing part (by people) and bestowing it (by gods upon people). The strength of the semantic link becomes evident if one observes that both cognate subsets preserve both the original religious meanings (e.g., Gk thessasthai and Slav *bogu) as well as the reinterpretation of this religious concept as a physical state of being thirsty, hungry (Slav *zendati) or of the act of satisfying hunger (Gk phagein). Interestingly, the second PIE labiovelar reflected as plain g in Gk phagein behaves like labiovelars are known to behave in satem languages (comp. the reflex of the first labiovelar in Lith gedauju) suggesting that the centum-satem division in the treatment of the labial component of a labiovelar (the loss of w in satem languages and the merger of labiovelars with velars) reflects a positional feature of certain roots in both centum and satem languages and not a unique phenomenon of satem languages.

27. PIE *H1legwh– ‘grow freely’: IE *H1legwhu-/*H1legwhro– ‘light, quick’ (Lat levis ‘light’, Gk elakhus ‘low’, elaphros ‘quick, light’, Ved raghu ‘quick, swift’, laghu ‘light, low’, OHG lungar ‘fast’, Goth leihts [with a nasal infix > *H1lngwhu-/*H1lngwhro-], OIr laigiu ‘less, worse’, Slav *liguku ‘light, easy’, Latv liegs ‘light’) ~ IE *H1leudhero– ‘free’ (Skrt rodhati ‘he/she/it grows’, Goth liudan ‘grow’, Gk eleutheros ‘freeman’, Lat liiber ‘freeman’, liiberi ‘children’, OHG liut ‘people’, Lith liaudis ‘people’, Latv laudis ‘people’, Slav *liudu ‘people’. In IE *H1leudhero– ‘free’ the diphthong is likely secondary and emerged from an earlier *H1ledwhero-. The semantic match is perfect as the inclusion of the LIGHT-QUICK set fills is the logical gap between the meaning ‘grow’ and the meaning ‘free’ in the FREE set. The presence of the meaning ‘low’ in the LIGHT-QUICK set (Gk elakhus, Ved laghu) fits the meaning ‘grow’ found in the FREE set. The meaning ‘children, offspring’ recorded in Latin does not look aberrant (as it seems to be among other social terms such as OHG liut, Lat liiber and Gk eleutheros) but ties back to the broader PIE notion of ‘quick, early growth’ supported by both sets. The emergence of the social meaning ‘freeman’ > ‘people’ clearly postdates the split of this cognate set into the LIGHT-QUICK and the FREE groups, as it’s not present in the LIGHT-QUICK group, while both groups show the original organic and pre-social semantic core.

28. IE *(H1)neghwro– ‘kidney’ (Gk nephros ‘kidney’, OHG nioro ‘kidney’, Lat nefrones ‘testicles’) ~ Slav *needro, pl. needra ‘chest, internal area in the body, breasts’. The Slavic form is considered difficult from an etymological perspective. H1 in the KIDNEY set accounts for the long vowel in the Slavic form.

29. PIE *(s)neghw-/*nogwh– ‘dusk, night, cloud, mist’: IE *negwh-/*nogwh– ‘night’ (Hitt nekuz, Toch A nakcu, Toch B nekc, Gk nuks, Lat nox, Skrt nakti, Lith naktis, Goth nahts,  Alb nate, Slav *not’i) ~ IE *sneudh– ‘dusk, cloud, mist’ (Gk nuthon ‘dusk’, Lat nuubees ‘cloud, mist’, Avest snaoda ‘cloud’, Welsh nudd ‘mist’). The NIGHT set is usually reconstructed as *nekw-/*nokw– but the medial stops in all the IE languages is equally compatible with PIE *gwh. Before t labiality, voice and aspiration would all disappear.

Cases with secondary aspiration

As I argued elsewhere (see, e.g., on this blog), some IE voiced aspirates can be explained as a combination of voiced stop + laryngeal, in which a laryngeal is found not adjoining the voiced stop but in the subsequent segment of the form. This rule can explain such a well-known IE word usually reconstructed as PIE *bhreH2ter (> Lat frater, Gk phrater, etc.) as representing earlier mr– (also found in Lat maritus ‘husband’, Gk meiraks ‘boy, girl’, Germ *brudi– ‘bride’, Latv marsa ‘brother’s wife’, etc.). The aspiration inferred from Lat frater and Gk phrater is the result of a feature throwback from the medial laryngeal in the underlying form *mreH2ter. This insight leads to the following comparanda featuring voiced labiovelars, voiced aspirates and medial laryngeals.

30. PIE *gwer-/*gwor– ‘devour; mouth, throat’ > IE *gwer– ‘devour, throat’ (Lith gerti, geriu ‘drink’, gurklys ‘throat, crop, craw’, Latv dzert, dzeriu ‘drink’, OPruss gurcle ‘throat’, Skrt girati, grnaati ‘he devours’, garas ‘potion’, Avest gar– ‘devour’ (in compounds), Arm keri ‘I ate’, Gk bora ‘fodder’, bibroosko ‘I eat, devour’, barathron ‘gulf, pit, muzzle’, Arcad dzerethron, Ion berethron, Lat vooro, voraare ‘I devour’ , Slav *zreti ‘devour’, *gordlo ‘throat’ ~ IE *bhardheH2– ‘beard’ (Lat barba, OHG bart, OEng beard, Lith barzda, Latv barzda, baarda, OPruss bordus, Slav *brada ‘beard, chin’). There is distributional synergy between the two cognate sets: Greek forms are missing from the BEARD set but they are abundantly present in the DEVOUR set. The semantic match is very good: beard grows in the same area of the human head where mouth and throat are located. The consolidation of these two IE cognate sets provides a clear etymological path for the BEARD forms. The morphology of Gk barathron and Slav *gordlo shows the same voiced aspirate *dh as the BEARD forms. In Lat barbab– is not aspirated (comp. Gk barathron), which has always been a problem. Regressive assimilation from –b– of the second syllable (*farba > barba) or a Latin version of Grassmann’s Law (*bhardha– > *bardha– > barba) are the two main explanations. Importantly, both explanations invoke an intersegmental process. For the BEARD forms a laryngeal is usually reconstructed (e.g., EIEC 251) to account for the last –a. It’s precisely this laryngeal that could have added aspiration to the originally unaspirated root *gwer-/*gwor-, so that *gwerdeH2– yielded *bhard-, *bardh– (Lat barba, Gk barathron) and *bhardh– (Goth bart) forms.

31. PIE *gwrew– ‘scruff, brow’: IE *bhrewH– ‘eyebrow’ (Toch A parwaam, Toch B parwaane [dual] ‘brows’, Skrt bhruu-‘ brow’, Avest brvat [dual] ‘brows’, Gk ophruus ‘brows’, OEng bruu ‘brow, eyelash, eyelid’, Eng brow ‘eyebrow, forehead’, ONorse bruun ‘brow’, OIr forbruu ‘brows’, Lith bruvis ‘brow’, Slav *brovi ‘brows’) ~ *gwrewio– ‘scruff, mane’ (> *gwreiwo-) (Skrt griiva ‘back of the head, scruff’, Avest griiva ‘back of the head’, Gk deree ‘neck, back of the head, throat’, Ion deiree ‘neck, throat’, Latv griva ‘mouth of river’, Slav *griva ‘mane’). The semantic connection between eyebrow, eyelash and eyelid, on the one hand, and scruff and mane, on the other, is motivated by both meanings referring to secondary forms of head hair. Both subsets show semantic development from hair to the underlying part of the head: mane > back of the head, eyebrow > forehead. (Notably, in the DEVOUR-BEARD set forms for ‘beard’ show a similar semantic evolution from beard to chin.) The SCRUFF-BROW cognate superset is similar to the preceding DEVOUR-BEARD superset and they may ultimately be related. But for the time being it’s better to keep them separate to avoid excessive semantic latitude. In addition, the DEVOUR-BEARD set and the SCRUFF-BROW set are distinct morphologically. PIE *gwrew– ‘scruff, brow’ is united by the distinctive –w– enlargement with pan-Indo-European distribution. But the emergence of a voiced aspirate from a sequence ‘voiced stop + laryngeal’ can clearly be in seen in both supersets. PIE *gwrewH- and *gwerdeH2- yielded, respectively, *bhrewH– and *b(h)ard(h)H2-, in both cases with a laryngeal throwback.

32. PIE *gwhe-/*gwe– ‘daughter, wife, junior female relative’: IE *dhugH2ter ‘daughter’ (Lyc cbatra, Luw tuwatari, Toch A tkacer, Toch B ckacer, Skrt duhita, Gk thugater, Osc fuutrei (, Goth dauhtar, Lith dukte, Arm dustr, Slav *dutji (OCS dušti)) ~ IE *gweneH2/*gwenH2 ‘wife, woman’ (Gk gunee, Goth qino, Slav *zena, Arm kin, Skrt janih, Toch B sana). The two sets are etymologically linked at the root *gwhe-/*gwe– enlarged by the gH2– + ter suffixes in the DAUGHTER forms and by the nH2/eH2 suffix in the WIFE forms. Lyc cbatra (Kloekhorst reconstructs *dwetr– and this reconstruction secures –w– in this form) likely stems directly from *gwatra and not from *twatra as it’s currently assumed. Aspirated dh in *dhugH2ter may be explained as a throwback from the following laryngeal, so that *gwe– > *du– > *dugH2– > *dhugH2– > *dhugH2ter. As I argued earlier, the same process likely accounted for the origin of IE *bhreH2ter ‘brother’ from the original PIE *mreH2ter < *mer– ‘affine’. Italic represented by Osc fuutir shows that the correspondences PIE *dh ~ Italic f and PIE *gwh ~ Italic f are in fact one and the same correspondence PIE *gwh ~ Italic f. The ending –nH2/-neH2 in the WIFE forms may be a hypocoristic.

Latin doesn’t have either a DAUGHTER or a WIFE reflex of the PIE *gwhe-/*gwe– root suggesting that the form got lost in the history of Italic at the time when it still had the undifferentiated DAUGHTER-WIFE meaning. And indeed Osc fuutrei refers to an epithet of a goddess from Ceres’s circle and not specifically to ‘daughter’. The semantic connection between ‘daughter’ to ‘woman, wife’ can be illustrated in the light of the peculiarities of Roman marriage. There were two kinds of legal marriages (justae nuptiae, justum matrimonium, legitimum matrimonium) in Rome: cum conventione in manum and sine in manum conventione. In the former case, a woman severed her ties with her natal family and became materfamilias in the family of her husband. She was entitled to a share of inheritance in her new family. In the latter case, a married woman remained a member of her father’s family. Uxor was a woman who entered into a connubium on the sine in manus conventione basis and was therefore a wife of her husband and a daughter of her father at the same time. In Cicero’s (Top. 3) words, “uxor is a genus of which there are two species; one is materfamilias, ‘quae in manum convenit;’ the other is uxor only.” (Materfamilias was a kind of daughter to her husband as well, and jurist Gaius in Institutes (I, 3; I, 118; II, 159) literally says just that – Usu in manu conveniebat quae anno continui nupta perseverabat: nam velut annua possessione usucapiebatur, in familia viri transibat filiaeque locum obtinebat.) (L.S. 1870, 740; Bierkan et al. 1907, 310). A 19th century German legal scholar Rudolph Sohm (2002, 365-366) echoes him saying that “An uxor in manu (materfamilias) stands legally, by virtue of the manus, ‘filiaefamilias loco’. The relations between her and her husband – both as regards her person and her property – are governed by the same rules of law as apply to the case of a child… The relations between a wife in manu and her children are governed by the same rules as apply between brother and sisters.” From an early period, however, this transfer of a woman from her father’s manus to her husband’s manus began to be avoided, at least in wealthy families, thus retaining the woman, along with rights to her dowry and inheritance in her familia of origin. Manus was rare by the end of the Republic and virtually extinct by Gaius’s time (Gardner & Wiedemann 1991, 6, n. 1).

The newly reconstructed onset for the PIE term for ‘daughter; wife’ *gwe– casts light on the enigmatic Lat uxoor ‘wife’. The Latin form can now be easily derived from *weksoor < *gweksoor (PIE *gw regularly gives v in Latin as in viivos ‘living’ < *gwiivo-) < *gwegH2soor (by analogy with *sosoor ‘sister’) < *gwegH2ter. Apparently in proto-Italic there were two complementary roots – *gwegH2– (> Lat uxoor) and *gwheg– (Osc fuutir). The unaspirated onset of *gwegH2– finds support in IE *gweneH2 ‘wife’ and in Skrt duhita ‘daughter’. Skrt duhita is usually taken as an example of Grassmann’s Law, which presumably operated independently in Indic, Greek, Tocharian and Latin, but considering that the onset of *gweneH2 is unaspirated either it’s more likely that *dh reconstructed on the basis of Gk thugater, Arm dustr and Goth dauhtar represents a secondary development caused by “aspiration throwback,” with the aspiration feature derived from medial H2. This means that only one of two consonants could carry aspiration in PIE: Gk thugater comes from *dhugH2ter, while Arm dustr and Goth dauhtar from *dhugter (and not *dhughter).

33. PIE *gwheighw– ‘build from stone or clay’: Slav *zidati build, erect, create (especially from stone or clay)’, Lith žiedžiu ‘form, shape from clay’, žaidas ‘oven’, židinys ‘hearth’, Goth deigan ‘form out of clay, smear’, OHG teig ‘dough’, Skrt dehmi ‘I smear’, dehi ‘damb’,  Gk teikhos ‘stone wall’, toikhos ‘wall’, Lat fingoo, fictus ‘I form, smear’. This is a well established cognate set that shows a root alternation suggestive of an original pair of labiovelars: Balto-Slavic points to *zeid, while all the other dialects *dheigh-. These forms can be linked to an otherwise isolated Greek-Slavic isogloss – Slav *ziduku ‘liquid, watery’, *ziza ‘slop’, Gk deisa ‘sludge’ (< *gweidhya-) showing that the original protoform must have been *gweigwH-, with the subsequent collapse of gw and H into gwh and a laryngeal throwback seen in Goth deigan.

34. PIE *gwor– ‘move quickly’: IE *gworH– (Gen. *gwr-H-) ‘mountain, forest, wind’ (Skrt giris? ‘mountain’, Avest gairi– ‘mountain’, Gk (Hom.) boreees,  (Att.) boreaas, boraas ‘northwind’, OPruss garian ‘tree’, Lith giria ‘forest’, Latv dzira ‘forest’, Slav *gora ‘mountain’,  Alb gur ‘rock’) ~ IE *bhur– ‘move quickly’ (Skrt bhurati ‘moves quickly, twitches, fidgets’, Lat furoo ‘rage’, Latv bauruot ‘to moo’, OIr buriud ‘mooing’, burach ‘tear the ground’, ONorse byrr ‘tailwind’, MidLowGerm borelos ‘windless’, Lith paburmai ‘furiously, rapidly’, Slav *bura ‘storm’). The laryngeal is reconstructed for the first set but not for the second but aspiration shows up in the second set. But the semantic link carried by Gk boreees, boreaas, boraas ‘northwind’ and ONorse byrr ‘tailwind’, MidLowGerm borelos ‘windless’, Slav *bura ‘storm’ is strong. Apparently, the abstract concept of ‘quick, violent movement’ stands behind such diverse natural referents as ‘mountain’ (product of violent natural forces), ‘forest’, ‘wind’, etc.

35. PIE *gwer-H– ‘carry; heavy’: IE *bher– ‘carry’ (Skrt bharati, bibharti ‘he carries, brings’, bhr?tis? ‘carrying, content, reward’, Avest baraiti ‘he carries’, Gk phero ‘I carry’, Arm berem ‘I carry’, Alb bie ‘I bring’, Lat fero ‘I carry’, fors ‘occurrence’, Goth baira ‘I carry’, baurþei ‘burden’, OEng byrðen ‘load, weight, charge, duty’, OIr biru ‘I carry’, brith ‘birth’, Slav *brati ‘to take’) ~ IE *gwreHu-/*gwrHu– ‘heavy’ (Toch A kraamaarts ‘heavy’, B kraamaar ‘weight, heaviness’, kramartse ‘heavy’, Skrt guru– ‘heavy’, Avest gouru– ‘heavy’, Lat gravis ‘heavy’, Gk barus ‘heavy’, Welsh bryw ‘live, vigorous, strong’, Latv gruuts ‘heavy’), Alb zor ‘heaviness, trouble’. The Tocharian forms (< *gwremr-) are especially close morphologically to Gk pherma ‘foetus’, Skrt bharma ‘care, preservation’, bhariman ‘carrying, preservation’, Avest bareman ‘carrying, preservation’, Slav *brema ‘burden, pregnancy’ (< *bhermn). If in the HEAVY set the laryngeal is reflected as a in Greek and Latin, in the CARRY set it must have turned an original voiced stop attested in the HEAVY set into a voiced aspirate. The meaning transformation went from the notions of ‘carry’ and ‘burdensome’ to the notion of ‘heavy’.

A Greek-Slavic isogloss *gwrebh– represented by Gk brephos ‘foetus, new-born, baby’ and OCS zrebe ‘foal’ seem to be of the same root *gwerH– enlarged with suffix –bho– (< –bo-, see below, no. 36).

36. PIE *gweH-l– ‘to mother’ > ‘to nurse, to give birth’: IE *gwelbho– ‘womb’ (Gk delphus ‘uterus’, adelpheos ‘brother’ [<*sm-gwelbheyos ‘from the same womb’], dolphos (Hes.) ‘womb’, Skrt garbha ‘uterus’, Avest gerebus ‘new-born animal’, garewa ‘uterus’, Goth kalbo ‘calf’, OHG chalb, chalp ‘calf’, kilbur ‘ewe lamb’, OEng clifor lamb ‘ewe lamb’, cealf ‘calf’, ONorse kalfr ‘calf’) ~ IE *dhe-l– ‘to suckle, to nurse, to milk, to mother’ (Gk theelee ‘mother’s breast’, theelus ‘female (animal), feminine’, Lat feelo ‘suck’, feelix ‘fertile, happy’, Arm dal ‘colostrum’, OHG tila ‘woman’s breast’, OEng delu ‘nipple’, ONorse dilkr ‘lamb’, Lith pirm-dele ‘cow which bears a calf for the first time’, Latv dels ‘son’, Alb dele ‘sheep’, MIr del ‘nipple’, delech ‘milk cow’. The new principle of grouping of cognates brings together such semantically and phonetically perfect matches as Gk a-delpheos ‘brother’ and Latv dels ‘son’, ONorse kalf ‘calf’/OHG kilbur ‘ewe lamb’ and ONorse dilkr ‘lamb’.

The PIE root *gweH– also spawned a variety of forms with different affixation: Gk *theesthai ‘milk a cow’, theesato ‘he sucked’, theenion ‘milk’, Skrt dhayati ‘suckles’, dhatri ‘nurse’, dadhi ‘yogurt, sour milk’, dheena ‘milk cow’, Avest daeenu ‘female quadruped’,  Lat feetus ‘offspring, pregnancy’, feemina ‘woman’, OIr dinu ‘lamb’, Goth daddjan ‘to nurse’, OHG diien ‘to nurse’, Arm diem ‘suck’, Latv deju ‘suck’, OPruss dadan ‘milk’, OCS dojiti ‘give breast’, deeva ‘maiden’ (the ending is like that of Gk theelus ‘female (animal), feminine’ [<*dhelFos?]), deeti ‘child’. Although there is a clear semantic specialization around the notion of ‘nursing’, ‘milking’ and ‘suckling’ the more neutral meaning of ‘mothering’ (whether through birth or through nursing) is seen in such form as Lat feetus.

Phonetically, aspiration initially carried by a laryngeal (prior to its loss with compensatory vowel lengthening) was redistributed across the consonants of the morph: e.g., in Gk delphus (< PIE *gweHlbo-) the second consonant became aspirated, while the first one stayed plain, while in Gk theelus (< PIE *gweHlwo-) the first consonant got aspirated (in the absence of the second one). The same pattern can be seen in Gk pherma ‘foetus’ and brephos ‘foetus’ (see above, no. 35).

37. PIE *gwhegwho– ‘limb, run’: IE *bhaghus/*bheH2ghus ‘(fore)arm, foreleg’ (Toch poke ‘arm’, Toch B pokai ‘arm, limb’, Skrt baahu ‘forearm, arm, forefoot of the animal’, Avest baazu ‘arm, foreleg’, Gk peekhus ‘elbow, forearm’, OHG buog ‘shoulder’, OEng buog ‘shoulder, arm, bough’, ONorse boogr ‘arm, shoulder’) ~ IE *gwhegw– ‘run’ (Gk phebomai ‘I run’, phobos ‘stampede, fear’, Lith begti ‘run’, Latv begt ‘run’, OCS beezati ‘run’). Notably, Balto-Slavic *beegeeti ‘run’ attests a long vowel that’s prominent in the forms for FOREARM-FORELEG but is missing in Gk phebomai. IE *bhaghus shows –u– suggestive of an earlier labiovelar. The original meaning likely referred to the animal, rather than human body part and its action. The contrast between Gk peekhus/Skrt baahu and Gk phebomai parallels the contrast between Skrt duhita (expected Gk tukhater**) and attested Gk thugater.

Complex cases

There are cognate sets in which the sound correspondences characteristic of the descendants of PIE labiovelars have been clouded by seemingly irregular processes involving sonorants.

38. PIE *gwhn-/*gwhngwhe– ‘mouth, cheek, jaw, tongue’: IE *dng’huH2-/*dngwheH2– ‘tongue’ (Lat lingua, OLat dingua, Osc fangvam, Goth tuggoo, Skrt jihvaa, Avest hizva, Slav *jenzyku, Lith liezuwis, Arm lezu, Toch A kantu, Toch B kantwo, OIr tengae) ~ IE *g’enu-/*g’endho– ‘cheek, chin, jaw’ (Gk genus ‘chin, jaw’, gnathos ‘jaw’, Skrt hanus ‘jaw’, Avest zaanu ‘jaw’, Lat gena ‘cheek’, Goth kinnus ‘cheek’, OIr glun‘ mouth’, Arm cnaut ‘jaw, cheek’, Toch A sanwem ‘jaw’, Lith zandas ‘jaw, cheek’). These are two classic IE roots widely attested across IE dialects and subjected to a myriad of phonological analyses. The semantics of the two sets holds no barriers for comparison, as both sets refer to the physical area of the mouth. The formal properties of the members of the TONGUE set have been most difficult to reconcile phonologically. While it’s generally agreed that the IE words for ‘tongue’ go back to *dnghuH2-/*dngwheH2-, the Osc fangvam points to *dhenghwen, Skrt jihvaa and Avest hizva to *gighwaa, Slav *jenzyku and Lith liezuwis to Balto-Slav *ingwu-. The CHEEK-CHIN-JAW set contains one “anomaly,” namely Skrt hanus which points to *g’henu. The TONGUE set contains a familiar “metathesis” (Toch A kantu, Toch B kantwo) that we’ve also encountered in the EARTH and BUILD sets and that seems to represent a “signature” of sets containing two labiovelars. This “metathesis” reveals the formal similarity between the two sets (Toch A kantu, Toch B kantwo next to Toch A sanwem). Skrt jihvaa doesn’t look like a product of assimilation anymore, but is rather a regular outcome of PIE *gwhngwhe-. Osc fangwam, too, now logically continues *gwhngwen. OIr glun ‘mouth’ (transparently from *gnun) may hold a key to the origin of the obscure l-onset in Lith liezuwis and Arm lezu. While it’s commonly assumed that the l– in the Lithuanian and Armenian forms suggests two independent cases of contamination with the IE verb ‘to lick’, it’s more likely that liezuwis and lezu comes from *dningwu– or, better, *gningwu- (comp. Slav *gneezdo ‘nest’ next to Lith lizdas) followed by *glingwu- and *lingwu. Gk gnathos and Lith zandas contain a clear affix *-dh-, which corresponds to the medial *-g’wh– in the TONGUE set morphologically but to the initial *d(h)– in the TONGUE set phonologically. This suggests that the medial *-g’wh– in the TONGUE set is a secondary enlargement of the original shorter root *dn-/*gwhn-. With this analysis, the d-forms found in the TONGUE set (OLat dingua, Goth tuggoo, OIr tengae) increasingly look marginal and secondary (in the –e/-n environment?) to the g– forms, which find full support in the entirely d-less CHEEK-CHIN-JAW forms. Gk gloossa ‘tongue’, which is sometimes considered as another anomalous member of the TONGUE set, now fits the larger MOUTH-CHEEK-JAW-TONGUE set more organically as it displays an original velar in the onset and the intrusive –l-, which can now be explained, following the lead of OIr glun ‘mouth’, Lith liezuwis and Arm lezu ‘tongue’, as stemming from *gnundhya > *glundhya > *gloossa. Alb gjuhë (< *glusaa [Orel 1998: 138]) must have undergone a similar development to the Greek form.

39. PIE *gw(h)egw(h)no-/*gw(h)egw(h)ro– ‘smooth, hairless, naked’: IE *negwno-/*negwro– ‘naked, hairless’ (Hitt nekumant, Gk gymnos, Skrt nagnas, Avest magna, Arm merk, Lat nuudus (< *nogwodos), Goth naqaths, OIr nocht, Lith nuogas, Slav *nagu) ~ IE *ghladh– ‘smooth’ (Lat glaber ‘smooth, hairless, bald’, OHG glat ‘smooth, shiny’, OEng glad ‘smooth’, Lith glodus, glodnas, glodnus ‘smoothly lying upon’, Slav *gladuku ‘smooth’. The suffixal morphology of the two sets is fully compatible: the *-no-/*-ro– ending is present in both cases. The semantic match is perfect, especially considering that IE *negwno– is thought to mean ‘naked’ in the sense of ‘hairless’, not just ‘undressed’ (EIEC 45). The NAKED set is widely considered irregular due to the unexpected sonorants in Avest magna, Arm merk, Gk gumnos and a “metathesis-like” structure of Gk gymnos (assumed to be from *nogwno– > *gwon-no– > gymnos). The presence of –l– in IE *ghladh– seems to be an insurmountable barrier for the consolidation of the two cognate sets. However, the existence of Arm lerk ‘bald, hairless, soft’ and olork ‘smooth, polished’ (both likely related but without a good etymology [Falileyev, Alexander, and Petr Kocharov. “Celtic, Armenian and Eastern Indo-European Languages: Comments on a Recent Hypothesis.” In Ireland and Armenia: Studies in Language, History and Narrative, edited by Maxim Fomin, Alvard Jivanyan and Seamus Mac Mathuna. Washington, 2012,  72-3]) overcomes this difficulty. Representing *legwro-, they form a bridge between such a form as Lat glaber ‘smooth’ and Arm merk ‘naked’ (< *megwro-). A plausible protoform that can account for the –l– of Arm lerk, olork and the –l– of IE *ghladh-) is *gwnegw(h)no-/*gwned(h)no-> *gwlegwno-/*gwled(h)no-. From *gwlegwno-/*gwled(h)no- the –l– spread to their heteroclitic counterpart *gwnegwro-/*gwled(h)ro-. Another challenging aspect of the proposed etymology is the presence of voiced aspirates in the SMOOTH set. Germanic forms (OHG glat, OEng glad) indicate that (at least from the point of view of the classic model of PIE phonology) both stops were aspirated in PIE. But PIE *gh is regularly lost before l in Latin, so the expected form is **laber, not *glaber. It’s assumed, therefore, that Latin underwent the dissimilation of aspirates (*ghladhro– > *gladhro-) akin to the process known as Grassmann’s Law described for Greek and Sanskrit but independent from it. But the –b– in glaber does not directly suggest aspiration either (it’s assumed that PIE *dh reflects as f word-initially but as b medially but the fact remains). Under the new interpretation proposed herein, Gk gymnos is expected to go back to *gugw(h)nos (comp. Gk amnos ‘lamb’ < *abnos > *agw(h)nos). The rest of the IE NAKED forms must therefore represent *gwhegwno– assimilated to *gwhnegwno– with the subsequent loss of initial gwh– in a cluster environment.


On the Dual Reflexes of Indo-European Laryngeals: A Note on Jouna Pyysalo’s “System PIE: The Primary Phoneme Inventory and Sound Law System for Proto-Indo-European”

December 22nd, 2013

Jouna Pyysalo has written a very bold and thought-provoking dissertation that revisits some fundamentals of Indo-European historical phonology. He attempts to bring Indo-European linguistics, which has been plagued in the 20th century by fanciful multilaryngeal reconstructions, back to its frugal Neogrammarian virtues. Following Zgusta, Szemerenyi, Tischler and Burrows (but strangely missing Russian monolaryngealists such as V. Dybo, S. Starostin, A.Kassian), he rejects the complex combinatorics of H1+e, H2+e, H3+e, H4+e frequently postulated by Indo-Europeanists in favor of a single laryngeal /H/ firmly attested in the so-called “Old Anatolian languages” (Hittite, Luwian, Hieroglyphic Luwian, Cuneiform Palaic and Cappadocian) but lost elsewhere. The intriguing part of the dissertation is the hypothesis that Old Anatolian /H/ covered a voiceless and a voiced variants inherited from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) stage and that they had no coloring effect on neighboring vowels (in the languages outside of the Old Anatolian cluster) and no syllabic (vocal) allophones in PIE. To account for the statistical regularity of association between Old Anatolian h and Narrow Indo-European a, Pyysalo postulates for PIE diphonemic sets *Ha and *aH: while laryngeals as obstruents get lost in Narrow Indo-European and New Anatolian languages (Lycian, Lydian, etc.), the associated vowel survives (or changes into other vowels, according to the phonetic rules of individual IE branches). Along the way, Pyysalo also simplified a portion of the Neogrammarian legacy by deconstructing a) labiovelars – hypothetical phonemes poorly unattested in actual IE languages – as a combination of velars and /w/; b) palatovelars as combinations of velars and /y/; c) voiced aspirates as combinations of voiceless stops and the voiced laryngeal, by analogy with the more widely accepted interpretation of Indic voiceless aspirates as combinations of voiceless stops and the (voiceless) laryngeal. Pyysalo’s c) has been my conviction since I’ve realized that *bhr– in the IE cognate set BROTHER (PIE *bhreH2ter > Lat frater, Gk phrater, etc.) derives from earlier mr– (also found in Lat maritus ‘husband’, Gk meiraks ‘boy, girl’, Germ *brudi– ‘bride’, Latv marsa ‘brother’s wife’, etc.) and that the aspiration of *bh– is the result of a feature throwback from the medial laryngeal in *mreH2ter) (see Dziebel G. V.2006. “Reconstructing ‘our’ kinship terminology: Comments on the Indo-European material in A. V. Dybo’s and S. V. Kullanda’s The Nostratic terminology of kinship and affinity,” in Algebra rodstva 11, 67-68). This etymology supports Szemerenyi’s (“Introduction to Indo-European Linguistics,” 1996, 144) contention (quoted by Pyysalo, p. 398):

“Since according to our conclusions the ‘laryngeal’ was a glottal spirant h, it is also clear that the unvoiced and voiced aspirates originally represented the combinations unvoiced stop+h and voiced stop+h, which in Indo-European counted as monophonematic.”

Pyysalo ends up with the following PIE phonemic inventory:


Pyysalo (p. 58) puts Indo-European linguistics on a hot seat by observing that


While it’s rewarding to see an Indo-Europeanist openly talking about the problems with Indo-European reconstructions (instead of just praising the remarkable achievements and the scientific rigor of comparative Indo-European studies), the root of these problems, as I have extensively wrote on the pages of the Algebra rodstva almanac from 2000 on, is not in the inability of Indo-Europeanists to come to terms with the Old Anatolian data. It’s the methodological weakness of the traditional comparativist method that is holding the Indo-European historical phonology back. This weakness stems from the logical contradiction inherent in the definition of a cognate set. Sound laws are supposed to be derived from the material assembled in the least law-like manner – by simple visual inspection in search of similarities in form and meaning. This approach can detect obvious cognates but it’s not well suited to detect cognates subject to more dramatic transformations of form and meaning due to accelerated language change, great time depth or other factors. Under the current approach to linguistic comparativism, formal similarity dominates over semantic relationships. Only once a protoform is reconstructed, it’s subjected to semantic interpretation. As a result, sounds laws are constrained by a linguist’s naive perception of “similarity” in the lexical material, while proposed etymologies are often dubious on semantic and anthropological grounds.

A gignetic approach to the reconstruction of kinship terminological systems and to linguistic comparativism broadly focuses on this initial stage of cognate set composition and uses semantic variation as an important counterpart to formal variation. Semantics is not an afterthought but an essential criterion actively contributing to a more in-depth definition of a cognate set. A more complexly defined cognate set – in reality a combination of two or more one-dimensional cognate sets – should yield a more sophisticated, complete and sound laws of linguistic change in a particular family of languages.

Pyysalo (p. 80) feels himself on a firm ground when he declares:


It’s precisely when the doubts seem to recede completely that the traditional comparativist method shows its limitations, while the gignetic method creates a breakthrough. The first cognate set listed by Pyysalo contains forms with the initial velar (Slav *kosti ‘bone’, Lat costa ‘rib’) (conveniently omitted by Pyysalo), while the second one cannot be divorced from PIE *pek’– (Skrt pášu, Avest pasu ‘cattle’, Lat pecu ‘cattle’, pec?nia ‘money’, Goth faíhu ‘money, movable goods’, OHG fihu, OEng feoh, ONorse f? ‘livestock, property, money’, Lith pekus ‘cattle’). The perfect semantic fit between the two sets can be clearly observed in such forms from the first group as Gk ??? ‘flock of sheep’, ???µ?? ‘guardian, herder’.

Having the alternation such as *peH-/*pek’– in mind, we can observe the same correspondence between, for example, Hitt haluga ‘message’ (a word with obscure etymology under the known sound laws) and PIE *k’lewo– (Gk kleFos ‘glory’, klu? ‘I hear’, Skrt srávas, Old Arm lulsem, Slav *slovo ‘word’, etc.). Similarly, IE *H3osdo– ‘branch’ (Hitt hasduir, Arm ost ‘Ast, Zweig’, Gk o?zdos ‘Ast, Zweig’, Goth asts ‘branch, palm branch, leafy branch’, etc.) shows parallel forms with an initial velar (possibly, labiovelar, which would be consistent with the labial component of /H3/ inferred from such forms as Gk o?zdos): OHG questa ‘bunch’, ONorse kuistr ‘branch’, Slav *gvozd ‘forest’ (> Russ gvozd’ ‘nail’). Also, Hitt huidar, HLuw huidar ‘wild animals, fauna’, Palaic huidumar ‘Lebe, Lebenwesen’ can be linked to PIE *gwiwo– ‘life’ in addition to forms such as ONorse vitni ‘creature’ (referenced in Pyysalo, p. 79-80) resulting in the identification of /H3/ with labiovelar.

Pyysalo (pp. 91-92) uses another well-known IE cognate set to demonstrate the lack of connection between vowel quantity and vowel coloring in PIE. Hitt mehhur/n ‘time, noon’ corresponds to Skrt m?ti, mím?te ‘to measure’, m?tr? ‘measure’, Lat m?tior ‘I measure’, m?ni ‘in the morning’,Goth mitan ‘to measure’, m?la ‘measure of grain’, OHG mezzan ‘measure’, Lith metai ‘year’, Alb mat, mas ‘I measure’, mot ‘year, weather’, etc. Again, this set finds its counterpart in PIE *meg’h– usually glossed as ‘great’ (Hitt megi– ‘big’, Gk megas ‘great, large, mighty’, Lat magnus, Gothic mikils, Old High German mihhil, Skrt mahan, etc. Pyysalo treats this set separately from the meH-set on p. 408. But both sets neatly derive from PIE *meg’h– or *meH– ‘to measure’; some forms chose the semantic path of TIME’, others the semantic path of SIZE and STRENGTH. The Gothic forms show a perfect morphological match between the me-l and the miki-l extensions reinforcing the phonetic similarity. Whether we postulate a law of velar weakening in some to-be-determined phonetic environments (potentially in non-accented syllables), a combination of a plain velar and a laryngeal (voiced in Pyysalo’s interpretation or voiceless in Szemerenyi’s interpretation) yielding the Indo-European palatovelars and labiovelars, or an entirely different ancient phoneme, Hittite (mehhur/n) doesn’t appear any more archaic in its phonetic development from the PIE root than Sanskrit (mahan) or Old High German (mihhil). Old Anatolian uniqueness is reduced to providing supporting evidence that, the TIME subset, too, contains the trace of an ancient consonant.

From a formal perspective one can conclude that the Indo-European material shows alternation between –ek’-/-eg’-/-ek– and –a-/-o– in correspondence sets that include Old Anatolian /H/. The “loss of the laryngeal” is only one path taken by non-Anatolian languages, the other one being a velar reflex. Both Puhvel and Kurylowicz are correct.

Importantly, one doesn’t need Anatolian evidence to establish a connection between IE *pa– ‘protect’ and IE *pek’– ‘livestock’. Overall, PIE *meg’h– or *meH– ‘to measure’ supports Pyysalo’s contention that Old Anatolian /H/ stood for both voiceless and voiced variants, but it undermines his belief that the advancement of the Neogrammarian agenda of the scientific study of Indo-European historical phonology can be achieved by tackling Old Anatolian data. Contra Pyysalo, the key to progress in Indo-European linguistics lies not in the preferred analysis of Anatolian data (obviously, it needs to be further studied but it shouldn’t command any priority over any other IE branches) but in the improvement of comparativist methodology itself.

Pyysalo comes face-to-face with the situation of a dual reflex of PIE “laryngeals” in languages outside of Old Anatolian when he correctly observes that Lycian sometimes shows /0/ where Old Anatolian has /H/ and sometimes a velar. Examples without the loss of a laryngeal include

Pyysalo-LycianThey are contrasted with the examples where Old Anatolian /H/ corresponds to Lyc /x/ (phonetically a voiceless velar, not a fricative [Melchert, Anatolian Historical Phonology, 40]) such as Lyc xuga next to Hitt huhhas ‘grandfather’ and Latin avus and Lyc xawa next to CLuw haui– ‘sheep’.

Pyysalo’s solution is to ignore the unmistakable similarity in form and meaning between the Old Anatolian and Lycian words and to make Lyc xuga and xawa unrelated to any other standard IE terms for ‘grandfather’ and ‘sheep’ but instead connected to obscure Hesychian forms. In the case of xuga, he relates it to

Pyysalo-Xugaand, in the case of xawa, he clusters it with

Pyysalo-xawa This solution is hardly convincing and contradicts the opinion of the majority of Indo-Europeanists. On the other hand, Lyc /x/ as a parallel to Anatolian /H/ remains tenuous unless we can show that the correspondence of the laryngeal to a velar is systematic in these cognate sets. And we indeed find that IE cognate sets GRANDFATHER and SHEEP are likely incomplete. PIE *Howi– (Skrt a?vi-‘sheep’, Arm hoviw (*ou?i-p?-) ‘shepherd’, Gk ???, ???, Lat ovis, OEng ewi, OHG ouwi, Lith avi?s, a?vinas, Slav *ovica ‘sheep’, etc.) can be compared with PIE *k’uwon-/*k’un– ‘dog’ (Skrt s?v??, s?(u)v??, Arm šun, Gk ????, ?????, Goth hunds, OEng hund, Lith šuo? (Gen. šun?s), Toch A ku, Toch B kunder. The morphological derivation of the DOG forms from the SHEEP forms by means of an n-extension is straightforward, while the semantic link is natural considering that proto-Indo-European pastoralists, with all certainty, used their dogs as shepherds and modern Europeans continue to call several dog breeds ‘shepherds’.

The situation with Lyc xuga ‘grandfather’ is more complicated. While the cognation of Hitt huhhas with Lat avus, Goth awo ‘grandfather’, OIrish (h)aue ‘grandchild’ is clear, a number of other forms, including Lyc xuga (< *xuxa, with voicing developing in an intervocalic position [Kloekhorst A. “Studies in Lycian and Carian Phonology and Morphology,” Kadmos 47 (2008), 125]), are similar enough to warrant serious consideration as belonging to the same group. Skrt susa ‘grandmother, grandfather, progenitor’ (from PIE *suHsiya), IE *suH– ‘son’ and Alb gjysh (from PIE *suHsos) ‘grandfather’ provide a case in point.

Importantly, Hitt huhhas is a reduplicative (comp. Neapolit vava ‘grandmother’ [Zimmermann 1922, 150] or USorb wowa ‘grandmother’ [Schuster-Šewc 1961; 1984, 796-797; 1987, 1682-1683; Machek 1968, 40] and hence the original form does not have to be *HewHo-. It could be *weHo-/*uHo- or even *CweHo-/*CuHo– assimilated into *HweHo-/*HuHo-. Skrt susa and Alb gjysh may, therefore, have preserved the original shape of the PIE GRANDFATHER root, while Hitt huhhas (and its direct cognates in other IE branches), so iconic in the context of the laryngeal theory, stems from earlier *suhhas. On the strength of OIr (h)aue ‘grandchild’ (Gen. aui ‘grandson’ [*awios < *awyios, with –i– developing into –e– under the influence of the following o [Maille 1910, 49-50]), úe ‘granddaughter’ (Meyer 1912, 183) and, now, IE *suH– ‘son’ (Toch we can confidently postulate a self-reciprocal meaning for PIE *suHo-/*sweHo– ‘grandfather; grandchild’. In many IE languages the GRANDFATHER-GRANDCHILD root spawned a host of derivatives including Lat avunculus ‘mother’s brother’, OIr amnair ‘uncle’ (through the assimilatory nasalization from *abn-air < *awn-air [McCone 1996, 49, 86] < PCelt *awen-tro), Welsh ewythr and OCorn eviter, Lith avýnas ‘mother’s brother,” OLith avà ‘mother’s sister, uncle’s wife’, OPrus awis (< *awio-s) “mother’s brother”, Slav *uj? ‘mother’s brother’, Alb *vella ‘brother’ (< *awnlada-< *awentlo– [Huld 1984, 128-129]). Morphologically, forms such as OIr (h)aue, OPrus awis and Slav *uj? have the same extensions as Toch A se, B soy, Gk huiús ‘(< *huios) son’ supporting the overall connection between the forms with s– and the forms with Old Anatolian h– and its accepted Narrow-IE counterparts.

The above interpretation of the PIE form for GRANDFATHER-GRANDCHILD yields to the clarification of the etymology of a widely-spread IE affinal term *swék’uro- ‘husband’s father’ (Skrt švašura ‘father-in-law’, Avest xvasura ‘father-in-law’, Prasun ?üj? [< *?u? < *?va?r < *sva?r-], Kati ??styü? [Buddruss 1976, 29-31], Gk ‘?????? ‘husband’s father’, Lat socer ‘father-in-law’, Goth swaihra ‘father-in-law’, OHG swehur ‘father-in-law’, OEng sw?or ‘father-in-law’, ONorse sv?r, OLith šešuras ‘husband’s father’, Slav *svek’?r? ‘husband’s father’, Alb vjerr, vjehër ‘father-in-law’, Arm. skesrayr ‘husband’s father’, Welsh chwegrwn, OCorn hwigeren ‘father-in-law’) and *swekr?s ‘husband’s mother’ (Skrt švašr?– ‘mother-in-law’, Avest xusr?, Waigali ??tr [dissimilated from *???r] [Buddruss 1976, 29-30], Gk ‘????? ‘husband’s mother’, Lat socrus, Goth swaihr?, OHG swigar, OEng sweger, ONorse sv?ra, Welsh chwegr, OCorn hweger  ‘mother-in-law’, Slav *svekry ‘husband’s mother’, Alb vjehërrë ‘mother-in-law’, Arm skesur ‘husband’s mother’.

The morphology of Lat avunculus (< *avonculus), PIrish *awentro, Welsh ewythr and OCorn eviter, PAlb *awentlo– parallels that of *swék’uro-. The forms with –t– may in fact be analogical with the respective terms for FATHER (PIE *pHter) and MOTHER (PIE *meHter, Alb motre ‘sister’), while –c– in Latin avunculus is identical to –c– in socrus (PIE *k’). The –n– in also likely intrusive and represents a secondary “nasal infix.” We therefore can align PIE *swék’uro-  ‘husband’s father’ with the Italo-Celtic-Albanian isogloss *awekro ‘mother’s brother’. Outside the Latin, Celtic and Albanian worlds, there are a few other indications that the IE terms for GRANDFATHER>MOTHER’S BROTHER and HUSBAND’S FATHER are cognates. Skrt švašura and OLith šešuras ‘husband’s father’ are assimilated from, respectively, *svašura and *sešuras just like Hitt huhhas and its counterparts in Narrow-IE languages assimilated from *suhhas (< *suHo-). Arm skesur ‘husband’s mother’ (judging by other IE forms, originally ‘husband’s father’) can be compared with k’eri ‘mother’s brother’. Until now, k’eri (< *sweriyos) was an isolate among IE terms for MOTHER’S BROTHER but in the light of the proposed reconstruction it’s naturally connected to skesur. Skesur shows the same assimilation of the earlier *k’esur into skesur as Skrt švašura and OLith šešuras.

Now that the various IE forms for GRANDFATHER, MOTHER’S BROTHER and HUSBAND’S FATHER have been shown to be aligned morphologically and subject to the same assimilatory processes, it becomes clear that PIE *k’ in *swék’uro corresponds to hh in PAnatolian *suhho-. The difficult Albanian –h– in vjehër ‘father-in-law’ (sometimes interpreted as a reflex of *H4 by multilaryngealists) matches the Old Anatolian hh nicely. The present analysis furnishes a better interpretation to another puzzling form. OHG ?heim, OEng eám ‘mother’s brother’ (< *eaham, with a syncope [Schhoof 1900, 232]) (Grimm & Grimm 1889, VII, 1198; De Vreese & Boekenoogen 1910, XI, 16; Lendinara 1990, 298) undoubtably contain the formant *au(n)– ‘grandfather’, but the final segment –heim causes problems. Gothic does not show this form but, according to the Grimms, it should be *áuhaims. The latest Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Deutschen (1993, II, 830, 915, 945) seems to take the Old English form as the basis and to explain the OHG voiceless fricative as phonologically conditioned in the intervocalic position. The majority of scholars, however, tend to consider ?heim an original form and to treat it as a compound going back to *au(n)-haimaz. The latter, however, is an ad hoc form without any parallels in other IE branches. The present analysis suggests that –h– in ?heim is part of the root and corresponds to –hh- in Hitt huhhas, -g- (< *-x-) in Lyc xuga, -h- in Alb vjeher, c in Lat avunculus and the reflexes of IE *k’ in the various HUSBAND’S FATHER terms in the satem and centum languages. Finally, an aberrant isogloss with Arm ustr ‘son’ corresponding to OEng suhterga ‘brother’s son’ becomes more understandable: semantically it belongs with  Toch A se, B soy, Gk huiús ‘(< *huios) ‘son’ but morphologically with the IE terms for HUSBAND’S FATHER (*swek’ro-/*suk’ro-).

To conclude, Pyysalo is correct in stressing the obstruent nature of the PIE “laryngeal,” the existence of voiced and voiceless laryngeal variants in Hittite and the polyphonemic nature of IE labiovelars and palatovelars. He is also justified in postulating diphonemic sets *Ha and *aH to explain the wide-spread correlation between Old Anatolian h and Narrow-Indo-European a. The evidence presented above, however, refutes a) Pyysalo’s (and others) conviction that “laryngeals” were lost outside of (Old) Anatolian and b) monolaryngealists’ reduction of all “laryngeals” to just one phoneme. In fact, we can provisionally postulate the following diphonemic sets for PIE:

1. *H2a/*aH2~ *k’e/*ek’                   *H2a/*aH2 ~ *g’e/*eg’

2. *H3o/*oH3 ~ *kwe/*ekw              *H3o/*oH3 ~ *gwe/*egw

3. *H1e/*eH1 ~ *ke/*ek                     *H1e/*eH1 ~ *ge/*eg

While the latter set is given here only for completeness (I can’t adduce any etymological material to support it), the former two are intimated in the correspondences laid out above. What they seem to be telling us is that PIE palatovelars and labiovelars were identical to, respectively, PIE H2 and H3. Both pairs were obstruents, both sets covary with their respective vowels (a and o) and both are “extinct” phonemes.

An example from IE numerals can illustrate the alternation between palatovelars and labiovelars in one root form:

PIE *ok’to– /*H3ek’to ‘eight’ and PIE *kwetwor-/ *kwetur– ‘four’ can be related to each other via PIE *H3eH2t-. The otherwise obscure medial a-vocalism of Lat quattuor ‘four’ fits well with –k’- in *H3ek’to, while the initial o-vocalism of *ok’to– corresponds to the labiovelar in *kwetwor-. The known Hittite corpus does not have reflexes of either roots. A connection between the numerals ‘2’ and ‘4’ in IE was noticed before (see Kassian A. “Anatolian *meyu– ‘4, four’ and Its Cognates,” Journal of Language Relationship 2 (2009): 65-78). Kassian argued that PIE *ok’to– /*H3ek’to- used to mean ‘four’ (comp. Iran *ašti– ‘(breadth of) four fingers’ (measure of length)) and he called the *kwetwor-/ *kwetur– root “enigmatic.” The enigma disappears if we accept the formal evidence presented above that IE palatovelars and labiovelars were initially found in complementary distribution with IE vowels a/aa and o/oo. Intriguingly, PIE *H3eH2t- ‘four; eight’ shows a good formal and semantic fit with Uralic *kekta ‘two’. Whether the connection between the two represents common descent between IE and Uralic or a borrowing from Uralic to IE or from IE to Uralic, it documents the progressive complexification of a numeral system with numeral ‘2’ serving as a generator of high-order numbers ‘4’ and ‘8’.

Victor Golla on Proto-Athabascan Grandparental Terminology and Apachean Conservatism

November 4th, 2013

In The Genius of Kinship (2007), I hypothesized that proto-Athabascan kinship terminology had 4 self-reciprocal grandparental terms. The western (Apachean) branch of Southern Athabascan preserved the original 4-term pattern better than any Northern Athabascan language. Southern Athabascan languages demonstrate all the stages of the transformation of the original complexly differentiated pattern, with Kiowa-Apache sporting the most transformed and simplified model (see below, Table 34).

KinshipStudies-AthabascanKinshipWhat my analysis was missing at that time was the formal phonomorphological and etymological proof that Proto-Athabascan kinship terminology indeed had 4 self-reciprocal grandparental terms, that this ancestral pattern underwent simplification and dereciprocalization in Northern and Pacific Athabascan branches and that Apachean preserves the Proto-Athabascan grandparental set better than any other branch.

Recently, Victor Golla sent me an e-mail (cc-ing Jack Ives, Michael Krauss, Johanna Nichols and James Kari) in which he attached a short unpublished manuscript “Where Does Navajo náli Come From?” providing the necessary formal support for my original typological inference. In it, he demonstrates that, in addition to Apachean, Eyak, too, featured a 4-term self-reciprocal pattern in Gen +/-2.


The Apachean reconstruction by Golla largely repeats the Eyak kinterm set.

KinshipStudies.SouthernAthabascanGollaTo quote from Golla, the Eyak

“MoMo/wmDaCh root is clearly cognate with Athabaskan *-chu — no surprise — but believe it or not the FaMo/wmSoCh root *-k’i?h just as regularly corresponds to Athabaskan *-ch’?ne, and the FaFa/maSoCh root –?uh is a plausible cognate of Wailaki and Kato –?a?e ~ –?ah.”

Proto-California Athabascan (PCA) retained the 4-term pattern in Gen +/-2 but it lost self-reciprocity between the grandparent and grandchild forms. At the same time, one of Eyak grandparental terms, namely –?uh FF, mSC, is cognate with PCA *-’a?. This means that the Apachean-PCA isogloss *-nyale is a formal but not semantic innovation.


Northern Athabascan grandparental set (see below) consisting of just 2 terms for grandfather and grandmother appears to be the most derived.

KinshipStudies-NorthernAthabascanGollaTwo Northern Athabascan languages have retained forms pointing in the direction of the ancestral 4-term system:  1) Wets’uwet’en (Babine-Carrier) distinguishes MM (tso’) from FM (ts’inï’) — using terms cognate with those of PCA, Apachean and Eyak; 2) Tahltan similarly attests a *chu vs.*ch’?ne contrast in the grandmother terms.

Golla concludes that the diversity of grandparental kinterms in Athabascan languages

“misleadingly suggests that the simple kin terminology found in most Alaskan and Canadian languages represents the Proto-Athabaskan situation, and that PCA and Apachean constitute an innovating ‘Southern Athabaskan’ clade of the sort that Matson and Magne posit… the Proto-Athabaskan-Eyak language must be assumed to have had a 4-term lineage-distinguishing grandparental terminology, which ‘survived intact’ in PCA and Apachean instead of being innovated there.”

The drastic simplification from 4 terms to 1 term in Kiowa-Apache stems from Plains influence.

Jubilating over these conclusions, the following is essentially what I wrote back to Golla.

There are three more areas of research where my broader typological inferences could be tested against actual phonological and lexical data.

1. Typologically the self-reciprocal equations found in some Southern Athabascan languages between “father’s brother” and “man’s brother’s son,” “mother’s sister” and “woman’s sister’s daughter,” “father’s sister” and “woman’s brother’s daughter,” and “mother’s brother” and “man’s sister’s son” could go back to Proto-Eyak-Athabascan (PEA) times as well. They would complete the self-reciprocal picture contained in the 4 grandparental terms that Golla reconstructed. There are kin terminologies in North America and beyond that have 4 self-reciprocal grandparental terms plus all aunt and uncle terms are self-reciprocal, too. Interestingly, one old unpublished Russian source on Ket lists one of those equations (koj or qo.j MoBr =MoSi = SiSo). Ives, Rice and Vajda only give MoBr =MoSi for qo.j, plus other secondary meanings, but not the self-reciprocal one.
2. Southern Athabascan sibling terminologies lexicalize Ego-Sex and Relative Sex in addition to Relative Age. Again, this is something that Northern Athabascan sibling terminologies must have lost as they only have terms marked for Relative Age. Eyak and Tlingit has Ego-Sex/Relative-Sex in addition to Relative Age, which again supports the archaism of Southern Athabascan compared to Northern Athabascan. But I’m not aware of any formal reconstructions that would test the hypothesis of progressive reduction of sibling set complexity in Athabascan languages. There are several studies of Austronesian languages that seem to support this diachronic universal.
3. Going back to the PAE grandparental terminology, it’s now time to compare it with Yeniseian. One hypothesis I have is that Ket qip ‘grandpather’ and ‘grandmother’ are based on the same root morpheme and this morpheme is cognate with Eyak k’i?h/Athabaskan *-ch’?ne FaMo = wSoChi. In general, I noticed that Ket takes the reduction tendency observed in Northern Athabascan languages to the extreme (e.g., Ket has one single term for siblings bisep with no terms reflecting Relative Age, Relative Sex/Ego Sex; one single root morpheme for nephew/niece and, then, only one for son/daughter), so it wouldn’t be surprising if the loss of linear distinctions that Golla observed in the treatment of grandparental terms in many Athabascan languages (Connector Sex is neutralized) is continued in Ket in the form of a neutralization of the Referent Sex distinction in the root morpheme. This is exactly what happened with grandparent terms in Kiowa-Apache.
Golla’s reconstruction of 4 self-reciprocal terms for grandparents in PEA changes the nature of the conversation among kinship theorists around the earliest form of Athabascan kin terminologies from the “Dravidian” to the “Kariera” model. It also makes PEA look clearly “Amerindian” and not “Northeast Asian” as 4 self-reciprocal terms for grandparents is not an East Asian trait. It brings up a question of EA phylogeny as Southern Athabascan looks like a conservative branch now (at least in this one dimension, potentially complemented by others in the kinship domain, as I outlined above as well as in my book). At least from a kinship systems perspective, SA doesn’t look like a recent offshoot of a Subarctic population but more of a proto-Athabascan relic that drifted southward along the western slopes of the Rockies from British Columbia to Plateau through Great Basin and into the Southwest.

Molecular Variance Across Genetic Systems in Modern Humans and Their Kinship Structures

November 2nd, 2013

Global patterns of sex-biased migrations in humans 

Chuan-Chao Wang, Li Jin, Hui Li.


A series of studies have revealed the among-population components of genetic variation are higher for the paternal Y chromosome than for the maternal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which indicates sex-biased migrations in human populations. However, this phenomenon might be also an ascertainment bias due to nonrandom sampling of SNPs. To eliminate the possible bias, we used the whole Y chromosome and mtDNA sequence data of 491 individuals from the 1000 Genomes Project Phase I to address the sex-biased migration dispute. We found that genetic differentiation between populations was higher for Y chromosome than for the mtDNA at global scales. The migration rate of female might be three times higher than that of male, assuming the effective population size is the same for male and female.


The paper contains a rundown of inter- and intragroup diversity values for both mtDNA and Y-DNA on a worldwide scale (see below).


As far as I know, this is the only paper that has pooled it all together for the two haploid systems. This is consistent with the classic observation that most of the variation found among modern humans is concentrated within human groups. But it’s noteworthy that the continents differ in the degree in which this pattern is manifested. Some continents and populations buck the general human trend by accumulating more variation between groups than others. The notable pattern in this data, as Wang et al. (2013) point out, is that

“the between-population component of genetic variation was slightly higher for mtDNA than for the Y chromosome in America and Africa (by 5~6 times), but not in Europe and Asia. In Europe and Asia, between-population component of genetic variation was about 10~20 times higher for Y chromosome than for the mtDNA.”

What this pattern likely means is that Amerindian and Sub-Saharan African populations have been more consistently matrilocal/uxorilocal/matrilineal, while populations outside of Africa and America more consistently patrilocal/virilocal/patrilineal. Wang et al. (2013) confirm this interpretation and refute the conclusion reached by Wilder et al. 2004 (“Global Patterns of Human Mitochondrial DNA and Y-Chromosome Structure Are Not Influenced by Higher Migration Rates of Females versus Males,” Nat Genet 3610, 1122-1125) that there is no correlation between social structure and sex-biased migration rates, on the one hand, and molecular variation at haploid loci, on the other.

Wang et al.’s data and interpretations are consistent with the worldwide data from social anthropology on the relative frequencies of matricentric vs. patricentric social structures. Burton et al. (“Regions Based on Social Structure,” Current Anthropology 37 (4), 1996, 93) define matri- and patricentric forms of social organization in the following way:

“Matricentric social organization traits include localized or dispersed matrilineal groups, matrilocal or uxorilocal residence, monogamy and the absence of marriage exchange. Matricentric societies tend to organize kinship groups around women through matrilocal or uxorilocal residence or through matrilineal kinship groups. Patricentric social organization traits include nomadic or seminomadic settlement patterns, clan communities, localized or dispersed patrilineal groups, patrilocal residence, polygyny and bridewealth payments. Hence, patricentric societies tend to organize kin groups around men, through patrilocal residence, patrilineal descent or polygyny.”

The worldwide distribution of matri- vs. patricenrtic structures is skewed between Africa, the Pacific and America, on the one hand, and Eurasia, on the other (see below, from Burton et al. 1996, 109), which is consistent with Wang et al.’s data from mtDNA and Y-DNA. North American Indian societies is the only exception from this pattern – they fall on the patricentric side.


My own kin-terminological data shows the paucity of “Crow” terminologies (highly correlated with matrilineal descent) in Western, Eastern Eurasia, Southeast Asia and Australia and their relative salience in Sub-Saharan Africa and America (as well as in the Pacific). “Omaha” systems (highly correlated with patrilineal descent) are the only descent-skewed terminologies found in those areas.

Now that we have global molecular variance data for the haploid loci, we can compare them with the same statistics derived from autosomal loci (see below, from Tishkoff et al. 2009. “The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans,” Suppl.Mat., Table S3).

Anthropogenesis-MolecularVariance-Tishkoff2009Tishkoff et al.’s data is broken down by continent, by population and by economic system. Notably, African hunter-gatherers in general and Khoisans in particular show a different pattern from African pastoralists and farmers: they are closer to Amerindian and Oceanic populations in having a greater fraction of their variance come from inter-group values. This is consistent with the more specific data that we have on Hadza, linguistically the most divergent among Khoisan languages, that shows that Hadza has less intragroup variation than other Sub-Saharan Africans and is consequently closer to the Amerindian pattern of variance (see here and here). In turn, the Amerindian pattern of variance (more intergroup diversity, less intragroup diversity) is similar to the one found in Denisovans.

If molecular variance at the haploid loci points to the impact of residence and unilineal descent on the genetic structure of human populations, the sociodemographic reality behind the autosomal variance statistics is that older human populations associated with a more ancient subsistence pattern were smaller, more isolated from each other, more endogamous and affected by inbreeding and genetic drift to a larger degree than more recent populations associated with more recent subsistence patterns.

Cross-posted at

Crow-Omaha: A Classic Problem Still Without a Solution. A Review of Trautmann and Whiteley

August 31st, 2013

Crow-Omaha: New Light on a Classic Problem of Kinship Analysis, edited by Thomas R. Trautmann and Peter M. Whiteley. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2012. (Amerind Studies in Anthropology). x, 348 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm.

A classic problem / Thomas R. Trautmann and Peter M. Whiteley — Crow-Omaha in theory — Crossness and Crow-Omaha / Thomas R. Trautmann — Tetradic theory and Omaha systems / Nicholas J. Allen — North America — Omaha and “Omaha” / R.H. Barnes — Crow-Omaha kinship in North America : a Puebloan perspective / Peter M. Whiteley — Phylogenetic analysis of sociocultural data : identifying transformation vectors for kinship systems / Ward C. Wheeler, Peter M. Whiteley, and Theodore Powers — Africa — A tetradic starting point for skewing? : marriage as a generational contract : reflections on sister-exchange in Africa / Wendy James — Crow- (and Omaha-) type kinship terminology : the Fanti case / David B. Kronenfeld — Deep-time historical contexts of Crow and Omaha systems ; perspectives from Africa / Christopher Ehret — South America — The making and unmaking of “Crow-Omaha” kinship in central Brazilian ethnology) / Marcela Coelho de Souza — Schemes of kinship relations and the construction of social categories among the Mebe?ngo?kre? Kayapo? / Terence Turner — Australia — Omaha skewing in Australia : overlays, dynamism, and change / Patrick McConvell — “Horizontal” and “vertical” skewing : similar objectives, two solutions? / Laurent Dousset — Afterword — Crow-Omaha, in thickness and in thin / Thomas R. Trautmann and Peter M. Whiteley.

Introduction: Revitalization of Kinship Studies vs. Evolution of Kinship Studies

Normally this review would have been submitted to an anthropology periodical. But remembering the difficulties that Pat McConvell faced trying to publish his review of Early Human Kinship (Allen et al. 2008) and The Genius of Kinship (Dziebel 2007) (he wound up posting it online at Kinsources), I decided to avoid any possible bureaucratic red tape, get my thoughts out immediately and hopefully collect some feedback. Periodical updates will be highlighted in the text body. A print publication of an updated review may then follow. For a PDF version of this blog post click here.

The contributors to the Crow-Omaha volume should be congratulated on having another testament to the resilience of “traditional kinship studies” see the light of day. The last 10-15 years have seen what many have heralded as the “resurgence of kinship studies.” I personally don’t consider my work as falling under the revitalization rubric – more like “business as usual” taking place in new a post-Cold War space allowing for intellectual connections between the East and the West to happen – but considering the displacement that kinship studies suffered in U.S. and West European academia in the 1970-1990s “revitalization” makes perfect sense for these intellectual markets.

Laudable as it is, the collective effort led by University of Michigan’s Trautmann and American Museum of Natural History’s Peter Whiteley seems to prioritize revitalization over evolution. There are a few new names in the volume as compared with who would have been the contributors in the 1960s but essentially the “classic problem” of Crow-Omaha terminologies has remained what it always was. A puzzle. And this may very well be the intent of the volume – to bring together scholars to celebrate an enigma, to bask in the unswerving ability of Mother Kinship to baffle scientists and to fancy the future times when a brilliant solution will miraculously arrive. But this mood of the Trautmann & Whiteley volume is so different from the constructive and adventurist pragmatism I expressed in 2007 in The Genius of Kinship (written in the spirit of Lewis Henry Morgan’s pioneering work) that I wished more of my findings drawn from a publicly available database of 2500 kin terminologies and a global bibliography of 20,000+ entries were applied by the Trautmann & Whiteley team to their respective regional cases of Crow-Omaha. When I published Fenomen rodstva in 2001 (Dziebel 2001b) in the midst of passionate debates around Nick Allen’s tetradic theory, kinship studies and comparativist linguistics, descent and filiation that raged on the pages of Algebra rodstva (the only periodical in the world specifically devoted to kinship studies), I had no illusions that it wouldn’t reach a Western reader. Because we knew that our Western colleagues read no Russian. An “iron curtain” that separated the Soviet bloc from the West for 40 years is a see-through veil compared with the intractable language barrier between Russia and the West going back perhaps to the time of the original divergence of Indo-European languages. But then when I put my original Russian research on “Stanford steroids” and came out with The Genius of Kinship I was certain it would be widely read and applied. Because it was written in the language everyone can read – English. Not so fast! Although the themes raised in the Genius fall squarely within the themes raised by Trautmann & Whiteley’s Crow-Omaha and 5 years elapsed between the two volumes allowing for enough reading time, Trautmann & Whiteley still failed to address my approach and findings. Again, the findings that drew on a publicly available database of 2500 kin terminologies and summarizing years of research on both sides of the Atlantic and the Urals. A particularly disappointing statement can be found in Trautmann’s “Crossness and Crow-Omaha” (p. 48):

“We may hope that ultimately kinship analysis will join with archaeology and primatology to elucidate the deep history of kinship systems. A beginning has already been made (Allen et al. 2008; Chapais 2008; Trautmann, Feeley-Harnik, and Mitani 2012), but the process clearly has a long way to go.”

As a matter of fact, The Genius of Kinship has already made quite a few strides in assessing global kinship variation from the point of view of deep population prehistory and comparing it with population genetic and linguistic findings. Alan Barnard (2012) who is exploring the links between social anthropology and modern human origins recently compared my interpretation of kinship and linguistic evidence to the traditional out-of-Africa view. McConvell’s article in Trautmann & Whiteley’s volume is aligned with my belief that kinship terminological patterns (including “Crow-Omaha”) can reflect population and demographic processes. Kinship studies was one of the first disciplines to conduct studies of global trait variation and to amass worldwide databases of trait types. The progress that has been made in the past 30 years by geneticists and linguists imposes high standards on kinship studies in terms of typologizing, mapping, quantifying and historicizing kinship terminological variation, and it’s time for students of kinship to catch up with these developments. At the same time, population genetic studies would benefit from gaining an understanding of how the evolution of marriage practices among Homo sapiens (say, from elementary to complex forms of alliance, in the famous Levi-Straussian model) has affected the continental patterns of genetic variation. All the population genetic models that led to the formulation of the out-of-Africa thinking are based on the assumption of a panmictic ancestral population. [UPDATE, 09.03.13: If, as social anthropologists argued throughout the 20th century, ancestral human societies were not panmictic but heavily structured due to culturally induced prescriptive marriages with close kin (especially bilateral cross-cousins), then the statistics of modern human genetic variation and the inferred phylogenetic trees should be different (see more here)]. It’s understandable that Trautmann & Whiteley’s may have been scared away by the out-of-America version of human population history advanced in The Genius of Kinship but my bold thought experiment grounded in some undeniable data patterns should not have deterred Trautmann from engaging with and taking advantage of some uncontroversial aspects of my work.

Crow-Omaha and the Varieties of Generational Skewing

The Trautmann & Whiteley volume approaches Crow-Omaha from an inherently (and inherited-ly, comp. George P. Murdock’s typology) flawed angle. It considers it a version or a transformation of Iroquois or Bifurcate Merging systems. One quote from Trautmann (“Crossness and Crow-Omaha,” p. 31) that “Crow-Omaha kinship—by which I mean kinship terminologies containing skewing—invariably also contains crossness” may be invoked as a justification for the overall Bifurcate Merging-centric stance, but Trautmann’s claim is simply not true cross-culturally – Crow-Omaha equations are readily found in terminologies without crossness (see Popov 1977). The kinship terminology of Crow Indians themselves groups female categories of Gen +1 in a “Hawaiian” fashion: masake (ref.), iga (voc.) M, MZ, FZ (Lowie 1917). Popov’s (1977) worldwide survey of Crow-Omaha patterns discovered that only Lineal terminologies are known not to be compatible with Crow-Omaha equations.

Crow-Omaha cannot be described as a version or an evolution of Bifurcate Merging because a Bifurcate Merging principle is a principle of horizontal (same-generation) grouping of kin categories, while Crow-Omaha is a principle of vertical (cross-generation) grouping. They are different in principle and one doesn’t evolve from the other and can’t be a subset of the other. (This doesn’t mean that they cannot be related or cannot co-vary on the scale of a kin terminological system as a whole) When it comes to the horizontal types of nomenclatures, Trautmann & Whiteley stick to the canonical quadripartite model made of Bifurcate Merging (Iroquois and Dravidian), Generational (Hawaiian), Bifurcate Collateral (Sudanese) and Lineal (Eskimo).

From: Trautmann T.R. "Crossness and Crow-Omaha," p. 32

From: Trautmann T.R. “Crossness and Crow-Omaha,” p. 32

Notably, the figure above doesn’t show female kintypes. It doesn’t show them because it’s assumed that female kintypes  simply mirror the mergers affecting male kintypes. This creates an impression that horizontally kin terminologies only merge and bifurcate at the Connecting-Relative Sex nexus (FB and MB are different because their connecting relatives – Mother and Father – are), not at the End-Relative Sex nexus. In the meantime, worldwide sampling reveals that kin terminologies may mix and match male and female kintypes in Gen +1. For instance, Bogaya in Papua New Guinea call mamuwn MB and MZ, while keeping MB and MZ different from F/FB, on the one hand, and M and FZ, on the other (Sillitoe, 1995, 185). Similar classificational approaches were taken by speakers of some North American Indian and Australian languages – and taken to a more complete degree! -, as The Genius of Kinship documented, so the Bogaya situation is geographically widely attested. This example illustrates that there is a whole lot of categorical variation going on in the “real world” that classic typological labels are not capturing (see below, from Dziebel 2007, 204; “Incorporating” = Generational).

TW-Horizontal typesOmaha equations are a subset of vertical equations described in The Genius of Kinship under such rubrics as Self-Reciprocal terminology, Siberian Generational equations (mentioned by Nick Allen in “Tetradic Theory and Omaha Systems,” p. 54), Alternate Generation Sibling Skewing type, Alternate Generation Cousin Skewing type, etc. It’s an open question whether “Crow-Omaha” is a true terminological type clearly separated from others in the “family” of vertical, cross-generational equations. Dousset (“Horizontal” and “Vertical” Skewing Similar Objectives, Two Solutions?”, p. 274), pace R. H. Barnes, quotes from Godelier who had Needham in mind when he said that “some anthropologists … refuse to recognize Crow-Omaha systems as a separate type.” For instance, it’s often forgotten that many Crow and Omaha terminologies equate older siblings with MB and FZ and younger siblings with ZC and BC. The terminology of the Crow Indians (and Hidatsa, for that matter) has a fully developed system of these equations (biika moB, mMB, mMMB, basare woB, wMB, wMMB, matsuka yB, mZS, basakata oZ, M, MZ, FZ, basatsiita myZ, mZD [Lowie 1917, 59-60]). Uralic and Altaic systems in Siberia that have both Omaha skewing and Siberian Generational equations include such equations as FZ = oZ, yZ and BD). Now, it’s accepted that equations such as GF = MB are Omaha and GM = FZ are Crow, but less known and widely distributed equations such as GF = oB, GM = oZ (“Alternate Generation Sibling Skewing” type in The Genius of Kinship) are not. The reasons for this biased membership of cross-generational equations in the “elite” Crow-Omaha class have never been addressed in the literature. The Trautmann & Whiteley volume glosses over this problem, too, although they do acknowledge that the “Crow-Omaha” label is controversial.

A more all-encompassing definition of generational skewing would help in the cases such as South Asia where according to Trautmann (p. 42)

“only Dravidian crossness has been shown—not a single instance of Iroquois crossness and no skewing.”

While textbook Crow-Omaha equations are indeed nonexistent in South Asia, equations such as GF = oB, GM = oZ, PPF = FoB, PPM = MoZ, MMB = MB = OB, etc. are fairly common among both Dravidians and Munda (see. e.g., Parkin 1988; In addition, instead of Iroquois, Dravidians and Munda often possess Bifurcate Collateral systems tied to Self-Reciprocity and Relative Age in Gen +1/-1, which, as I argued in The Genius of Kinship (see also below)  empirically yield Bifurcate Merging (Iroquois and, possibly, Dravidian – see below about Byansi) nomenclatures in a number of well-documented cases from different parts of the world. Bifurcate Collateral systems tied to Self-Reciprocity, Relative Age and Relative-Age-based Generational Skewing is an areal feature frequently found in Munda, Dravidian, Sino-Tibetan, Uralic and Altaic kinship terminologies. (Tyler [1990] suggested that in Munda these forms may have been borrowed from Dravidian.) So South Asia is not as aberrant as it appears. In fact it looks rather systematic if Crow-Omaha and Iroquois are placed into a broader picture of worldwide kinship terminological variation along, respectively, vertical and horizontal axes.

Crow-Omaha: Crossness vs. Self-Reciprocity

A no-less-important omission in the Trautmann & Whiteley’s volume is the role of Self-Reciprocal terminologies or Alternate-Generation equations in the genesis of Crow-Omaha terms and systems. Notably, it was Lewis Henry Morgan who, again, was the first to detect these unusual systems found among westernmost North American Indians. The Genius of Kinship fleshed out a hypothesis (first put forth in Dziebel 1992 and later independently alluded to by Alf Hornborg, see Dziebel 2007, 243) that Crow-Omaha skewing originates from Alternate-Generation equations. Not from Iroquois or Dravidian systems, which is a sheer conceptual confusion, but in a very literal sense from systems in which MB = mZC, FZ = wBC, FB = mBC, MZ = wZC, GF = mCC, GM = wCC (actual terminologies may have some of these equations or all of them and they may exhibit variation in the way they express them logically). Symmetric equations that maintain the separation between parallel and cross-relatives are severed and asymmetric ones linking parallel and cross-relatives (MB = MBS, MZ = MBD, ZS = FZS, FZ = FZD, FB = FBS, BD = MBD) are erected in their stead.

One of the contributors to the Trautmann & Whiteley’s volume, Pat McConvell, in his review of my book, wrote,

“Among the related hypotheses is the idea that Crow-Omaha skewing systems descend from earlier self-reciprocity between adjacent generations (p.245-6). Dziebel acknowledges that other functional motivations might be involved (eg the association of skewing with lineality). Dziebel predicts however that in addition to this, ancestral adjacent-generation self-reciprocity will also be found in the history of groups with Crow or Omaha skewing. I am very doubtful about this, but having such a hypothesis on the table is a useful spur to research.”

The reasons for McConvell’s upfront doubts are totally unclear to me. It’s also strange that he has not tested my hypothesis with his extensive Pama-Nyungan data on the distribution of “skewed” reflexes of the ancestral *kaala MyB (> MBC in many Pama-Nyungan daughter languages). McConvell is compelling in showing how the progressive Omaha skewing of the ancestral *kaala MyB is emblematic of the westward expansion of Pama-Nyungan languages from their Cape York homeland in the early Holocene times (see below). The associated rules of exogamy and patrilineal inheritance were well suited to the task of securing control of the land by the expanding population.

From: McConvell P. "Omaha Skewing in Australia: Overlays, Dynamism, and Change," p. 254

From: McConvell P. “Omaha Skewing in Australia: Overlays, Dynamism, and Change,” p. 254

What McConvell fails to mention is that Cape York has some of the most intricate systems of self-reciprocal equations in Australia (see The Genius of Kinship, p. 224). While Australian kinship terminologies are famous for their equations of grandparents and grandchildren, adjacent generations (+1 and -1) are rarely seen linked by self-reciprocal terms. (The trend is reversed in Papua New Guinea.) In Wik-Mungkan (Middle Pama) and Kandju (Northeastern Pama), muka MoSib is clearly cognate with mukaiya (mukato) yZC. The MyB terms have already lost self-reciprocity (kala MyB) but MoSib (< MoB; note the rare and unorthodox equation MB = MZ discussed above) still carries it. Cross-linguistically, there are terminologies in which both MoB and MyB (or MoZ and MyZ) kintypes are associated with self-reciprocal terms, so it’s not a stretch of imagination that Cape York systems used to have this feature on both MoB and MyB. In fact, a full set of self-reciprocal equations involving FoZ = wyBC, FyZ = woZC, FoB = myBC, FyB = woBC, MoZ = wyZC, MyZ = woZC can be provisionally suggested for proto-Pama-Nyungan based on Cape York data (Kandju pinya FoSib, pinyato yBC, pipa FyB, pi’ato oBC, with the patrilateral side holding the self-reciprocal “charge” better than the matrilateral side). Outside of Cape York, all of these self-reciprocal equations were lost (in the course of the Pama-Nyungan expansion, to follow McConvell’s lead) and *kaala MyB, moZC was likely the first one to go.

Pending further research, McConvell’s own Australian material is fully consistent with my hypothesis that Crow-Omaha skewing evolved from Self-Reciprocal terminology. It’s likely that the same picture will emerge from the study of Papua New Guinean systems. McConvell (2009) applied the interpretative framework that he developed for Pama-Nyungan to Trans-New Guinean arguing, following Cook & O’Brien (1980, 464) that the same proliferation of Omaha-type kinship terminological systems occurs at the edge of the Trans-New Guinean expansion, namely west of the Strickland Gorge but not in eastern Papua New Guinea. This observation can be paired with another one: a preliminary review of the Papuan database at reveals that it’s precisely in eastern Papua New Guinea that one finds symmetrical systems with both Amito- (FZ = wBC) and Avunculoreciprocity (MB = mZC) and without skewing. Strong examples include: Barai, Koitabu, Managalasi, Tairora, Usurufa, Kuman, Oksapmin. In a number of languages, Avunculoreciprocity without Amitoreciprocity and Amitoreciprocity without Avunculoreciprocity were detected.

Let’s see if the same evolutionary pathway from Self-Reciprocal terminology can be inferred for Crow equations. Chris Ehret (“Deep-Time Historical Contexts of Crow and Omaha Systems Perspectives from Africa”) contributed another iteration of his wonderfully detailed reconstructions of kin terminological evolution among Nilo-Saharan peoples in Africa. Nilo-Saharan offers another case of Holocene language spread. Archaeological, paleoecological and linguistic evidence work hand-in-hand documenting the stepwise transition from a) post-glacial climate improvement in eastern Sahara between 12,700 and 10,800 BC that resulted in the initial expansion of proto-Nilo-Saharan to b) the early period of foraging to cattle-breeding evolution around 8500 BC corresponding to the proto-Northern Sudanic stage to c) the development of full blown pastoralist economies that led to the westward expansion of proto-Sahelians after 6000 BC from their east Saharan homeland (see map below).

From: Ehret C. "Deep-Time Historical Contexts of Crow and Omaha Systems Perspectives from Africa," p. 176.

From: Ehret C. “Deep-Time Historical Contexts of Crow and Omaha Systems
Perspectives from Africa,” p. 176.

Ehret did not find evidence for “Dravidian kinship” in proto-Nilo-Saharan because affinal-consanguineal equations are not typically found in any of the branches of Nilo-Saharan. He therefore reconstructs “Iroquois” for proto-Nilo-Saharan. But then he starts finding evidence for Crow skewing (FZ = FZD) at several nodes of the Nilo-Saharan language tree beginning with the very deepest ones represented by Gumuz (proto-Koman), Kunama (proto-Northen Sudanic), For (proto-Sahelian) and Songhay (proto-Western Sahelian). He interprets the evidence as showing multiple back-and-forth shifts from Iroquois to Crow and back to Iroquois (FZ > FZD > PxSibC) after the founding Iroquois-to-Crow shift. He calls attention to this unique and surprising case of ancient phylogenetic reticulation that contrasts with such more recent unilinear evolutionary sequences as Iroquois > Crow, Iroquois > Omaha, Iroquois > Sudanese, Crow > Sudanese, etc.

Ehret misses an opportunity to sink his teeth deeper into Nilo-Saharan kin terminological evolution by ignoring a set of ancient self-reciprocal equations with clear proto-Nilo-Saharan roots. In his earlier work (Ehret 2008, 259-260), he reconstructs PNS *nam ‘mother’s brother; sister’s child (ms)’ on the strength of Uduk ZC(ms); CSud: Mbay MB, ZC(ms), Gula MB; Kunama FZ, DH(ws); Maban: Aiki MB; Ik HZ. Interestingly, the Kunama form is associated with consanguineal-affinal semantics, which cast doubt on Ehret’s assertion that “Dravidian” equations are not visible in Nilo-Saharan. MB is a kintype instrumental in creating Omaha equations (MB = MBS). According to Ehret, Omaha equations are recent (1400-1500 A.D.) and geographically restricted in Nilo-Saharan and don’t show up until the time of the formation of the Western Nilotic (e.g., Acholi, Lango), Eastern Nilotic (e.g., Bari, Maasai) and Southern Nilotic (e.g., Nandi, Endo mentioned by Ehret, plus Tugen and Kipsigis, see branches. This is not entirely so. Although it’s true that the Nilotic cluster is especially rich in Omaha systems, other cases have been recorded as well. In the Surmic group Mursi has oine, ona MB, MBS, MBSS, ngosoni ZC, FZC (Jorgensen 2011, 50-54, 83-84); Suri (Chai) maama M, MBD (Abbink 2006). Although the examples of Omaha in Surmic languages lengthens the pedigree of this terminological feature in Nilo-Saharan languages, they don’t take away from Ehret’s conclusion that Omaha systems in Nilo-Saharan are recent developments, and, one might add, they emerged more than once independently in different branches of Nilo-Saharan.

Ehret (p. 191) repeats the erroneous assumption of the editors of the volume that Crow-Omaha emerges from earlier Iroquois systems.

“The speakers of two near-neighbor Kalenjin dialects in western Kenya, Endo (Marakwet) and Nandi, also have Omaha systems. In these dialects the development of Omaha terminology dates to the period following the separate divergences of Nandi and Endo out of proto-Central Kalenjin, which had an Iroquois system.”

Meanwhile, Endo features mamaa with both self-reciprocal and skewed meanings MB, mZC, MBS (Moore 1986). So does Keiyo wherein mama MB, MBS, FZC, ZC (Tornay 1969). Tugen has dropped Avunculoreciprocity (the term for the MB = mZC equation introduced in The Genius of Kinship) from the polysemy resulting in the pure Omaha equation mamae MB, MBS, MBSS (Kettel 1975). The etymological status of such key Omaha lexemes as Bari mana’nye MF, MB, MBS (Seligman 1928, 438), Acholi nera MMB, MBS, MBS (Seligman 1965, 117) or Lango nero MB, MBS (Driberg 1923, 176), Endo, Keiyo mama(a) in relation to PNS *nam is unclear but the structural sequence Avunculoreciprocity (not “Iroquois”) > Omaha seems to be well supported by the Nilo-Saharan-to-Nilotic evidence. At the same time, it’s noteworthy that precisely in Nilotic dialects we find the mirror image of Avunculoreciprocity, namely Amitoreciprocity. Forms such as Endo sanga and Tugen sengee mean FZ, wBC.

Uduk, one of the two languages from the most divergent Koman branch of Nilo-Saharan, has preserved a number of self-reciprocal terms, which are important to understanding the origins of Crow skewing in Nilo-Saharan. In Uduk one finds diti FZ, wBC, tata MB, mZC and iya FB = mBC (James 1979, 282-283). The phonetic reflex of PNS *nam is represented by Uduk nam ZC but PNS avunculoreciprocity is preserved in the semantics of tata (or shwakam in Southern Uduk [James 1979, 284]). Now, Uduk tata MB is a formal descendant of PNS *tatha ‘father’s sister’ found with this meaning (without Amitoreciprocity) in Kunama as well as in Ik and Soo (Eastern Sahelian) (Ehret 2008, 260). While the details of phonetic and semantic development need to be clarified by Nilo-Sahararianists it seems highly plausible that the original PNS arrangement included FZ = wBC, FB = mBC and MB = wZC – three alternate generation equations later replaced by an ancient Crow shift and a more recent Omaha shift. (The Southern Nilotic Barabaig or Datooga system that includes both Crow and Omaha features may not be aberrant after all, see Ehret, p. 191). The dialects that went the Crow way maintained avunculoreciprocity, while the dialects that went the Omaha way (Nilotes) maintained vestiges of Amitoreciprocity. What Ehret refers to as the Crow-to-Iroquois transition FZC > PxSibC in Gen 0 seems to have been replicated in Gen +1 by the semantic development of PNS *tatha FZ  through the non-canonical (from the point of view of Trautmann’s quadripartite matrix above) equation FZ = MB (PxSib) to MB in Uduk.

There are other self-reciprocal forms sporadically found across Nilo-Saharan dialects (see TableAfrica.xls at, and their antiquity and role in the genesis of generational skewing will remain to be clarified. Since Ehret was not advised by anthropologists to look for self-reciprocal terminologies in his search for the genesis of skewing in Nilo-Saharan, his expertise in the Nilo-Saharan languages remained underutilized.

On the horizontal side, Uduk iya FB = mBC suggests that ancient self-reciprocity tended to spread across both cross and parallel relatives in Gen +1/-1.(McConvell’s Pama-Nyungan data analyzed above supports this observation.) This means that Uduk may have preserved an original Bifurcate Collateral situation in Gen +1/-1 from which an Iroquois structure evolved after the collapse of alternate-generation equations. Ehret reconstructs PNS *eeya with the gloss ‘father’ (an alternate to another PNS terms for father *baaba) but puts a question mark against the FB position. Uduk iya FB = mBC suggests that PNS *eeya meant ‘father’s brother; man’s brother’s child leaving *baaba as the sole term for F. If this hypothesis proves to be correct, then Crow skewing in Nilo-Saharan is a cross-generational counterpart to Bifurcate Merging, both emerging with the dissolution of alternate generation equations in the early post-glacial stages of the evolution of the Nilo-Saharan family. It’s therefore possible that the original horizontal background of Crow skewing in Nilo-Saharan was Bifurcate Collateral, so that it started with FZ = FZD, FB = FZS, with F = FB being a later development occurring next to other horizontal shifts such as MB = FZ referred to above.

Thus, we have seen in two widely separated geographical areas – Australia and Africa – that self-reciprocity is a more primitive principle of vertical equations than Crow-Omaha. Crow-Omaha arises with the dissolution of alternate-generation equations. A third area represented in the Trautmann & Whiteley volume, North America, also furnishes an example of the priority of Self-Reciprocity over Crow-Omaha. Whiteley’s own Hopi case study (“Crow-Omaha Kinship in North America: A Puebloan Perspective”) illustrates this evolutionary pattern. According to Whiteley (p. 85), Hopi kya FZ = FZD represents a core Crow equation. But from the general Uto-Aztecan perspective one can observe that Hopi kya is a reflex of Proto-Uto-Aztecan (PUA) *ka which has self-reciprocal meanings ‘grandmother; granddaughter’ in a number of daughter languages (see below no. 496 in Wick Miller’s Uto-Aztecan Cognate Sets).

From: Miller W. "Uto-Aztecan Cognate Sets." Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967. P. 67.

From: Miller W. “Uto-Aztecan Cognate Sets.” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967. P. 67.

Self-reciprocal terminology is a PUA feature (Shimkin 1943). It’s noteworthy that Hopi is an independent branch of Uto-Aztecan coalescing with other branches carrying alternate-generation equations at the PUA level and it’s the only branch that’s characterized by generational skewing. With Self-Reciprocity comes preference for Bifurcate Collateral arrangements in Gen +1/-1, so “crossness,” as defined by Trautmann & Whiteley (“father’s brother is equally a father (crossness)”, p. 6), may well be a derived feature in Uto-Aztecan speech communities.

Horizontal and Vertical Dimensions in Kinship Terminological Systems

There are reasons to believe that horizontal and vertical principles of grouping co-vary in kin terminological systems but their interactions are complex. For instance, in The Genius of Kinship I reported high correlation between Crow skewing and the relative-sex classification of siblings and, correspondingly, between Omaha skewing and relative-age sibling classification. However, the Trautmann & Whiteley volume is creating an impression that all Crow-Omaha systems indiscriminately are an evolutionary step forward from the more basic, non-skewed Bifurcate Merging (Dravidian or Iroquois) situation as defined by the merger F = FB and M = MZ. Dousset (“Horizontal” and “Vertical” Skewing Similar Objectives, Two Solutions?”) likens the Hawaiianization of Gen 0 terminology found in such classic examples as Aluridja in Australia and sometimes called “Cheyenne type” in North America to generational skewing because both regulate marriages in a similar way by making cross-cousins (or a subset thereof) unmarriageable. (It’s worth pointing out that Vladimir Popov introduced the notion of chirality (“sided-ness”) to describe the mirror-image relationship between Crow and Omaha skewing and he considers Generational and Bifurcate Collateral as another example of this principle in kinship terminological systems [Popov 1982, 69, n. 106].)

I concur with Trautmann that we need to discriminate between more primitive Cheyenne type and Hawaiian type proper. Trautmann (“Crossness and Crow-Omaha,” 40) writes,

“Cheyenne is unmistakably Iroquois in crossness, and the suspension of crossness in ego’s generation does not change that. It is necessary to emphasize this point, because Murdock, in his cross-cultural comparisons, which use ego’s generation as the criterion, regularly assigns the Cheyenne pattern to the Hawaiian sector of the fourfold typology. This is wrong and misleading, giving, for example, an impression that there are many terminologies of Hawaiian laterality in
North America, among others of Iroquois type. True Hawaiian or generational terminologies are the negation of crossness.”

There is a problem with Trautmann’s thinking, however. He focuses on “Cheyenne type” because it allows him to still celebrate crossness in its canonical F = FB ? MB form but he leaves out another North American Indian type called by Leslie Spier (1925, 76-77) “Mackenzie Basin.” Mackenzie Basin neutralizes the cross-parallel distinction in Gen 0 (just like “Cheyenne” type) but it enhances it in Gen +1/-1 by distinguishing three categories of relatives – MB, FB and F, or FZ, MZ and M. As I argued in The Genius of Kinship, in the same way, as the cross-parallel neutralization in Gen 0 has nothing to do with straight “Hawaiian” systems (see above the quadripartite matrix), the Bifurcate Collateral configuration in Gen +1/-1 has nothing to do with “Sudanese” type. In archaic kinship systems (Nick Allen’s tetradic theory reaches the same conclusion [see “Tetradic Theory and Omaha Systems,” p. 52] but through a different logical path), Gen 0 and Gen +1/-1 were categorically opposed and structured differently, hence Generational classification in Gen 0 and Bifurcate Collateral in Gen +1/-1 are not disharmonious or aberrant in any way. What is definitively derived in kinship terminological systems is Generational, or Hawaiian nomenclature in Gen +1/-1 and Bifurcate Collateral, or Sudanese nomenclature (especially with Descriptive term morphology) in Gen 0. But, contra Trautmann, this has nothing to do with negating or affirming crossness as defined by F = FB ? MB. There are well-documented cases of Bifurcate Merging systems developing from Mackenzie Basin systems (see The Genius of Kinship). Hence, the merger of adjacent generations in Crow-Omaha (and the breaking down of symmetricity inherent in Self-Reciprocal Terminology) and the merger of adjacent horizontal categorical positions in Bifurcate Merging (coming to replace the symmetricities of the Mackenzie Basin type) may be more of a legitimate analogy than Dousset’s dubbing of cross-parallel neutralization in Gen 0 “horizontal skewing.”

It’s rewarding to see the contributors to the Crow-Omaha volume citing the work of the Soviet social anthropologist Mikhail Kryukov on the evolutionary typology of kinship terminological systems. My own initiation into kinship studies wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Kryukov’s magnus opus Sistema rodstva kitaitsev (Chinese Kinship System) published in Moscow in 1972. It’s a classic text in Russian anthropology and Kryukov drew on his original research into the history of Chinese kinship to formulate a general theory of kinship terminological change that was made available to English readers in 1998 (Kryukov 1998). However, Sistema rodstva kitaitsev not only impressed me but also frustrated. The deepest stratum of Chinese kinship terminology accessible through direct archival research (3d century BC) was still too shallow of a time period to base a world-historical model of evolutionary transformations on. In addition, Kryukov’s postulation of Bifurcate Merging as the ground-zero of Chinese kinship evolution was based on an assumption that one of the earliest attested kinship terms relevant to the typological attribution of Chinese kinship system such as shifu FyB and shufu FoB as well as tsunmu MZ actually presuppose earlier fu FB and mu M explicitly recorded in the earliest relevant Chinese text “Erya” only with the meaning ‘father’. Presumably the morphological differentiation between F and FB happened later out of the need to differentiate the two kintypes conceptually. But what evidence do we have to be sure that not the reverse happened? In pre-shufu/shifu times FB used to be called by an entirely separate stem and then kintype FB merged with kintype F and the merger received a formal expression. There are kinship terminological systems such as Keraki (Papua New Guinea) where FyB is morphologically linked to F, while FoB is fully merged with its direct reciprocal myBC (Williams 1969). Kryukov went on to adduce Lat patruus FB and matertera MZ as supposedly showing the same morphological differentiation from earlier *pater F = FB and *mater M = MZ. But in no IE language does a reflex of PIE *pater mean both F and FB or a reflex of PIE *meHter mean both M and MZ. In a number of branches the terms are connected morphologically. Similarly, Lat avunculus MB is derived from avus PF and one may argue that originally avus (PIE *HeuHo-) meant both PF and MB. But this polysemy is not attested in any Indo-European language (Mallory & Adams 1997, 610) and all MB terms in Indo-European languages are derived from PIE *HeuHo– through independent morphological processes. As a matter of fact, the actual evidence shows that that PIE *HeuHo– had a self-reciprocal, not a skewed meaning  (see below).

Worldwide cases of Bifurcate Collateral <> Bifurcate Merging in Gen +1/-1 and Generational <> Bifurcate Merging in Gen 0 need to be thoroughly re-examined to ascertain which direction transformation actually goes. The situation has been clouded for many decades by the implicit assumption that the derived nature of “Hawaiian” in Gen +1/-1  and “Sudanese” in Gen 0 automatically means the ancestrality of Bifurcate Merging across all generational levels. [UPDATE: 09.03.2013: Anthropologists should not automatically assume that if the term for FB is derived from the term for F (and the term for MZ from the terms for M) that both kintypes were called by exactly the same form at the previous stage in the evolution of the kinship terminological system. The linguistic aspects of the formation of kinship terms need to be typologized  holistically, cross-linguistically and globally in their own right (see Dziebel 2007) and not used as props for semantic typologies.]

Crow-Omaha: Self-Reciprocity, Dravidian and Tetradic

My hypothesis of the origin of Crow-Omaha systems from Self-Reciprocal systems seems to support Nick Allen’s tetradic theory (see “Tetradic Theory and Omaha Systems”). Tetradic theory postulates the absence of generational distinction in archaic kinship systems and the merger of alternate generations. This means the following set of equations: PF = mCC, PM = wCC, MB = mZC, FZ = wBC, MZ = wZC, FB = mBC (Wendy James [“A Tetradic Starting Point for Skewing? Marriage as a Generational Contract: Reflections on Sister-Exchange in Africa,” pp. 146-148] mentions this latter equation in the context of Uduk iya FB = mBC). Allen writes,

“To transform into an Omaha type, the tetradic model…must be unfolded so as to introduce generations in the normal sense. Ascending generations now contrast with descending, by having (at least some) different kin terms.”

But here the similarity between my thinking and Allen’s seems to end. While well familiar with the argument I put forth in The Genius of Kinship, Allen does not explicitly say that alternate-generation merging as dictated by tetradic logic is the formal antecedent of Crow-Omaha generational skewing. The reason for this reticence is not entirely clear, but it may reflect the fact that Allen’s own geographic area of expertise – Tibeto-Burman-speaking South Asia – furnishes an example of a transition from “Dravidian” to “Omaha” without any alternate-generation merging in sight. Byansi and Sherpa, Allen writes, speak related Western Tibeto-Burman languages but Byansi has a “Dravidian” terminology and a rule of bilateral cross-cousin marriage, while Sherpa (and, one might add, a large number of other Tibeto-Burman languages) has an “Omaha” terminology and no marital prescription. But “Dravidian” terminologies (as an analytical type) don’t have alternate-generation equations. So, Allen is left with suggesting that it’s the rupture of prescriptive equations only that led to the formation of skewed Omaha terms. But this doesn’t explain the skewing! The issue needs to be resolved with the help of lexical reconstruction of proto-Tibeto-Burman kinship. While Tibeto-Burman languages are dominated by Omaha skewing (no Crow systems pop up in my database), one of the most divergent branches, namely Bodo-Garo (part of Sal) features a set of alternate-generation equations. E.g., Bodo –b?w PF, CS, –b?y PM, CD, mamay MB, mZC, a-doi FyB, moBC, yon PPF, FoB, yBC, a-noi FZ, wBD (Kelkar 1968; Benedict 1941, 251ff, 467). (The retention situation is reminiscent of Nilo-Saharan where the divergent Uduk language harbors a number of alternate-generation equations from which generational skewing in core Nilo-Saharan languages can be derived.) These equations may still be visible in some Northern Naga languages (Tase Naga aghu MB, aghek ZC) (Dutta 1959) but the data is incomplete.

A separate problem is the troubling uncertainties in the existing recordings of Bodo-Garo kinship terminologies. In 2009, I corresponded with Robbins Burling regarding these alternate generation equations in Bodo-Garo languages, including Riang, Rabha and Bodo. He was intrigued by this evidence as alternate-generation equivalences “seem strange in this group of languages” but could not verify the data. Bodo mamay is a likely borrowing from Indo-Aryan where MB and ZC terms are not self-reciprocal, but this only suggests that there used to be a native Bodo term with the self-reciprocal meaning recently replaced by mamay. But assuming the recordings of alternate-generation equivalences in Bodo-Garo are correct, a “Dravidian” configuration does not need to be the only option for a proto-Tibeto-Burman system considering that pan-Tibeto-Burman “Omaha” structures can be derived from those. But the problem for Allen is that Bodo-Garo systems are also Bifurcate-Collateral in Gen +1/-1 and their Bifurcate Collaterality is tightly linked to the alternate-generation equations (a-doi FyB, moBC, yon PPF, FoB, yBC, but ba F). But, then, if we re-read Allen (1975), Byansi is a Bifurcate Collateral nomenclature in Gen +1 (ba F, babu FoB, kaku FyB, na M, pochi MoZ, chenchi MyZ), despite the presence of symmetric-prescriptive equations for cross-relatives. So, it’s nor really “Dravidian” in the first place because it doesn’t have “crossness,” at least in Trautmann’s definition thereof. Bifurcate Collateral is not part of the tetradic model, which assumes Bifurcate Merging, but the question arises: do classificatory, prescriptive and alternative generation equations co-exist in the “real world,” or one tends to conflict with the other?

Allen notes that the “Dravidian,” prescriptive equations in Byansi are an anomaly among Tibeto-Burman languages. Unlike Dravidians of India or Amazonian Indians “Dravidian” systems do not form a systematic areal feature and the Byansi language is not a divergent language in the Tibeto-Burman linguistic phylogeny. The reconstruction of “Dravidian” crossness for proto-Tibeto-Burman is therefore problematic from a linguistic perspective, although may be favored by an anthropologist on typological grounds. Interestingly, this is not the only example of “Dravidian” crossness occurring at the terminal branches of a linguistic phylogeny. Trautmann praises (p. 41) Per Hage’s discovery of “Dravidian” in Africa but Hage (2006) detected it in Yao, again an isolated instance of a Bantu language in Nyasaland, which is much downstream from the root of the Niger-Congo phylogeny and the geographic source of the Niger-Congo expansion. Khoisan peoples which are generally considered to be the oldest population in Africa don’t have “Dravidian” kinship. Hage thought the ‘Dravidian” pattern in Yao could evolve from an Iroquois system and that ultimately only a linguistic reconstruction can decide on the direction of evolution. Similarly, Hage (2001) showed that the West Futuna-Aniwa kinship terminological system in Polynesia belongs to the “Dravidian” type. While a number of Polynesian societies (Bellona, Rennell, Taumako, etc.) picked cross-cousin marriage as a result of demographic depression and created separate terms for cross-cousins (Generational > Bifurcate Merging), only West Futuna-Aniwa developed a full-blown “Dravidian” nomenclature. It’s clear that considering the downstream position of the West Futuna-Aniwa language in Austronesian and the late colonization of Polynesia its “Dravidian” system is secondary to the earlier cognatic system. Hage interpreted the unique case of “Dravidian” in Oceania as the product of a substrate effect exerted on the original cognatic system by a pre-Austronesian, “Papuan” social structure. This may be the explanation to be used for the sudden emergence of isolated instances of “Dravidian” kinship in Byansi and Yao but this substratum hypothesis can hardly be tested. It’s possible that we’re dealing here with some forms of late, pseudo-Dravidian and pseudo-Amazonian kinship no more archaic than the Lineal pattern in English that merges affines and consanguines in such a recent pattern as, e.g., Eng father F and father-in-law SpF, mother M and mother-in-law SpM, etc. Be it as it may, the use of these pseudo-Dravidian examples as sources for more standard kinship terminologies within a linguistic family (like Allen does for the Sherpa among Tibeto-Burman peoples) is problematic.

Crow-Omaha: Social Anthropology Meets Philology, or Does it?

In his paper, Allen who has spent decades researching Indo-European mythology and ritual draws a connection between the hypothesis of “Omaha” kinship in Proto-Indo-European (PIE) and his own theory (build off of Georges Dumezil’s triad) that proto-Indo-European ideology was based in 5 functions (transcendence, knowledge, force, plenty and devaluation) that mirrored 5 patrilineal clans engaged in a semi-complex marital exchange model. Indeed, it has been suggested (Friedrich 1966; Mallory & Adams 2006: 202-218) that PIE kinship was “Omaha” in type. But, as Hettrich (1985) pointed out, the diagnostic Omaha pattern in IE languages (Lat avunculus, Bret eontr, Lith avynas, Slav *uijos, OHG oheim MB, all from PIE *HeuHo– ‘grandfather’) is branch-specific and there is no single form reconstructible for PIE that would indicate an Omaha-type of polysemy. (Only the Latin and Celtic forms above may indicate Proto-Italo-Celtic *awentlo MB). This means that Omaha skewing took place independently in a number of IE branches but that PIE was not “Omaha” but pre-“Omaha.” Albanian offers an interesting evidence for ancient Omaha skewing: its ‘brother’ term vella derives from *awnlada-< *awentlo– (Huld 1984, 128-129), the same form that underlies the Italo-Celtic isogloss above. Albanian term for ‘sister’, motre, comes from *matriia, which is derivative of PIE *mater ‘mother’ and, judging by its morphology, most likely meant ‘mother’s sister’ (see Huld 1984, 95-96 who, however, assumes an unmodified PIE *meHter M, MZ). One can hypothesize that pre-proto-Albanian *awentlo– MB and *matriia MZ also included, respectively, MBS = MZS = B  and MBD = MZD = Z. With the loss of the skewing and a shift from Generational to Lineal nomenclature in Gen 0, the semantic range of these terms shrank to include only B and Z. Depending on the position of Albanian in the IE language tree, this may be indicative of Omaha skewing in PIE or Omaha skewing in an ancient Albanian-Italo-Celtic protolanguage or contact area. The latter is more likely considering that a) other IE languages that have Omaha skewing used their own morphological means to derive the MB from the term for PF and not the putative PIE **HeuH-n-tlo; b) a number of key branches such as Greek, Armenian, Indo-Aryan, Tocharian and Anatolian do not show “Omaha” terminology at all. In the case of Anatolian and Tocharian this may be a matter of poor lexical preservation. In any case, at present, there is no evidence that “Omaha” skewing was a PIE feature. Allen’s argument for a semi-complex alliance in PIE times forming a foundation for a pentadic structure of PIE ideology loses its force because it was originally based on some selective reading by a social anthropologist of IE philological literature.

What Indo-European data does show is that PIE *HeuHo– (attested in Hittite huhhas PF and morphologically stable across IE dialects) was likely a self-reciprocal term because in Old Irish its reflex (h)aue means ‘grandson’. Naturally, –ntlo- in Latin, Celtic and Albanian, *-ijos in proto-Slavic, –ynas in Lithuanian and *-haimaz in Proto-Germanic were affixed to the originally self-reciprocal stem to create the term for MB (and MBS in Albanian) once the self-reciprocal equation broke down. Most likely, MB used to be called by an entirely different stem and then an Omaha-kind skewing brought PF and MB closer to each other conceptually while maintaining some degree of formal separation.

Rodney Needham (1987, 9) once commented that “to the present, however, neither the original nature of Indo-European terminologies nor their relation to prescriptive systems has been satisfactorily worked out.” One of the reasons for this strange – considering how well-studied the IE language family is – gap in knowledge is the lack of collaboration between historical linguists and social anthropologists at the level of etymological work itself. In (Dziebel 2006) I reported a strong sign of marital prescription in PIE detected through a more in-depth etymological work enhanced by knowledge of kinship typologies. The PIE root *mer– yielded both consanguineal (IE *bhreHter ‘brother’) and affinal (Gk meirax ‘boy; girl, Lat maritus ‘husband’, Germ. *brudi ‘bride’, etc.) meanings in Gen 0 in the IE daughter languages. Pending the acceptance of this new etymology by Indo-Europeanists, the hypothetical Nostratic extension of PIE *mer– can be found in Dravidian languages where the root *mar– means ‘younger cross-cousin; grandchild; wife’s brother; brother’s wife” (Alternate Generation Cousin Skewing type with additional prescriptive polysemy) (see Tyler 1990, 159; also here). Social anthropologists such as Allen (also Hage 2003) and historians (e.g., Kullanda 2002) are making a mistake by relying on purely linguistic theories of Indo-European and Nostratic kinship terminological reconstruction, which are not informed in their very core by comparative kinship studies. Needham’s skepticism is a more realistic attitude. Unlike American anthropology where linguistics and ethnology originally, in Boasian times, formed a unity of method and practice, Indo-European linguistics evolved in Europe as an entirely autonomous discipline. But kinship studies is a field in which social anthropology and linguistics, or phonology and semantics, should be inherently tied together for both phonological and semantic reconstructions to be accurate (Dziebel 2000a; Dziebel 2000b; Dziebel 2001a). The reduction of the formal diversity of kin terminological systems to a few rigid evolutionary types (including “Crow-Omaha”) by social anthropologists is one negative outcome of keeping social anthropology and linguists separate. The phonology-only approach to etymology practiced by the majority of historical linguists is another one.

Crow-Omaha, the Semiotic Status of Kinship Terms and the Nature of Human Kinship Systems

I believe that the contradictions surrounding the ancestral state of classificatory and prescriptive equations stem from the presence in ancient kinship terminological systems of additional “categorical constraints” in addition to the need to just encode relations by birth (consanguinity) and relations by marriage (affinity). As I propose in The Genius of Kinship, one of them is adoption, the other one is death. Cross-culturally, FB and MZ and their reciprocals are prototypical adoption categories, hence their separation from F and M in Bifurcate Collateral terminologies with Self-Reciprocity (FB = mBC, MZ = wZC) may reflect a adoption prescription parallel to the marital prescription that sets apart cross-categories such as MB and FZ.

There is a growing interest on the part of scholars to see human kinship as an ontological category succinctly expressed by Pitt-Rivers’s term “consubstantiality” (see Pitt-Rivers 1973; Dziebel 2001; Dziebel 2007; Sahlins 2011; Dousset 2013). This reinterpretation of the nature of kinship should lead to the correlative reinterpretation of the semiotic (logical and linguistic) nature of kinship terms. As a first step, to follow the lead of the British logician, Augustus de Morgan (1806-1871), kinship terms need to be understood as relational nouns (see Dziebel 2007). This puts kinship terms on the same test bench as proper names and personal pronouns as linguistic items that not only communicate meanings but also point to (index), pick out and construct referents, including Ego. The referents exist in a field of consubstantiality spanning a broad ontological universe demarcated by the axes of birth-death and alliance-adoption and segmented by relative age, relative sex (Ego Gender, parity), speech act roles, baptism act roles and reciprocity.

Instead of taking this holistic and ontological view of “kinship,” the Trautmann & Whiteley volume is biased toward naturalistic and alliance-only explanations for Crow-Omaha skewing. While its contributors are aware of high cross-cultural correlation between Crow system and matrilineal descent, on the one hand, and Omaha systems and patrilineal descent, on the other (and Kronenfeld continues to explain Crow skewing in Fanti as product of inheritance rules), there is a clear desire on the part of Trautmann & Whiteley to reduce Crow-Omaha to various alliance configurations. This does not mean that forms of alliance do not contribute to the shape of kinship terminological systems. They do but only as part of a more holistic social system. One paper in the Crow-Omaha volume that bucks the trend to focus narrowly on alliance is Coelho de Souza’s “The Making and Unmaking of “Crow-Omaha” Kinship in Central Brazil(ian Ethnology).” She explicitly argues that generational skewing in Northern Ge speech communities comes from their cross-generational naming practices (see below). (Similarly, Robert Parkin [1988] tied what I call “Alternate Generation Cousin Skewed” and “Alternate Generation Sibling Skewed” terminologies to name and soul substance transmission in South India.) Crow and Omaha systems form an east-west gradient from Crow among Eastern Timbira to Omaha among Kayapó, Xikrin, and Kïsêdjê, with Krinkati, Apinaye and others in the middle combining both Crow and Omaha features.

From: Coelho de Souza M. "The Making and Unmaking of “Crow-Omaha” Kinship in Central Brazil(ian Ethnology) Marcela Coelho," p. 211

From: Coelho de Souza M. “The Making and Unmaking of “Crow-Omaha” Kinship in Central Brazil(ian Ethnology),” p. 211

Ge individuals typically inherit ceremonial names from their MB, for men, and FZ, for women. The sharing of names means sharing of identities (substances), so namesakes end up calling their relatives by the same kinship terms. This creates Crow-type polysemies if male name transmission is assumed, or Omaha-type of polysemies if female name transmission is assumed. By suggesting that identification between MB and mZS and FZ and wBD derived from ceremonial naming practices causes Crow-Omaha skewing in everyday kinship terms, Coelho de Souza echoes my Self-Reciprocal hypothesis for the origin of Crow-Omaha skewing (see above). (On her Fig. 10.1 reproduced above one would need to replace M with MZ and F with FB to begin seeing an underlying Self-Reciprocal pattern we encountered above among aborigines of Cape York and Nilo-Saharan-speaking Uduk.) Importantly, it appears that in Ge societies cross-consanguines are re-adopted as ceremonial namesakes and thus become “true relatives” or perfect substitutes for each other in the event of death. Coelho de Souza writes (p. 214):

What Amerindians are trying to produce or create, most of the time, is people, that is, persons of a particular kind: fully social, human persons—relatives—as opposed to other types of persons that inhabit their cosmos (animals, spirits, enemies, strangers. . .). What I suggest is that an understanding of the way Northern Gê employ certain symbolic devices in the constitution of their relationships for the making of human beings or relatives is the key to understanding what we call their “kinship systems” – to its dynamic (or “dialectical”) structuring, too often lost in our segregation of terminology/behavior, synchrony/diachrony, classification/action, and so forth. Naming may be seen as a specific transformative route in the making of persons correlated with another route: marriage. My argument is that both are directed to the making of kinship. If kinship has to be made, it is because it is not given; even when it is already there, as a product of the kinship making of previous generations, it has to be sustained, for otherwise it lapses. Naming may be viewed as a way of blocking such lapsing and marriage as a means to reverse it.”

By submitting to naming dynamism, kinship terms reveal their referential continuity with proper names. Personal names entered kinship studies relatively late but the dependence of kinship term usage on underlying name and substance transmission patterns have now been amply documented from such diverse societies as African Khoisan (Marshall 1957), Inuits in the American Arctic (Fienup-Riordan 1983) and the various tribes of Amazonia. Personal names complicate the standard division of forms of classification into relative or egocentric (kinship terms) and absolute or sociocentric (names of social categories such as Australian sections) (reiterated in this volume by Allen, p. 51) as they are neither. In addition to the intersections between kinship terms and personal names, recent research has brought up similar formal synergies between kinship terms and pronouns. In a number of Australian aboriginal languages (Arrernte/Aranda, Lardil, Arabana, Nyungar, Parnkalla, etc.) personal pronouns are marked not only for grammatical categories such as person, number, exclusive and case but also for such social categories as moiety belonging. For example, in Kaytej non-singlular pronouns come in 3 forms; form I is used when referents are in the same patrimoiety and generation (section); form II when referents are in the same patrimoiety but opposite generation (section) and form III when referents are in the opposite moiety (Koch 1982).

Coelho de Souza notes (p. 208) the richness of social deixis in Ge languages. Ge Indians are also the only example in the New World of triadic kin terms (forms such as “your mother, who is my sister), which are otherwise found only in aboriginal Australia. Ge don’t live by a rigid classificational model but operate with several flexible sociosemiotic systems. This is something Kronenfeld (“Crow- (and Omaha-) Type Kinship Terminology: The Fanti Case”) also notes about Fanti in West Africa. They operate with three kinship terminological systems – unskewed, Crow skewed and courtesy – depending on social context. Kronenfeld (p. 164) believes the Crow-type system is “an overlay on the unskewed variant.” Other contributors to the volume concur that generational skewing is a surface-level “social technology” (Trautmann & Whiteley, p. 290) sitting on top of the more fundamental semantic structures based on the horizontal principles of merging and bifurcation. But isn’t it just “anthro-speak” for what linguists and semioticians have already invented better terms, namely “pragmatics” or “pragmatics” and “syntactics”? Kronenfeld’s paper exemplifies this self-absorbed focus on kinship terms as a “semantic system” subject to a formal mathematical analysis, which was characteristic of kinship studies in the 1950s and 1960s. Since then linguists, ethnolinguists and sociolinguists have brought attention to the fact that kinship terminological systems are grammatical systems (Dahl & Koptjevskaja-Tamm 2001) and pragmatic systems (Luong 1990) in addition to forming a semantic system. And this in turn can be seen as a revival of the convictions of Kroeber and Sapir who were led to believe by American Indian kin terminologies (including Self-Reciprocal terminologies) that kinship systems express not as much sociology as language and thought (see The Genius of Kinship, pp. 96-97). With respect to Kryukov’s typology, linguists working with North Caucasian languages criticized it on formal syntactic grounds because it failed to differentiate between the Arabic version of Bifurcate Collateral in which all the terms are morphologically simple and those other systems (Abkhazian, Ossetian and others) that use only descriptive phrases to form kinship terms for any collateral categories (Shinkuba 1985).

A pragmatic and syntactic account of generational skewing will not take us away from the core anthropological interests in the sociological rationale behind skewed terminologies. On the contrary, reaching an understanding of what sociological, cultural or demographic reality generational skewing actually reflects requires a proper method of describing what Crow-Omaha is and what antecedent terminological form it descends from. In this context an interpretation of Crow-Omaha skewing among Kayapo by Terence Turner (“Schemas of Kinship Relations and the Construction of Social Categories among the Mebêngôkrê Kayapó,” pp. 238-239) provides a relevant starting point:

“The most important point, in my view, is that the generation skewing of crosscousin terms is a product of schemas for producing extended family segments of standardized form out of linked elementary families. The specific relations involved in linking elementary families to form the segment may take various forms, such as descent, residence, marriage exchange, or other types of collective grouping, ritual performance, or combinations of these…To implement such a regular pattern of relations of production of segmentary extended family units virtually requires that a society possess a superstructure of collective groupings or ritual processes that coordinate the reproduction of segments of the same type by the community as a whole. This is my second general point: societies with Omaha or Crow terminologies will generally be found to constitute hierarchical systems, with a lower level of segmentary units of identical structure, and an upper level comprising a communal framework of collective groups and ritual activities….This is not to dispute the relevance of specific forms of interfamily linkage and segment formation that have been foregrounded by many attempts to account for generation skewing terminologies, such as forms of descent or prescriptive marriage, demographic fluctuations, or other causes. Rather, it is to supply the need, unmet in a number of existing theories, of a specific social and conceptual mechanism for mediating the effects of such factors to forms of classification.”

Not content with a narrow marriage alliance-kind of explanation, Turner argues that Crow-Omaha represents a higher level of encoding of social relations corresponding to higher level social structures that coordinate the reproduction of society as a whole through orchestrating connections between lower-order social segments such as nuclear families. This resonates with McConvell’s hypothesis that Omaha skewing in Pama-Nyungan languages expresses the sociodemographic macrorealities associated with a population spread as well as with Mikhail Kryukov’s (1993) observation that Crow-Omaha systems tend to pop up in geographic areas characterized by the proliferation of cross-ethnic clan identities. What is the semiotic depth of Crow-Omaha polysemy, what is that macrosociological reality that non-skewed terminologies cannot express and how the need for a linguistic sign to orchestrate those powerful global processes affects its formal properties?

Crow-Omaha systems remain a stumbling block for the students of human kinship. Trautmann & Whiteley contributed more thinking and regional data to the problem but the volume is weakened by a number of “blind spots.” Whether the fixation on “crossness” on the theoretical level, or the drawing on a handful of examples at the time when large databases should form a basis for judgment, or on kinship terminologies as a “semantic” system divorced from other facets of language and discourse, the Crow-Omaha volume restores dignity to some of the old debates but doesn’t take full advantage of the research that has taken place globally over the past 40 years.


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Shinkuba, A. E. 1985. Opyt analiza terminov rodstva u abkhazov. Izvestiia Abkhazsskogo instituta iazyka, literatury i istorii. Seriia istoria i ekonomika. Vol. 13. Tbilisi.

Sillitoe, Paul. 1995. A Blend of Cultures: The Bogaia of the Southern Highlands. In Papuan Borderlands: Huli, Duna, and Ipili Perspectives on the Papua New Guinea Highlands, edited by Aletta Biersack. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Spier, Leslie. 1925. The Distribution of Kinship Systems in North America. University of Washington Publications in Anthropology 1 (2): 69-88.

Tornay, Serge. 1969. Essai sur le vocabulaire de parenté des Keyo du Kenya. L’Homme 9 (4): 113-135.

Tyler, Stephen A. 1990. Alternating Generation Kinship Terminology in Proto-Dravidian. In Die Vielfalt der Kultur: Ethnologische Aspekte von Verwantschaft, Kunst und Wweltauffassung. Ernst Wilhelm Müller zum 65. Geburtstag. Herausgegeben von Karl-Heinz Kohl, Heinzarnold Muszinski und Ivo Strecker. Pp. 144-166. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer.

Williams, F. E. 1969. Papuans of the Trans-Fly. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Visiting Lewis Henry Morgan: Birth, Marriage, Adoption and Death as the Calculus of Kinship

August 5th, 2013

MorganTomb-MountHopeCemetery-3At the end of July 2013, I drove through Rochester, NY, and visited the tomb of Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-1881), the “grandfather” of American anthropology (assuming Franz Boas is the “father”) and one of the founding students of human kinship systems and terminologies. President of the Friends of the Mount Hope Cemetery (so reminiscent of those 19th century societies of the “friends of American Indians” one of which Morgan initiated), Marilyn Nolte, kindly walked me to the mausoleum which Morgan originally erected as the last abode for his two daughters. I dedicated my book “The Genius of Kinship” (2007) to Morgan and the title contains a double-entendre that refers to the spirit of a dead relative, an innate talent and the patron of a science or art.  In the course of my historiographic research for the book, I unearthed a few intriguing facts about the intersections of science and the lifeworld in 19th century America. Morgan married his mother’s brother’s daughter, Mary Elizabeth Steele, thus reenacting one of the most iconic forms of human marriage in 20th century’s kinship studies. His friendship with an educated Iroquois, Ely Samuel Parker, led to his adoption by the Seneca Indians, which in turn resulted in Lewis and Ely becoming collaborators in the project of writing the first ethnography of an American Indian tribe, “The League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee, or the Iroquois” (1851). Kin and affines at the same time, Lewis and Mary were happy together but their first son, Lemuel, was born with mental retardation. Under the influence of his personal circumstances, Morgan the scholar grew to become critical of the rule of cousin marriage as too close of a union to generate viable offspring. As for his daughters buried at Mount Hope, they died young and the scholar blamed their premature death on his own immersion in the emerging science of anthropology.  Morgan’s lifelong protectionism of American Indians deemed by mainstream America a “vanishing race,” his salvage ethnography of the Iroquois, his field trips and the monumental studies “The Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family” (1871) and “Ancient Society” (1877) absorbed a lot of Morgan’s energy which he believed could have protected his daughters. The grandiose project of comprehending the various facets of the “human family” resulted, Morgan began to fear, in the corresponding neglect for his this-worldly family. Long kept outside of the purview of kinship studies, with its pseudo-self-evident focus on birth, death as a cultural and ontological category is now increasingly believed to be part of the field of kinship studies (see, e.g., my post on Hamlet). My visit to the founder of kinship studies’ grave was a symbolic affirmation of this epistemological stance. Morgan’s life was an embodiment of everything that “human kinship” is about: birth, marriage, adoption and death.

Between Human Kinship and Open Branding: An Anthropological Irony

April 7th, 2013

Me_Stanford_BookDuring a recent trip to Stanford – my book The Genius of Kinship and the Global Diversity of Kinship Terminologies (2007) displayed at the Anthropology Department alumni book exhibit. I am wearing Resource‘s T-shirt promising Building Open Brands. A pretty radical transformation over the period of just 6 years. The world is indeed interconnected!

Descent, Deduction and Mimesis: An Anthropological Reading of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”

February 18th, 2013

1. Anthropology, Kinship Studies and Literary Analysis

The typical formula of a revenge tragedy encompasses the following steps: murder, the discovery of the identity of the murderer by a victim’s close kinsman, the failed attempt by the kinsman to seek justice from an official institution, the hunt after the murderer by the victim’s kinsman and the triumphant murder of the murderer by the victim’s kinsman. Throughout the process, the hero runs into various circumstantial hurdles and overcomes them on the way to reach his goal. But none of these problems have anything to do with the psychology of the avenger. As far as his inner world goes, he is fully committed to performing the mission of revenge.

While “Hamlet” falls squarely into the genre of Revenge Tragedy, which was well-developed by Shakespeare’s times, it has become commonplace in Shakespearean scholarship to treat “Hamlet” as a didactic play condemning internecine violence, murder and revenge. “Hamlet” is thought to occupy a transitional stage between the ancient blood ritual of revenge and the Modern emphasis on humanity and forgiveness. Unlike the typical hero of the Revenge Tragedy genre, Hamlet is deeply divided about revenge; he lapses into this pre-modern practice only to pay for this misstep with his life.

The key question that critics usually ask about Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is why it took Hamlet so long to avenge his father’s death and kill his uncle Claudius? Different answers has been provided, most prominently by a prominent Freudian, Ernest Jones, and by the brilliant theorist of mimesis, Rene Girard, but none of them stems from an analysis informed by kinship studies. One of the foremost 20th century theorists of kinship, Claude Levi-Strauss, developed a structural approach to myth that, I believe, remains a viable tool for the analysis of folklore and literature. Levi-Strauss reinterpreted myth from a linear sequence of imaginary events to a paradigmatic structure of relations, thus marrying in a novel approach to mythology insights from both structural linguistics and kinship studies. Although Levi-Strauss’s analysis of “Oedipus Rex” characterized by a focus on synchronic paradigms representing deep structures of thought initially caused an avalanche of critical remarks from classicists, K. R. Walters (“Another Showdown at the Cleft Way: An Inquiry into Classicists’ Criticism of Levi-Strauss’ Myth Analysis,” Classical World 77 (6) (1984), p. 351) reaffirmed its validity:

“What makes Levi-Strauss’ analysis of the Oedipus myth important and worthy of serious inquiry is ultimately its utility, that it provides a means to deal economically with the multifarious versions of the myth, with its surface contradictions, with its otherwise trivial and inexplicable, but naggingly insistent, details. What makes it viable is its power to explain rationally and systematically these aspects of myth that are so often ignored. What lends it credibility, finally, is its power to predict, to alert us to the possible survival of confirming data and to tell us where and how to search for that data.”

Levi-Strauss developed and perfected his paradigmatic method on the materials of classical and American Indian mythology. It’s widely believed that there’s a chasm separating the collective process that generates mythology and folklore from the individual process that underlies literature. Without attempting to debunk this artificial separation on a theoretical level, I will show, in the course of the analysis of “Hamlet,” that the Levi-Straussian method and some of his terminology (e.g., “mytheme”) work just as good with High Medieval (“Amadís de Gaula”), Early Modern (“Hamlet”) and Modern (“Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”) literature as they do with folklore and mythology. Mythemes seem to form a suprageneric level of literary works indicative of the workings of ancient cultural codes. This is not something entirely new for the world of Shakespeare scholarship. Bert States (States, Bert O. 1987. “Hamlet’s Older Brother,” Hudson Review 39 (4), 537-538) discovered something similar to mythemes when he reported on

“the recurrent combinations of character traits and situations within the closed field of Shakespeare’s practice… so that overall we find operating in the canon a principle of natural selection, if not recombinant genetics, whereby the successful “genes” of one character are passed along and adapted to the characters that follow.”

Cross-culturally death is related to kinship as intricately as birth and marriage (Dziebel 2007; Sahlins 2011). The plot of “Hamlet” is an especially fertile territory to apply  insights from kinship studies because Shakespeare’s play so tightly marries ontology, death and kin ties. It is centered on the struggles of Prince Hamlet whose father, King Hamlet, is allegedly murdered by his father’s brother, Claudius, and it traces the progressive collapse of a Danish royal family in the flames of bloody revenge. The characters in “Hamlet” fall into two distinct role types – kinsmen and outsiders. Every turn of Hamlet’s revenge journey is enabled by a non-kinsman, an outsider. First, the confirmation of the story told by the Ghost came as a result of the arrival of a troupe of actors to Elsinor. Then, Hamlet gets a taste of murder when Polonius hides behind the arras while spying on him and his mother Gertrude. Hamlet stabs through the cloth believing that it was his mortal enemy, Polonius who was hiding there. The murder of Polonius initiated a new track of hatred, revenge and death, as Polonius’s son set out to kill Hamlet, while Polonius’s daughter, Ophelia, committed suicide. Subsequently, ashamed of his own lack of motivation to perform the filial duty of avenging for “father kill’d and mother stained,” Hamlet finds that his “dull revenge” is spurred by the brutal victory of a non-kinsman Prince Fortinbras over the Poles. This external example plants “bloody thoughts” in Hamlet’s head. Finally, it’s a non-kinsman Laertes whose sudden jump into Ophelia’s grave and an accusatory speech resuscitates Hamlet’s love for Ophelia and propels the revenge story into its final deadly moments.

One is amazed at the diversity of death types, murder types and death attitudes presented in “Hamlet.”

1. Death from poison (King Hamlet gets poison poured into his ear while he was asleep; Prince Hamlet dies from a poison-dipped sword).

2. Straightforward murder with a weapon (King Hamlet kills King Fortinbras in a duel)

3. Accidental manslaughter (Prince Hamlet kills Polonius because he took him for Polonius; Gertrude dies from drinking the wine poisoned by Claudius)

4. Suicide (Ophelia drowns herself)

5. Aborted murder (Prince Hamlet chooses not to kill Claudius during his moment of prayer)

6. Murder using the victim’s weapon (Prince Hamlet kills Claudius and Laertes with Laertes’s own sword; he continues to pour the wine poisoned by Claudius down Claudius’s throat)

7. Revenge (Laertes kills Hamlet, Hamlet kills Claudius)

2. Hamlet and Holmes: Between Revenge Tragedy and Detective Story

In a subtle and insightful essay “Hamlet’s Older Brother,” Bert States challenges the common perception that Hamlet is passive in the face of the task that the Ghost imposed on him. The “delay” in the execution of the Ghost’s injunction doesn’t mean that Hamlet was inactive.

“When Hamlet leaves the platform after his frenzied meeting with the Ghost and re-enters 290 lines later, I instantly sense a “change” in his deportment. He has charged out of the play only to stroll back into it “reading on a book.”…The seed of Hamlet’s mystery is located in the parenthesis of these two appearances. Somehow you know here, if you didn’t know before, that Hamlet is constitutionally incapable of tending to the business end of revenge. It has chiefly to do with Shakespeare decision to present him in this oblique-ironic posture, rather than showing him bustling, as Richard III would say. One can’t argue that there are still three acts to go and that Shakespeare couldn’t have him closing in this early because it is quite easy to write a long revenge play without arousing suspicions of delay. It is basically a matter of the kinds of things Shakespeare put in Hamlet’s path. A prime example of his offering us indirections instead of directions is the fact that he here feeds Hamlet poor Polonius rather than Claudius. This is a very subtle tactic and it opens the way to a whole series of surrogate or mini-revenges Hamlet can take while avoiding the main one. Thus, depending on how you choose to interpret Hamlet’s scruples, you can claim that he isn’t delaying at all but working at fever pitch, though not on the right project. And what in the way of depth psychology, haven’t we been able to make out of the fact that Hamlet, either with sword or word play, seems always to be killing someone other than Claudius!” (States 1987, 548).

States makes a surprising discovery: Hamlet has an antecedent among Shakespeare’s characters. It’s Prince of Wales Harry, or Prince Hal (note immediately the similarity in the names) who is introduced in “Henry IV” as the king’s son and heir and who becomes king in “Henry V.” Both Hal and Hamlet are heirs to the throne, sons of kings who have to deal with a difficult situation not of their choosing – Hal is struggling to become a king, Hamlet is struggling to kill a king (and becomes a king for a short while before dying) – and who hang back from standard social responsibilities and are engaged in erratic behavior. Hal is pivotal to the evolution of Shakespeare’s characters. It’s from Hal onwards that one feels the “existence of an inner life from which character’ motivation and action both spring” (Seltzer, Daniel. 1977. “Prince Hal and the Tragic Style,” in Shakespeare Survey 30: 13-27). Hal marks the genesis of the Modern subject who constantly surprises, constantly evolves and who drives the logic of the drama. The “delay” in Hamlet’s execution of his dead father’s will has something to do with the genesis of the subject both within the play and within the broader evolution of modern literature. The generational conflict that both Hal and Hamlet find themselves thrown in continues to haunt European literature for centuries to come, surfacing prominently in Ivan Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons” (1862). Alongside the generational conflict comes the complex of a “superfluous man” famously embodied by such characters as Onegin (“Eugene Onegin,” by Alexander Pushkin), Pechorin (“A Hero of Our Times,” by Mikhail Lermontov) and Bazarov (“Fathers and Sons”). Unlike the nihilist Bazarov, Hal and Hamlet do not yet reject the cultural molds inherited from the older generation. But, unlike Laertes, as we will see, Hamlet is not a typical “son of his father” either. Through Hal and Hamlet you can hear how the Medieval system of kin status transmission slowly yields to pressures from the emerging Modern subject.

It would be a mistake to assume that the Modern subject is averse to murder. Murder as punishment for murder remains part of the penal code of most countries. What sets apart our times from the times of Hamlet is the current existence of specialized institutions to establish the fact of murder and to punish the criminal. Hamlet is faced with the reality of his father’s murder but he does not have access to an institution to right this wrong using impersonal, bureaucratic and objective means. It is with this qualifying lens in mind that we need to look at the Hamletian phenomenon. What may look like revenge may not be revenge in reality. What looks like punishment may in reality be no different from revenge.

In order to place Hamlet and the modern Subject on the same test bench and properly evaluate death, murder and revenge as subjective experiences, it is instructive to briefly compare the medieval Revenge Tragedy genre with the late modern Detective Story genre as exemplified by Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. By Conan Doyle’s times Detective Story was a young but alerady well-established and popular genre. The Detective Story formula runs as follows: a violent death is observed, a detective sets out to find the murderer, once the murderer is found and apprehended he’s handed over to the official institutions for trial or, else, shot on the spot by the authorized agency of the state, the police. The Sherlock Holmes example is particularly interesting because Sherlock Holmes is a private detective (“consulting detective,” as he calls himself) who is contrasted with the official crimes detection agency, the Scotland Yard. He uses a unique cognitive method of “deduction” to piece together the original circumstances of the crime, describe the properties of the killer, discover his whereabouts and hand him over to the police. Deductive reasoning is the Holmes family talent: Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, possesses it even to a greater degree, but he lacks Sherlock’s energy and ambition to apply it to the real world. The contrast between Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Lestrade is always stark: Lestrade is a hot-headed, impatient, jealous, no-nonsense sleuth who is constantly led astray by his hasty, simplistic and outright stupid (or, as Holmes politely says “conventional”) judgments, which leads to the detention of wrong people, but he is impeccable at the task of apprehending the killers correctly identified by Holmes. Holmes takes his time to critically examine all the traces left by the murderer, employs guerilla techniques to collect further information, delivers brilliant insights about the circumstances of the murder – all through the medium of a powerful inner process of deduction – then leaves it to Lestrade and the state to apprehend the criminal and punish him. In Revenge Tragedy, the identity of the murderer is determined at the early stages of the plot, and it’s the revenge itself that takes time. The whole purpose of a detective story is to expose the process of identifying the murderer, while his apprehension and punishment is beyond the point of the genre. A detective has to handle lots of issues related to families and inheritance, but he himself has no blood connection to the victim or the murderer. He is an outsider. An avenger is related by blood at least to the victim and often, as in the case of Hamlet, to the murderer, too. Inspector Lestrade’s linear approach to crime detection is reminiscent of the linear nature of the pre-Hamletian revenge tragedies, whereas Holmes’s investigations are always delayed due to the demands of the deductive method that he professes. But it’s precisely the deductive method that leads to the correct identification of villains.

There are some unmistakable parallels between Hamlet and Holmes (not counting the uncanny resemblance between their names). To my knowledge, only Pasquale Accardo (Diagnosis and Detection: The Medical Iconography of Sherlock Holmes. Rutherford, 1984, pp. 60-64) noticed that Holmes and Hamlet are not as wide apart as we are used to think. Accardo, however, focused his attention on one of the antecedents of the Shakespeare play, the tale of Prince Amleth by Saxo Grammaticus (1150-1216), in which the hero uses guile to avenge his father’s death. In Shakespeare, Hamlet is everywhere accompanied by his “friend” Horatio just like Holmes is paired with Dr. Watson. The figure of Horatio has always been puzzling to literary critics, as he is ubiquitous in the play, he can hear the ghost’s instructions just like Hamlet, but he is completely extricated from the revenge process. At the end of Shakespeare’s play, while Hamlet is dying, Hamlet stops Horatio from drinking the poisoned wine and, instead, instructs Horatio to stay alive to tell his story.

Give me the cup: let go; by heaven, I’ll have’t.
O good Horatio, what a wounded name,
Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me!
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story.

Similarly, Watson is Holmes’s biographer. In “The Final Problem” (1893) Holmes allows Watson to leave the scene of the impending mortal fight between him and Professor Moriarty anticipating that he is not going to survive. And, indeed, Holmes and Moriarty die together by falling into the Reichenbach gorge. Holmes is rarely implicated in the deaths of his criminals – usually he directs the murderers’ own weapons against them (just like Hamlet who killed Laertes and Claudius with Laertes’s own poison-dipped sword) or surrenders them to the police. But when time comes for Holmes to die, he dies together with the paramount criminal, Moriarty, again in a manner similar to the simultaneous death of Hamlet, on the one hand, and Laertes and Claudius, on the other. (Later Conan-Doyle revived Holmes in response to the multiple requests of his readers.)

Most importantly, the ability of Hamlet to interact with his father’s ghost and to obtain information from him regarding the circumstances of his father’s death and the identity of the murderer can be compared with Holmes’s detective genius. As Lawrence Frank writes, Holmes is capable of “stimulating a divine genius without being divine” (Frank, Lawrence. “Reading the Gravel Page” Lyell, Darwin, and Conan Doyle,” in Nineteenth-Century Literature 44, no. 3 (December 1989): 367-368). In “The Greek Interpreter” (1893) Conan Doyle tells us that in Holmes deduction is of hereditary nature.

“It was after tea on a summer evening, and the conversation, which had roamed in a desultory, spasmodic fashion from golf clubs to the causes of the change in the obliquity of the ecliptic, came round at last to the question of atavism and hereditary aptitudes. The point under discussion was, how far any singular gift in an individual was due to his ancestry and how far to his own early training. “In your own case,” said I [Watson.-G.D.], “from all that you have told me, it seems obvious that your faculty of observation and your peculiar facility for deduction are due to your own systematic training.” “To some extent,” he answered, thoughtfully. “My ancestors were country squires, who appear to have led much the same life as is natural to their class. But, none the less, my turn that way is in my veins, and may have come with my grandmother, who was the sister of Vernet, the French artist. Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms.” “But how do you know that it is hereditary?” “Because my brother Mycroft possesses it in a larger degree than I do.”

Interestingly, the heritable nature of Holmes’s deductive genius is formulated by Holmes himself, as a speaker, as another deductive judgment. Holmes doesn’t offer any direct proof of deduction being inherited (he even doesn’t mention either of his parents as having the same talent), but instead deduces it from the fact that his brother Mycroft has it. Holmes’s deduction, therefore, comes as a quasi-biological reflex functioning as an Austinian performative statement laying a foundation for all past and previous instances of applying this unique method. Holmes is compelled by his deductive genius to solve murder puzzles just like Hamlet is compelled by the ghost of his father to take revenge on Claudius.

The power of the deductive method to reconstruct the original circumstances of the crime and to identify the killer leads to the profound identification between Sherlock Holmes and the murderer. In Holmes’s world, identifying the villain equals identifying with the villain. (E.g., in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” Holmes ensnares the sophisticated and elusive murderer, Mr. Stapleton, into his investigative web and makes the amateur entomologist and avid collector of rare species flutter in his own net “as helpless as one of his [Stapleton’s] own butterflies.”) Curiously, a careful reading of “Hamlet” reveal several instances when Hamlet identifies himself with Claudius. As Paul Gottschalk (“Hamlet and the Scanning of Revenge,” Shakespeare Quarterly 24 (2) (1973), 163) noted, the play “The Murder of Gonzago” staged by Hamlet to ascertain the guilt of Claudius “holds the mirror of nature up to the King so he may feel and proclaim his guilt; Hamlet’s commentary holds the mirror up to Hamlet: he is threatening Claudius, and he is threatening him in the mode of revenge-villain.” The soliloquy “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I” (II. ii. 576ff), continues Gottschalk, juxtaposes Hamlet’s attacks on Claudius with attacks on himself, so that Hamlet cannot accuse Claudius without accusing himself, too.

“Having compared himself with an actor who weeps for Hecuba, Hamlet then turns to an imaginary opponent who challenges him with an insult to a duel (“Who calls me villain? … gives me the lie i’ th’ throat / As deep as to the lungs?”) But instead of accepting the challenge, Hamlet accepts the insults (“‘Swounds, I should take it!) and continues them himself, in his own person. then the challenge lashes out again – but this time at Claudius (“Bloody, bawdy villain! Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!) and again the challenges suddenly again lapses into self-reproach (“O vengeance! /  Why, what an ass am I!).” (Gottschalk 1973, 163).

When Hamlet stands over the body of Polonius, he refers to himself as both “scourge and minister,” reaffirming therefore the unity of the avenger and the murderer.

“For this same lord
I do repent; but heaven hath pleas’d it so,
To punish me with this and this with me,
That I must be their scourge and minister” (III, iv, 175-178).

Hamlet’s identification with Claudius is more intense than Holmes’s identification with the villain because Hamlet feels his “guilt” viscerally as a family or, more specifically, a paternal bloodline trait shared between his father, his father’s brother and himself. The reason his father’s spirit is restless is because King Hamlet died unrepented after having committed multiple sins, including the killing of King Fortinbras of Norway. According to the Catholic belief, a soul like his spends time in the Purgatory before leaving for Heaven (or Hell) and it spends nights wandering around as a ghost. Hamlet speaks directly to the congenital nature of his “sin”:

“I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I
could accuse me of such things that it were better my
mother had not borne me: I am very proud, revengeful,
ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have
thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape,
or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do
crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves,
all; believe none of us.” (III, i, 122-129)

Hamlet deduces the presence of the “sin” in himself by looking at his father and his father’s brother. This deep-seated congenital reality is isomorphic with his royal status and his Danish ethnicity (Hamlet refers to the Ghost as “Hamlet, King, father, royal Dane” – I, iv, 44-45). Both of these qualities passed down from father to son. Hamlet’s father held the royal office, his brother Claudius usurped it from him and Hamlet usurped it from Claudius (this “incestuous, murderous, damned Dane”) only to pass it along to Prince Fortinbras of Norway, thus ending his family’s rule over Denmark. Unlike Hamlet, of course, Holmes is more of a romantic hero. He is ethically distinct from his villains and his deduction serves to identify a villain outside of himself. Holmes does not avenge murders but he is nevertheless deeply involved psychologically in the process of detecting and capturing the villain. These differences from Hamlet, however, do not preclude him from dying a la Hamlet – violently and concurrently with the villain. And controlled violence against the villain is presented as just and laudable.

The structural isomorphisms between the narratives of Hamlet and Holmes suggest that the reason for Hamlet’s delay with the execution of revenge against Claudius is the same as the reason for why Holmes’s investigation always took him longer than that of Lestrade. Both Hamlet and Holmes wanted to lift deceptive appearances and punish the right villain.

3. Hamlet and Don Quixote: Between Revenge Tragedy and Chivalric Romance

The structure of a typical chivalric novel runs as follows:

“Following classical and medieval precedent, the protagonist of a romance of chivalry is always male and invariably of royal blood – a prince. His lineage is usually specified. Through some mishap he is separated from his parents and his homeland when still a baby; he may be stolen away by evildoers, or carried off my a boat, or simply be abandoned by his mother because of the circumstances surrounding his birth, which often was illegitimate. He grows up in the court of another ruler, far away, though he may have been sheltered first by farmers or other such humble people. Usually there will remain with him some clue, either a mark on his body, or some artifact which accompanies him…to eventually provide the “proof” of his true identity when anagnorisis arrives. He will eventually learn his true identity and be reunited with his parents and family, either at the midpoint or near the end of the book. The protagonist shows signs from a very early age of his royal blood and the corresponding great abilities which were thought of as the natural endowments of a great ruler. ” (Eisenberg, Daniel. Romances of Chivalry in the Spanish Golden Age. Newark: Juan de la Cuesta, 1982, pp. 56-59).

As a concrete example of a chivalric novel, let’s take “Amadís de Gaula,” the romance famously reenacted by Cervantes’s Don Quixote. The story of Amadís opens with King Perión of Gaul visiting the court of Garinter, king of Little Britain. Perión falls in love with Garinter’s younger daughter, Elisena. Only Elisena’s maid knows of their relationship, and she extracts a promise of marriage from Perión before the two lovers consummate their love. Perión and Elisena’s love remains a secret as does the birth of their son, Amadís, who is placed in a chest and cast adrift on a river by Elisena. She also places in the chest a ring given to her by Perión, his sword and a piece of paper with Amadís written on it as the boy’s name.  The chest floats out to sea where Amadís is rescued by Gandales, a Scottish knight, who adopts him as a son. Gandales is informed by a great enchantress, Urganda la Desconocida (the Unrecognizable), that the mysterious child he rescued – known as El Doncel del Mar (Child of the Sea)— will become the greatest knight and most faithful lover ever. One day, Gandales receives a visit from Languines, king of Scotland.  Languines is so impressed by Amadís – who is then 7 years old — that he takes him to be raised in his court.  A few years later, Lisuarte, the king of Great Britain visits Languines, accompanied by his daughter, Oriana, whose beauty is unequalled. She and Amadís immediately fall in love, although Amadís is too timid to declare himself.  Shortly after, King Perión arrives at the court of Languines, seeking help to fight against Abiés, the king of Ireland.  By this time, Amadís is ready to be made knight-errant and requests that he be dubbed by Perión whose fame he has heard about. Amadís is duly knighted by his father but neither Perión, nor Amadís are aware of their kinship. After a series of adventures as a newly-dubbed knight, Amadís meets King Perión again. They fight a heated battle with the King of Ireland and his men. Amadís fights valiantly and saves King Perión and his troops from defeat, and the battle ends with an agreement to end the war with hand-to-hand combat between the King of Ireland and Amadís. The winner gets Gaul, the loser gets death. Amadís defeats the King of Ireland. Amadís’s gold ring and sword cause King Perión and Queen Elisena to realize that he is their son and his name is Amadís. There is much rejoicing.

Without making a broad claim about the overall differences between the chivalric and revenge genres of High Medieval and Early Modern literature, it’s worth pointing out, following Ivan Turgenev, that Hamlet and Don Quixote are two polar figures in European literature expressing two polar national ideologies – the spirit of the North and the spirit of the South. The spirit of the North is “oppressive, sombre, deprived of harmony and bright colors…but strong, profound, versatile, independent and dominant”; the spirit of the South is “bright, happy, ingenious and receptive” (Turgenev, Ivan. “Hamlet and Don Quixote,” Chicago Review17 (4) (1965): 92-109). The onomastic convention of “Hamlet” somewhat undermines the categorical nature of this contrast – some characters have Roman names that may express the “spirit of the South” (Claudius, Polonius), while others (Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Gertrude, Hamlet) have traditional Danish names. Also, as Accardo (1987, 57-60) notes, there are some intriguing similarities between Cervantes and Conan Doyle (both authors were sons of incompetent fathers, hence there is no filial love in either Don Quixote or in Sherlock Holmes) and between Don Quixote and Sherlock Holmes (e.g., the pair Sherlock Holmes and Watson mirrors the companionship of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as well as the friendship of Hamlet and Horatio), just like there are underlying parallels between Hamlet and Sherlock Holmes. Don Quixote considers himself the one “who was born into the world to right such wrongs” (1.52) – Hamlet corrects the wrong committed against his father and mother. Don Quixote refers to himself as Sancho Panza as “Heaven’s ministers upon earth, and the arms by which God executes its justice” (1.13) – Hamlet speaks of himself, more ambivalently, as “scourge and minister.” Don Quixote is linked to the female character Dulcinea, Hamlet to Ophelia, Sherlock Holmes to Irene Adler.

But these similarities should not distract us from the stark differences.

“Hamlet” is tightly packed with death and murder. Death is the raison d’etre of the whole narrative. As Hartley Coleridge (“On the Character of Hamlet,” in Essays and Marginalia. London, 1851) rightly observed, Hamlet purges himself of all the love for Ophelia in order to focus on “revengeful justice.” A romance of chivalry is never a story of death and murder but of a hero’s investigation into the circumstances of his birth. The theme of investigation into the circumstances of a hero’s birth in chivalric romances may have provided another historical antecedent to the theme of investigation that later comes to dominate the detective genre. In both cases, the inference about the truth – about illegitimate birth in the case of the romance and about murder (illegitimate death) in the case of the detective story – is established on the basis of a secondary clue such as a cross on the neck of a knight-errant.

When one compares  “Amadís de Gaula” with “Hamlet,” the diametrical contrast between the structure of the latter and the structure of a chivalric romance is laid bare. The opposition between the mytheme “ghost of father” in ‘Hamlet” and the mytheme “unknown paternity” is similar to one of the key structural oppositions that Levi-Strauss (“The Structural Study of Myth,” Journal of American Folklore 68 (270) (1955), 433-434) argued defines the Oedipus myth, namely the one between “overrating blood relations” and “underrating blood relations.” While the similarity is strong, the two mythemes that contrast “Hamlet” and a typical chivalric novel are not identical to the two Levi-Straussian ones. In Oedipus, overrating blood relations (Oedipus marries his mother Jocasta) and underrating blood relations (Oedipus kills his father Laios) both stem from the “unknown parenthood” mytheme, while the “ghost of father” mytheme is absent. In “Hamlet” the secret is that the protagonist’s father-king was murdered, in “Amadís de Gaula” the secret is that the protagonist was born to a king. In “Hamlet,” “father” is a social role: vacated by King Hamlet it is mechanically filled by Claudius (Claudius addresses Hamlet as “son”). Shakespeare highlights the surrogate nature of the King Hamlet’s family role when he shows the passive acceptance of incest by Gertrude as if she doesn’t notice the difference between King Hamlet and his brother. Royal statuses override family roles and deprive the relationships between Prince Hamlet and King Hamlet, between King Hamlet and Gertrude and between Gertrude and Claudius of any filial or amorous substance. On the contrary, “Amadís de Gaula” fatherhood is construed as an abstract natural property: Amadís experiences his father only as a king and himself only as a knight, not as his father’s son. The mystery of death is contrasted with the mystery of birth. Hamlet’s father confronts Hamlet as a ghost and confirms his son’s aptitude to execute revenge; Amadís’s father appears before his son alive to pronounce him knight but neither of them know that they are father and son. In the former case, a fatherly ghost appears without existing, in the latter case fatherhood exists without appearing. Hamlet and Amadís also occupy radically divergent positions in their attitude to love. As I mentioned above, Hamlet extinguishes his love for Ophelia in order to be able to pursue revenge. Amadís, on the contrary, is unable to function as a knight-errant without love. When the love of his life, Oriana, accuses him of developing affection for Queen Briolanja of Sobradisa, Amadís adopts a new name and withdraws to an island to do penance in the name of love. Only when he receives another letter from Oriana admitting her error and asking his pardon can he resume his chivalric life. Amadís grew up without a mother and his faithful love for Oriana has a ring of filial attachment to it. His masculinity is not autonomous but hinges on permission from a woman. The compensatory grounding of an affinal bond by means of blood kinship can be seen as an instance of Levi-Straussian mytheme of “overrating of blood connections.” One caveat applies here: Amadís never directly experienced his mother, but he transposed the defining features of motherhood – a woman who stands in a unique, singular relationship to me and makes me into what I am – to a new object, Oriana. If Amadís suffered from the absence of his mother and he filled in the void with a courtly love object, Hamlet grappled with the fact that Gertrude was with him all along but, by easily engaging in an incestuous relationship with Claudius (in “Amadís de Gaula” Oriana suspects that Amadís is unfaithful), she failed to live up to her role as a mother. He resolved this problem by eliminating the cultural notion of motherhood altogether. As he famously put it to Ophelia, “Get thee to a nunnery [brothel. – G.D.]: why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?” (III, i, 121-122).

Paradoxically, the stark surface contrasts that separate “Hamlet” and “Amadís de Gaula” cannot obscure certain deep commonalities between the two narratives of descent and affinity. Both Hamlet and Amadís achieve a transposition of sentiment from a mother to a lover: Hamlet does it negatively and destructively, Amadís positively and passionately but the underlying symbolic function is the same. Amadís’s faithful fixation on Oriana and Hamlet’s compulsive need to sacrifice love to spur himself on the path of revenge end up looking like two surface manifestations of the same pattern of exploitation of earthly love for the sake of attaining a higher purpose. Despite the fact that Hamlet knows his father, he still struggles to be his son; despite the fact that Oriana is not Amadís’s mother, he can’t help but treat her as if he were her son.

4. Freud and Girard on Hamlet

Freud famously postulated that neurosis is driven by the repressed desire to have an incestuous relationship with the mother and by the identification and rivalry with the father. Ernest Jones, building on earlier remarks by Freud himself, advanced a thoroughly Freudian reading of “Hamlet” (Jones E. 1910. “The Oedipus-Complex as An Explanation of Hamlet’s Mystery: A Study in Motive," American Journal of Psychology 21 (1): 72-113.) The play, he argued, dramatizes the repressed desire by Hamlet to marry his mother and kill his father.

“The call of duty to slay his uncle cannot be obeyed because it links itself with the call of his nature to slay his mother’s husband, whether this is the first or the second; the latter call is strongly ‘repressed,’ and therefore necessarily the former also” (Jones 1910, 101).

Freud and Jones explain Hamlet’s prolonged delay with executing his father’s injunction by suggesting that Claudius had fulfilled both of Hamlet’s secret desires and, consequently, it was hard for Hamlet to inflict punishment onto a person who was, in essence, a more successful version of himself. Truth be told, Claudius’s behavior (killing Hamlet’s father and marrying his mother) is a perfect example of the Oedipus Complex and if one is willing to believe that it mirrors Hamlet’s childhood fantasies, then it is indeed easy to see why Hamlet, as an adult, hesitated to kill Claudius.

Critics have noted, however, that there is nothing in the Shakespearean text itself that indicates that Hamlet harbored incestuous thoughts about his mother or murderous intentions toward his father. A Freudian answer to this intratextual objection is that Oedipus Complex is repressed in an individual. It may not be directly observable in his thoughts and actions and only appear in such rarefied psychic media as dreams. In principle, this could be the case but the Shakespearean text doesn’t fall short of documenting Hamlet’s repressed attitudes toward his mother. These attitudes, however, have nothing to do with sex. Instead, they have to do with Hamlet’s desire to kill his mother. He bashes his mother for entering into a sexual and civil union with Claudius (“Nay, but to live, In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, Stew’d in corruption, honeying and making love Over the nasty sty”) and he is so merciless with his words that Gertrude begs: “These words, like daggers, enter in mine ears.” Hamlet uses the same metaphor of daggers when speaking of his mother: “Let me be cruel, not unnatural, I will speak daggers to her but use none” (III, ii, 284). The Ghost warns Hamlet to refrain from doing harm to his mother, Gertrude, and to focus instead entirely on Claudius. Gertrude’s destiny is left to God and to her own guilt.

“But, howsoever thou pursuest this act,
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
Against thy mother aught: leave her to heaven
And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge,
To prick and sting her.” (I, v, 84).

Unaware of the instructions given by the Ghost to Hamlet, Polonius observes Hamlet’s erratic behavior and fears that enraged Hamlet may kill Gertrude. By all Freudian standards (the ghost as a Super-Ego repressing the desire, the use of metaphoric weaponry), these facts indicate a repressed desire to kill the mother in response to her inability to faithfully live up to the ideal of motherhood. The peculiarity of kinship terms as linguistic signs is that they not only denote an object but they performatively construct it in relation to the subject. There is a certain code of conduct associated with a kinship term. While we would never expect a cow to perform like a cow, we expect people whom we call “mothers” to behave like mothers.

The Ghost’s plea to leave Gertrude to God and her own guilt is fulfilled during the final climatic moments of the play when Gertrude mistakenly drinks the wine poisoned by Claudius. Just like the figure of a ghost (an entity that appears but doesn’t exist) in “Hamlet” contrasts with the figure of ignorance of mutual kinship between Amadís and Perión (an entity that exists but doesn’t appear), so does Hamlet’s symbolic violence toward Gertrude (daggers that don’t kill) opposes Gertrude’s actual death from an ostensibly innocent substance (wine that kills). Hamlet achieves the killing of his mother by letting Providence do its job, and she ends up dying, exactly like her ex-husband, King Hamlet, from the poison concocted by Claudius. (Notably, Gertrude earlier complained that Hamlet’s verbal daggers enter her ears, again in an uncanny resemblance to Claudius pouring poison into King Hamlet’s ear.)

Jones (1940, 123-124) correctly observes that Hamlet has three kinds of fathers to deal with – his actual father, King Hamlet, his step-father, his mother’s husband and his father’s brother Claudius and father-type Polonius. King Hamlet commands adoration (“so excellent a king…so loving to my mother”), filial love and piety but he is physically absent from the scene. Claudius, on the other hand, is a living substitute for King Hamlet; he is Hamlet’s legal father whom Hamlet is expected to call ‘father’ but toward whom he has no desire to behave like a son. Finally, Polonius is someone else’s father. Polonius embodies a fatherly stereotype for Hamlet, without being his actual father, and he may become his father-in-law and a grandfather to his children. Polonius and Laertes signify to Hamlet a picture-perfect father-son relationship, the one that he presumably never had with his actual father.

Contra the prediction of the Oedipus triangle model, Hamlet never wished his father dead. As Fred Tromley (2010, 163) noted, Hamlet is characterized by the desire to be possessed by his father. Indeed, Hamlet’s life and identity are inseparable from the Ghost’s guidance. (Later, in Sherlock Holmes, this ghostly guidance would be interpreted as a congenital talent to solve mysteries.) The death of his father put Hamlet in a suicidal state of mind, and it is the appearance of the Ghost and the revelation of the violent nature of his father’s death that stemmed Hamlet’s suicidal thoughts. While there will always be ambiguity regarding the meaning of Hamlet’s monologue “To be or not to be,” there is little doubt that he was trying to decide whether to avenge his father’s death or to commit suicide and he chose revenge as the way of being. As the play progresses, the growing ghostliness of Hamlet becomes more and more obvious (Tromley 2010, 179-180). In the end Hamlet becomes King of Denmark and just like the Ghost before he prevents Horatio from committing suicide. He wants Horatio to tell “my story,” but, in Tromley’s words, it is the Ghost who is functioning as a ghostwriter here. As Hamlet is dying we realize that being consumed by a Ghost and being alive is incompatible but also that it is impossible to achieve personal autonomy without taking a page from one’s father’s book. Seen in the light of the play’s mortal ending, Hamlet came full circle from where he was at the time of the “To be or not to be” monologue: it is not matter of living vs. dying, it is a matter of which kind of death affirms “being.” Hamlet chose not a solitary death from suicide but a public death filled with kinship meaning.

If Jones’s imputation of an Oedipus triangle to Hamlet does not withstand scrutiny, he is justified in giving serious attention (especially in his book “Oedipus and Hamlet” [Jones, E. Hamlet and Oedipus. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1940]) to the unpremeditated murder of Polonius by Hamlet. Polonius, according to Jones,

personates a group of obnoxious elderly attributes, and secondly presents the equally objectional attitude of the dog-in-the-manger father who grudges to others what he
possesses, but cannot enjoy, himself.  In this way, therefore, Polonius represents the repellant characteristics of both the father and the grandfather of mythology, and we are not surprised to find that, just as Perseus accidentally slew his grandfather Acrisios, who had locked up his daughter Danae so as to preserve her virginity, so does Hamlet “accidentally” slay Polonius, by a deed that resolves the situation as correctly from the dramatic as from the mythological point of view.” (Jones 1910, 108).

Polonius is the perfect example of the schizogenic “double bind” that anthropologist Gregory Bateson (Bateson, G., D. Jackson, J. Haley, and J. Weakland. ‘Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia’, Behavioural Science 1 (1956), pp. 251-254) famously argued are commonly found in such intense relationships as parents and children. Polonius charges his kneeling son to be true to himself, while instructing him not to listen to other people. Shakespeare seems to deliberately place Gertrude and Polonius in a symmetrical relation to Hamlet’s rage. Hamlet subjects Gertrude to verbal “daggers” for succumbing to Claudius and then takes a quick break to stab Polonius, whom he mistook for Claudius, with a sword and resumes his accusations of his mother. Hamlet wants to kill his mother but refrains from doing it; Hamlet does not mean to kill Polonius but does it nonetheless. The callousness of Hamlet’s verbal attack on Gertrude is paired with his constant mockery of Polonius and his cold-blooded response to his death: “Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!” (III, iv, 31), “I’ll lug the guts into the neighbour room” (III, iv, 212). The accidental but satisfying killing of Polonius can be interpreted as a repressed revolt against the cliche of fatherhood by Hamlet, the fatherhood that would have become part of Hamlet’s family life had he not killed him and had he married Ophelia. It’s the failure of Gertrude to live up to Hamlet’s expectation of motherhood and the failure of Polonius to bring the right fatherhood into his life that determine the Prince’s backlash against them.

The constant theme in “Hamlet” is Polonius’s spying on Hamlet on behalf of Claudius to make sure Hamlet’s “lunacy” does not hurt Gertrude and Ophelia. If the ghost is a dead person who shows itself to Hamlet, a spy is a living person who watches Hamlet without being seen by Hamlet. Ironically, as Hamlet later confesses to Laertes, it’s his “madness” that led him to kill Polonius. Polonius is Claudius’s eyes, he maintains Claudius’s mental presence in places where Claudius does not want to be present himself. In a sense, Polonius is Claudius’s apparition that behaves in a way that’s opposite from a ghost. When the Ghost appeared to Hamlet for the first time, Hamlet had to solve the problem of whether the Ghost is a true representation of his father. This time Hamlet has to solve the riddle of whether he is being spied on by the true villain. Hamlet makes a mistake but there is a seed of correct identification of the villain in this mistake. Correspondingly, the Ghost interferes to distract Hamlet from thoughts about killing Gertrude and to encourage him not to be detracted by the accidental murder from the mission of killing the ultimate villain, Claudius.

Refuting Freud, Girard argued that the object of desire is never given to an individual; desire always focuses on some object already desired by the model. Essentially Girard reduced the Oedipus Complex to the identification with the model from which desire for the object is then born. Girard showed his indebtedness to Levi-Strauss in the importance he assigned in literary analysis to the Levi-Straussian notion of reciprocity.

“The reciprocity of tragic action makes all characters more and more similar; since the protagonists normally fight each other, they all commit the same actions. The revenge seekers pattern themselves scrupulously on their intended victims, who may become their murderers. Retaliation and reprisals are a form of imitation” (Girard 1984, 161).

Girard’s departure from Levi-Strauss is in highlighting the similarities between characters, events and actions in contradistinction to Levi-Strauss’s focus on structural oppositions. Girard believes that the working of mimetic desire results in the creation of “doubles,” or superficially different manifestations of ontologically identical emotions and actions. The surface difference between a villain and a victim is negated on the structural level by the fact that they share multiple properties with each other. These similarities are caused by imitation of the villain by the victim and of the victim by the villain.

Here are some examples of doubles in “Hamlet.”

1. Prince Hamlet and his father, the late King Hamlet, have the same name.

2. Crown Prince of Norway, Fortinbras, who takes over Denmark after the death of Claudius and Prince Hamlet, has the same name as his father, King Fortinbras, who had earlier been killed in battle by King Hamlet.

3. Prince Hamlet contemplates suicide (“When he himself might his quietus make, With a bare Bodkin”) after his father’s death. Ophelia commits suicide after her father’s death. Prince Hamlet opts out of suicide having now a more noble objective in front of him – to avenge for his father’s death. He later would prevent his friend Horatio from drinking the poisoned wine and encourage him to wait awhile with dying in order to be able to “tell his story.” In all these cases, mourning for a relative causes suicidal thoughts or actions, but when it’s possible suicidal thoughts are dispelled in favor of a more noble way to die.

4. Prince Fortinbras comes to take over Denmark just like King Hamlet obtained some Norwegian lands as part of the mutual pledge established between him and King Fortinbras prior to their duel.

5. After murdering Hamlet’s father, Claudius marries Hamlet’s mother to become a father-like figure for Hamlet.

6. After finding out that his father was murdered by Claudius, Hamlet behaves erratically (he rushes into Ophelia’s room, stares at her and says nothing)/After being reminded of his crime during the presentation of the play “The Murder of Gonzago,” Claudius, too, acts erratically (he abruptly rises and leaves the room)/After Hamlet accidentally kills Ophelia’s father, Polonius, she, too, begin acting crazily and finally commits suicide.

7. Diverted by the diplomacy by Prince Hamlet’s uncle Claudius and Prince Fortinbras’s uncle, “Old Norway,” Prince Fortinbras attacks Poland (“smites Polacks”) instead of Denmark. Correspondingly, Prince Hamlet kills Claudius’s chief counselor, Polonius (the Romanized form meaning “Polack”) by mistake, his intention being to kill Claudius who he thought was the man hiding behind the arras. Shakespeare clearly pairs the victimization of Polonius by Hamlet with the victimization of Poland by Fortinbras (England, Eugene. “Hamlet Against Revenge,” in Literature and Relief 7 (1987): 61).

But reciprocity also entails differentiation and the analysis of a literary work using a Girardian approach also needs to benefit from the restoration of the essential principle of the Levi-Straussian structuralist method, namely the one of structural oppositions. The problem that “Hamlet” poses for Girard’s mimetic theory is that, while in Girard’s theory mimesis creates an object of desire, in “Hamlet” the object of desire (Claudius’s death for Hamlet) precedes mimesis. The troupe of actors, Polonius, Laertes, Prince Fortinbras all provide means to an end but they don’t create the object of desire. Prince Hamlet inherits it from King Hamlet or “deduces” it with the help of his father’s ghost. In some respects, “Hamlet” directly contradicts Girard’s theory. In Cervantes’s “Don Quixote” or in Dante’s “Divine Comedy” (both used by Girard as prime early modern literary examples of mimetic desire) books provide models that create an object of desire for the heroes. Don Quixote believes every word of chivalric novels and reenacts the famed “Amadís de Gaula” by re-interpreting his daily reality to fit into a literary model.

“I want you to know, Sancho, that the famous Amadís de Gaula was one of the greatest knights-errant. No, I’m wrong in saying ‘one of,’ he was the only one, the best, he was unique, and in his time the lord of all those in the world… He was the guiding light, the star of all brave and enamored knights, and all of us who fight under the banner of love and chivalry should imitate him… I want to imitate Amadís … ” (Don Quixote I, ch. 25).

Similarly, Paolo and Francesca fall in love with each other while reading about other people’s love.

Contrariwise, Hamlet explicitly rejects bookish knowledge as impeding him from fulfilling the Ghost’s injunction (I, v, 96).

“Ay, thou poor Ghost, while memory holds a seat
In this distracted globe. Remember thee!
Yea, from the table of my memory
I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,
That youth and observation copied there;
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmix’d with baser matter: yes, by heaven!”

The “baser” matter refers, as a minimum, to amorous affairs, hence Hamlet is alienated from Ophelia in the aftermath of his encounter with the Ghost. Love is an epitome of desire for Girard (love is central to the experience of both Don Quixote and Paolo and Francesca) but Hamlet clearly displaces love to focus on fulfilling his filial duty.

This model works perfectly for “Don Quixote” and “Divine Comedy.” But when it comes to “Hamlet” the reality is that Hamlet does something opposite from erecting models to draw desire for objects from. Instead, the story of Hamlet is the one of progressive sacrifice of models attached to objects and the fathering of the Subject. This begins early in the play beginning with Hamlet’s determination to wipe away “from the table of my memory…all trivial fond records” in order to fulfill the Father Ghost’s commandment. Hamlet’s critical mind doesn’t take the Ghost’s speech at face value but immediately questions its benevolence (II, ii, 599):

“The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil, and the devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me.”

Hamlet is trying to differentiate between two similar phenomena: on the one hand, his uncle Claudius is notorious for putting up pleasant appearances to hide gruesome truths; on the other hand, the Devil could do the same thing by means of a ghost. Hamlet decides to test the veracity of the information provided by the Ghost. He applies what would become Holmes’s deductive method when he stages a play, “The Murder of Gonzago,” to reenact the murder of his father and to study Claudius’s reaction to it. He wants to “catch the conscience of the king” (II. ii. 607). When Hamlet sees that, at the presentation of the murder scene, Claudius rises abruptly (as if “frighted with false fire”) and leaves the room, he treats this reaction as proof that Claudius is guilty. At the same time, he unnecessarily identifies Lucianus as “nephew to the king” and makes it obvious to Claudius that he is desperate to kill him (Kastan, David S. “’His semblable in his mirror’: Hamlet and the Imitation of Revenge,” in Shakespeare Studies 19 (14), 1987: 118). This is a further indication that Hamlet is committed to openness and transparency and refuses to surrender to the atmosphere of false pretenses and secrecy created by Claudius.

He reaffirms the same revolt against mimesis when he says:

“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought;
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard, their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.”

Claudius epitomizes the man caught into the business of following and spawning seductive models (in the Ghost’s words, “Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast, With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts — O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power So to seduce!—won to his shameful lust The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen”) and this makes him a coward (to dispose of his enemies, he always uses poison, a cowardly and unmanly weapon). What Hamlet is seeking is truth and justice hidden behind the mimesis of appearances. Contra Girard, he is not ambiguous toward revenge (in fact, he embraced it wholeheartedly, as his phrase “drink hot blood” (III, ii, 382) indicates) but he wants to achieve the right kind of revenge for the kind of person Claudius is. A key to understanding Shakespeare’s intent here is the moment when Hamlet deliberately avoids killing Claudius. He sees Claudius praying, while remaining unseen by Claudius, and unsheathes his sword to kill him. But the very fact that he caught Claudius in the middle of his prayer stops him (III, iii, 2356).

“Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;
And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven;
And so am I revenged. That would be scann’d:
A villain kills my father; and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven.
O, this is hire and salary, not revenge.
He took my father grossly, full of bread;
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May;
And how his audit stands who knows save heaven?
But in our circumstance and course of thought,
‘Tis heavy with him: and am I then revenged,
To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and season’d for his passage?
Up, sword; and know thou a more horrid hent:
When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage,
Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed;
At gaming, swearing, or about some act
That has no relish of salvation in’t;
Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven,
And that his soul may be as damn’d and black
As hell, whereto it goes.”

In the Catholic tradition, a criminal may be forgiven his sins if he repents. Hamlet wants to make sure Claudius does not go to Heaven but instead ends up in hell. He wants to take justice in his own hands and make sure that Claudius doesn’t take advantage of a Catholic loophole and secure a place in Heaven. For the right kind of revenge to happen, Hamlet has to catch Claudius in the act. In the later detective story genre, it’s imperative for the detective to catch the murderer in the act to prove his guilt (Holmes exposes Sir Henry Baskerville to mortal danger but he has to use him as a bait to make Stapleton unleash his hound and catch him in the act), but this requirement is stripped of all the religious meaning. We also learn from this passage that Claudius’s crimes go beyond just fratricide and incest. He is a drunk, the frequent user of foul language and a gambler. He is an all-around criminal type. In addition, killing Claudius from behind would have made Hamlet a coward and hence the chaser of Girardian mimetic models.

Selecting the right kind of revenge apparently makes Hamlet eligible to go to heaven after death. Upon Hamlet’s death, Horatio declares: “Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!” (V, ii, 4021).

As the parallelism between Hamlet and Holmes suggested above indicates, Hamlet was not engaged in a synchronic imitation of Claudius. His identification with Claudius was part of a deeper psychological process of posterior rationalization of a congenital reality of descent that he inherited on his father’s side just like he did his royal Danish status.

Laertes plays a critical role for for Girard’s mimetic reading of Hamlet. Hamlet, according to Girard, is ambiguous about revenge; Laertes is a quintessential hot-headed avenger, “simple and unreflective” (in the realm of Detective Story his counterpart is Inspector Lestrade, whose name, again, bears uncanny similarity to the name Laertes): once he learn that his father Polonius is killed, he rushes back to Denmark, collects the mob, takes the castle and confronts Claudius. At first he thinks that it’s Claudius who killed his father (“O thy vile king! Give me my father!” – 4.5.116-117). But Claudius informs Laertes that it was Hamlet and incites Laertes to kill him. Laertes’s sister, Ophelia, commits suicide by drowning, and Laertes blames Hamlet for the death of both his father and his sister. Hamlet and Laertes wrestle in Ophelia’s grave and a fencing match is scheduled to settle their issues. Girard interprets this situation as evidence that Hamlet borrows Laertes’s desire for revenge.

“But it is not the actor, ultimately, or the army of Fortinbras; it is Laertes, I believe, who determines Hamlet to act. Laertes provides the most persuasive spectacle not because he provides the “best” example but because his situation parallels that of Hamlet. Being Hamlet’s peer, at least to a point, his passionate stance constitutes the most powerful challenge imaginable. In such circumstances, even the most apathetic man’s sense of emulation must rise to such a pitch that the sort of disaster that the fulfillment of the revenge demands can finally be achieved” (Girard, 1984, 179).

Laertes was raised as s a man of custom: he faithfully follows the social convention. Confronted by Laertes, Girard argued, Hamlet is electrified by his uninhibited rage and overcomes the last vestiges of his own inhibition to kill Claudius. However, at closer inspection, Girard’s interpretation falls apart. First, Hamlet behaves as rashly and hot-headedly as Laertes when he accidentally kills Laertes’s father, Polonius. Hamlet’s desire for revenge, therefore, precedes Laertes’s and can’t be a derivative thereof. Second, if Hamlet borrowed his desire for revenge from Laertes, who did Laertes borrow his from? Laertes is incited by Claudius, true, but Claudius is a coward who can’t energize other people to take revenge. Third, Hamlet later offers his apology to Laertes. One would not expect a man who supposedly owes another man for making his heart set on revenge to indulge in apologies. Finally and most critically, Laertes and Hamlet engage in rivalry (the natural outcome of the workings of mimetic desire), but not apropos revenge, but apropos love for Ophelia. Here, indeed, we see the impact Laertes’s behavior has on Hamlet. As Hamlet later tells Horatio, “But, sure, the bravery of his grief did put me Into a towering passion” (V, ii, 79-80). But Hamlet is talking about his feelings for Ophelia, not about his feelings for Claudius.

I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers
Could not, with all their quantity of love,
Make up my sum.” (V, i, 269-271).

Hamlet is ready to commit suicide out of love for Ophelia and to challenge the depth of Laertes’s feeling for her. Hamlet is torn between avenging his father’s murder and expressing solidarity with Ophelia’s suicide.

“Dost thou come here to whine?
To outface me with leaping in her grave?
Be buried quick with her, and so will I” (V, i, 277-279)

Laertes woke up in Hamlet the dormant love for Ophelia, and in response Hamlet puts his feelings above the brotherly feelings of Laertes’s. Hamlet’s feelings spring from his heart, while Laertes’s feelings are dictated by custom. Laertes is almost more distressed by the improper burial than by the loss itself. Rivalry is evident here, but it’s mimetic foundation is more complex than Girard imagines. Hamlet’s love and Laertes’s love for the same object are of different nature: Hamlet is Ophelia’s would-be fiance, Laertes is her brother. Hamlet used to have feelings for Ophelia and those feelings were not borrowed from Laertes. Hamlet stifled the chivalric love to focus on revenge, but Laertes’s public display of grief brought it back. Laertes’s spectacle is symmetrical in its psychological effect on Hamlet to the effect that “The Murder of Gonzago” had on Claudius. “The Murder of Gonzago” brought out Claudius’s “conscience,” while Laertes’s theatrical display brought out Hamlet’s passion.

There’s deep parallelism between the Hamlet’s and Laertes’s situations. Hamlet took Laertes’s father, Polonius, for Claudius and accidentally killed him. Laertes initially thought it was Claudius who killed his father. Claudius incites Laertes to kill Hamlet just like the Ghost incited Hamlet to kill Claudius. As Fred Tromley (Fathers and Sons in Shakespeare: The Debt Never Promised. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010, 159) rightly observed, Claudius gives Laertes his father by assuming that role himself. Laertes and Hamlet become near-perfect doubles of each other – both lost their fathers, both are adopted and patronized by Claudius.

Just before the fencing match Hamlet apologizes to Laertes. He does not want to follow the model of custom that does not discriminate between accidental manslaughter and purposeful murder. Hamlet’s apology satisfies Laertes’s natural rage but he still insists on a duel because custom dictates that he defends his honor. It is really not so much about avenging for Polonius’s death anymore as it is about following Claudius’s injunction. Unlike Hamlet, Laertes is not willing to sacrifice his mimetic models. Claudius and Laertes conspire to dip Laertes’s sword in poison and to prepare poisoned wine. In the fencing match, Laertes pierces Hamlet with his poisoned sword, Hamlet turns Laertes’s sword against him and against Claudius. Gertrude drinks the poisoned wine. Laertes confesses in the plot masterminded by Claudius. Hamlet pours the poisoned wine down Claudius’s throat. Hamlet and Laertes exchange forgiveness (“Mine and my father’s death come not upon thee, Nor thine on me” – V, ii, 330-331) and call each other “brothers.” This is the end of the Danish royal family. Hamlet sacrificed the last of his models, namely his own earthly presence, for the sake of achieving immortality for his Subject by securing a place in heaven for his soul and having Horatio tell his story to posterity. Contra Girard, when it comes to revenge it is Hamlet who eventually succeeds in changing Laertes’s mind. Just like Sherlock Holmes shows Lestrade how to go beyond the surface appearances and look at the cause of a crime from the right point of view, Hamlet teaches Laertes how to identify the true perpetrator, Claudius. Although technically Hamlet murdered Laertes’s father, Polonius, he did it by mistake, and the true villain behind the chain of deaths is Claudius. In the end, Claudius (“incestuous, murderous, damned Dane”) is held solely responsible for the deadly outcome by everyone.

This ending poses a problem to another piece of Girard’s theory of mimetic desire, namely to his theory of scapegoating. Girard’s believes that the escalation of mimesis leads to violence and society has to sacrifice an innocent individual in order to extricate itself from the cycle of revenge. Hamlet is the victim (and a hereditary victim – by trying to right the wrong committed against his father, he himself is wronged), but he manages to turn public rage against the true perpetrator, Claudius. This indicates only one thing – the celebration of the Modern subject that now, with the help of divinity and deductive reasoning, is finally capable of punishing the true perpetrator. Although Hamlet is slain, he manages to expose and punish the evil in a manner compelling to society.


“Hamlet” is a powerful testimony to the fact that a literary work can be heavily structured by Levi-Straussian opposites and Girardian doubles. Reciprocity between the various mythemes found in “Hamlet” and other literary works by Shakespeare and others is so strong that it transcends the content of the story and drives even the formal similarity between such pivotal names as Hamlet, Hal and Holmes. Quite unexpectedly, a literary work such as “Hamlet” is richer in the density of these oppositions and doubles than a typical myth suggesting that the evolution from myth to literature involved the intensification of the mythological not the ex-nihilo emergence of the literary. While Girard is right about the presence of a powerful theme of interpersonal mediation in the grand works of European literature, he erred in reducing interpersonal mediation to affective mimesis that is first clearly outlined by Cervantes in “Don Quixote.” The story of Hamlet is not the one of mimetic desire for external objects but the one of engendering the Subject by sacrificing models. In Hamlet, interpersonal mediation involves the fathering of the Self, or the dramatic construction of the Subject through relations with his kin and through the creation of fictive kinship, all taking place against the ontological background of birth, death and mating. Just like Girard argued that there is no linear pathway connecting an individual to his object of desire, as his desire is just a shadow of the desires of others, there is no genesis of the Subject without others involved. Hamlet is fundamentally a “son of” and it’s precisely the “bloody thought” that results in the careful sorting out of individual and familial properties of his immediate social circle, so that he can arrive at a definition of the Self that would outlast his body. “Hamlet” is also incompatible with the Freudian Oedipus complex: while a certain triangulation occurs between Hamlet, his father and his mother, textual evidence suggests that this triangulation involved not the desire to possess the mother and to kill the father, but the desire to kill the mother and be possessed by the (dead) father.

Kinship and Conklin at the 111th American Anthropological Association Meetings

November 19th, 2012

I just came back from the 111th AAA Meetings in San Francisco (November 14-18, 2012). At the end of my stay I was lucky to have a conversation with one of the early practitioners of kinship studies and ethnoscience, Harold Conklin (see on the left). A student of Alfred L. Kroeber, Conklin, despite his advanced age, attended the Stanford Anthropology reception, was full of energy and charm, and stole the show from some of the younger professors. It was fascinating to learn that Harold was brought to anthropology and into kinship studies by his precocious interest in American Indians (he was adopted by the Mohawks at the age of 13). We had a good laugh about how both of us took the same path into the discipline and how the whole discipline was founded by a man, Lewis Henry Morgan, with the same passion for American Indian cultures and human kinship.

At the meetings, I presented a paper entitled “Kinship Across Cultures and Disciplines:  Leanings from the Global Interdisciplinary Bibliography of Kinship Studies.” Dwight Read and Fadwa El-Guindi organized a session “Boundaries of Discipline, Boundaries of Kinship” that brought together an international group of scholars with widely-ranging interests in human kinship. Another session with a strong focus on kinship studies within a broader theme of the evolution of culture and cognition (“Evolutionary Understandings of Cultural Practices,” organized by Douglas Jones), happened simultaneously with the Boundaries one, and people were wondering why AAA did not assign them into completely different time slots to enable participants and listeners to attend both panels. A day earlier, Kathryn Goldfarb and Caroline Schuster ran another kinship session entitled “(De)Materializing Kinship: Relational Borders and Troubled Crossings.”

With kinship not a central concern of anthropology anymore, I did not have high expectations for my panel’s attendance. I was pleasantly surprised to observe that this year kinship commanded quite a bit of public interest, with the audience numbers reaching 50-70 people during some of the talks. People had to stand along the wall of the conference room or sit on the floor, as all the seats were taken. Marshall Sahlins‘s paper (“What Kinship Is Not – Biology”) read by Michael Silverstein naturally attracted a few extra people, but, even without it, attendance was very impressive. My paper is below.

German V. Dziebel (111th AAA Meetings, San Francisco, November 15, 2012)

Kinship Across Cultures and Disciplines:  Leanings from the Global Interdisciplinary Bibliography of Kinship Studies

Since the mid-1990s, I have been compiling comprehensive bibliographies of kinship studies (including the study of family, adoption, marriage/mating, and divorce) across the social sciences. One part of the project involves works published in Russian and the languages of the former Soviet Union. The other part covers works published in Western languages. The Russian bibliography containing 2000+ entries is now complete and submitted for publication. The bibliography in Western languages is available as PDF files here and is being updated regularly. It now contains upwards of 20,000 entries.

As an anthropologist with a strong interest in linguistics, I originally began tracking publications on human kinship authored within the anthropological tradition of studying systems of kinship and kinship terminologies and the linguistic tradition of analyzing kinship terms as a lexico-semantic field. My main research focus was the compilation of a worldwide database of kinship terms and semantic patterns with the goal of constructing plausible pathways of kin terminological change as reflection of changes in marriage rules, residence, descent rules, etc. in the tradition of Lewis H. Morgan, W.H.R. Rivers, Robert Lowie, George P. Murdock, Gertrude Dole, Mikhail Kryukov, Nick Allen and others. This involved an audit of all publications in which kin terminological systems were described either as part of the ethnographic description of a culture, as a formal system of classification or just a lexical set in a classified or thematic dictionary. I have been tracking kinship vocabularies (with or without a corresponding linguistic or anthropological analysis) across a wide range of sources, including books, papers, Ph.D. dissertations, Master’s theses, fieldwork notebooks, and magazine articles. This has resulted in a database of kin terminological patterns and terms from some 2500 languages (almost half of the 6000+ languages currently spoken in the world). The focus is primarily on such terminological phenomena as sibling classification and cross-generational equations. Some of the conclusions derived from the study of the database of kinship terminologies were published in my book The Genius of Kinship: The Phenomenon of Kinship and the Global Diversity of Kinship Terminologies (2007).

The bibliographic references on which the database drew are organized according to the Ethnologue language classification and cover 150 language families and isolates. The Ethnologue classification for such areas as Papua New Guinea and South America is still work-in-progress and is periodically updated to reflect new developments in the field. I re-organize my bibliographic references accordingly.

In addition to the empirical research devoted to or containing meaningful information about a culture’s kinship system, the bibliography contains theoretical and methodological works divided by anthropological school (evolutionism, functionalism, structuralism, constructivism) and thematic divisions representing intersections between the study of kinship and the study of other anthropological subjects or cultural domains and phenomena, including myth, ritual, gender, age, ethnicity, race, religion, literature, popular culture, music, globalization, gay and lesbian studies and others.

Early on I began noticing that, in both Russia and the West, kinship is not a pre-occupation of anthropology alone. A whole variety of other disciplines and subdisciplines – including linguistics, logic, sociology, history, psychology, evolutionary biology, primatology, demography, epidemiology, theology – study kinship or use the metaphor of kinship to analyze their subject matter. In many cases, these non-anthropological traditions in the study of kinship have a long history going back to the 18th century and earlier. For example, in Russia there was an influential school of historical thought initiated by a German historian, Gustav Ewers, in 1829, and further developed by the foremost Moscow historian, Sergei Soloviev (1820-1979), that sought the roots of the Russian state in ancient Russian kinship structures. This school preceded the launch of kinship studies in the U.S. by Lewis Henry Morgan by several decades but fundamentally it was grounded in the same principle of reifying consanguineal kinship as the cornerstone of pre-modern social and political organization as Morgan’s work. Although this Russian historical school died out by the end of the 19th century, there are some similarities between its focus on kinship structures in the Slavic world with the relatively recent interest of European historians in the structure of pre-modern and early modern European family as exemplified by the periodical Journal of Family History, collected volumes such as Family Forms in Historic Europe and one-author monographs such as Plakans’s Kinship in the Past: An Anthropology of European Family Life, 1500-1900 (1984).

In both Russia and the West, kinship and marriage constituted a prominent concern of legal historians, law practitioners as well as Christian ministers who deemed it necessary to explain to their parishioners the church rules of marriage. This tradition of thinking about kinship goes back to at least 1400s in the West when Italian expert on canon law Johannes Andreae, or Giovanni d’Andrea published his influential Super arboribus consanguinitatis, affinitatis et cognationis spiritualis et legalis and to the book by a provincial Russian minister, Mikhail Zadorin, entitled “On the Marital Union. A Practical Guide to the Rules of Kinship” (1866). It is within this tradition that kinship and connections were visualized as either “trees” or “networks” for the first time. The founder of kinship studies in anthropology, Lewis H. Morgan, was himself a lawyer, and the 19th century German legal scholar, Josef Kohler, was a prolific writer on group marriage and mother right across cultures and the founder of Zeitschrift fur Vergleichende Rechtswissenschaft.

Logicians picked up on the peculiar logical structure of kinship terms, namely their relationality, back in the 1850s independently of anthropologists and linguists. In 1859, the British logician Augustus de Morgan (whose name ironically is identical to that of Lewis Henry Morgan who at that time was working on his Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family) published a treatise on the logic of relations. This treatise so profoundly influenced the American philosopher Charles Peirce that he used kinship terms as a prototype for the kind of sign he called an icon and for the kind of logic he called abduction. Kinship terms were different from the other kinds of nouns in being both subjects and predicates. Peirce wrote,

 “A relative is just that, an icon, or image, without attachments to experience, without ‘a local habitation and a name,’ but with indication of the need of such attachments.”

 Anthropology’s interest in the matters of kinship, marriage and the family in the mid-19th century developed side by side with Victorian fascination with heredity. The now-largely forgotten founder of eugenics Sir Francis Galton (1822–1911), the cousin of Charles Darwin, was a child prodigy himself and the author of Hereditary Genius (1865) the book that purported to explain the hereditary basis for talents and pronounced physical and psychological abilities.

Galton is considered to be one of the early contributors to network analysis (see Freeman, 2004) and an admirer of logical analysis of kinship terms in the style of Augustus De Morgan. Galton was interested in calculating the probability of the extinction of noble families. In 19th-century Europe, noble lineages were associated with death and extinction, hence it comes as no surprise that Freud considered fantasies about being an offspring of a noble parent to be neurotic. Nobility was thought of as a reactionary force, standing in the way of economic progress and biological evolution. It was opposed to active selection, and Galton was eager to help his cousin Darwin with bringing about the triumph of this natural force in the intelligent human world clouded with degenerate “nobility.”

Most interestingly, studying “family likeness” (comp. Peircean “icon”) in size, stature, eye-color and mental abilities, Galton invented two statistical operations that are still widely used, namely regression and correlation. In one study, Galton compared fathers’ heights to their sons’ heights. The heights of sons both of unusually tall fathers and of unusually short fathers was typically closer to the mean height than their fathers’ heights. It means they were more like their ancestors than like their parents. Regression toward the mean blends the qualities of time progression with spatial distribution. Since the fathers of exceptionally tall people also tend to be closer to the mean than their sons, the overall variability of height among fathers and sons is the same. What later became known in statistical theory as “independent” and “dependent” variables was in Galton’s original kinship terminology simply “father” and “son.” In Galton’s mind, all reciprocal kinship positions were mutually correlated: father was correlated with son, grandfather with grandson, uncle with nephew, and so forth. The correlation eventually became associated with the name of Galton’s student and protégé, Karl Pearson (1857–1936), who founded the first statistics department at a university (University College, London) and is universally credited as a founder of modern statistics.

The Peircean typology of signs as well as Pearson’s correlation coefficient are widely known but their indebtedness to the logical structure of kinship terms came up only as a result of the bibliographic and historiographic inquiry into kinship studies as an interdisciplinary subject matter.

The peculiar logical structure of kinship terms may explain why kinship terms have always occupied a liminal place between anthropology and linguistics. Linguists developed their own interest in kinship terms back in the mid-19th century when in 1848, first, Jacob Grimm (Geschichte der Deutschen Sprache) used Indo-European kinship terms as proof of the relatedness of Indo-European languages, and then in 1848 and 1867 Russian philologists, Fyodor Buslaev and Pavel Lavrovsky, published two comprehensive analyses of Slavic and Sanskrit kinship terms as a distinct semantic domain. In 1889, Berthold Delbrück’s monumental Die Indogermanischen Verwandtschaftsnamen inaugurated a long string of philological and linguistic articles, dissertations and books exclusively devoted to the phonology, morphology, semantics and etymology of Indo-European kinship terms. Descriptive linguists working on other language families followed suit. Historical linguists even adopted the term “kinship” to describe the phenomenon whereby regular sound correspondences unite various independent languages into such genealogical units as families and megaphyla. If anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan introduced a semantic analysis of kinship terms within a single language and compared these systems across languages (and Alfred Kroeber and other Boasians considered kinship terms as facts of language, rather than social organization), historical linguists interpreted regular similarities between all and any element of language as signs of kinship between underlying speech communities. There seems to be an intriguing complementarity between the linguistic notion of kinship between languages and the historical typology of kinship terminologies.

Reading the 19th century literature on kinship across anthropology, biology, statistics, logic and linguistics leads to a surprising discovery that  such seemingly disparate notions as “statistical correlation” and “kinship between languages” are concepts that are literally related, a finding that may have implications for the statistical approaches to the determination of kinship between second-order language families, or megaphyla such as Nostratic, Eurasiatic, Dene-Caucasian and others.

The confluence of anthropology, language, mathematics and logic came about again in the 1950s-1960s with the development of formal approaches to the study of kinship terminologies (componential analysis, equivalence rules analysis, generative analysis and others). The latest addition to this slew of studies counting at upwards of 500 in my bibliography are the applications of Optimality Theory to kinship nomenclatures.

Psychology and social psychology hold a strong focus on the theme of kinship, family, marriage and divorce, too, in conjunction with social deviance and psychological disorders. Voluminous literature has been published within the schools of thought known as Family Therapy, Object-Relations, Jungian Psychology and Psychoanalysis, and in the past anthropologists (especially Bronislaw Malinowski and Gregory Bateson) engaged with it bringing perspectives from non-Western cultures.

Evolutionary biology, population genetics, demography and epidemiology frequently tackle the problems of human kinship. A long string of articles documents the presumed effects of the cultural practices of close consanguineal marriages and post-marital residence on genetic diversity in a population, fertility and effective population size, economic development, mental abilities and frequency of congenital diseases. A study of surnames, or family names and genealogies in search of molecular patterns indicative of migrations provides an interesting nexus of onomastics, genetics, demography and anthropology. An example of an interesting bibliographic reference is

“Population Genetics and Social Anthropology.” Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Quantitative Biology (1950) 15: 401-408.

 In this rare instance of collaboration, anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn and geneticist Charles Griffith partnered to identify the ways in which marital rules and post-marital residence affect patterns of molecular genetic variation. More recently, Per Hage and Jeff Marck (without referencing Kluckhohn and Griffith) proposed that the excess of Papuan Y chromosomes in Austronesian-speaking populations in Oceania can plausibly be explained as product of matrilocality, a practice which was reconstructed for proto-Oceanic using ethnological and linguistic information. But overall the current studies of modern human origins conducted by population geneticists suffer from unfortunate neglect for the impact of the social institutions of kinship and marriage on the patterns of genetic variation.

By way of a quick summary, what one can learn from the 20,000-entry strong interdisciplinary bibliography of kinship studies is that kinship studies have a strong potential to be developed into a fully interdisciplinary, cross-functional science. The peculiarity of the phenomenon of kinship lies precisely in its strong and consistent appeal to different disciplines and the existence of strong overlap in the approaches to kinship coming out of seemingly different fields. In a sense, kinship, marriage and the family may constitute the nexus of the social and biological sciences, the place where different disciplines can come to celebrate their underlying unity. The decline of kinship studies in anthropology from the late 1960s on can be explained not only as an outcome of cultural and epistemological shifts within anthropology, but also as the necessary product of a trans-anthropological nature of the kinship phenomenon itself. Was it anthropology that shed kinship, or was it kinship that outgrew anthropology? At the same time, scholars working in such fields as economics, sociology and philosophy have noted that, regrettably, relatively little attention is given to kinship in these disciplines. There seems to be an opportunity to export the learnings from the more kinship-focused sciences such as anthropology, linguistics, psychology and law into these other fields. Observations on the comprehensive interdisciplinary bibliography of kinship studies seems to bolster the recent controversial proposal by Marshall Sahlins (and in my Russian book The Phenomenon of Kinship (2001), I developed a similar thought drawing on Martin Heidegger’s philosophical anthropology) that kinship is an ontological, rather than a biological, social or symbolic reality.

Reviving Kinship Studies or Re-Inventing the Wheel? A Comment on Stephen Levinson

September 14th, 2012

On the heels of Kemp & Regier’s article “Kinship Categories Across Languages Reflect General Communicative Principles” published in Science, Stephen Levinson calls for a revival of kinship studies. Dan Sperber echoes with a post entitled “Is Kinship Back?” Levinson’s specialty is language and cognition, his piece was published in the Psychology section of Science. It fascinates me how versatile “kinship” is. People with different academic backgrounds end up talking with each other about the same thing – kinship. That’s why it has been possible to build a comprehensive bibliography of kinship studies across a wide range of scientific disciplines – anthropology, linguistics, psychology, economics, history, biology, etc. All these studies turn out to be interrelated either in the kinds of underlying questions being tackled or, more directly, in the overlapping references.

Levinson’s plea is of course very welcome. One thing to be mindful of is the danger of re-inventing the wheel under the pretext of reviving something. Kinship terminologies have always been the mice of the social sciences in a sense that a myriad of types of formal approaches were either designed for or tested on kinship terms. I’m talking about componential analysis, scalogram method, equivalence-rule analysis, graph theory, set theory, optimality theory, etc. Kemp & Regier (2012) add another layer to this plethora of formalizations. But it remains unclear what problems all of these approaches are trying to solve and whether the questions have already been answered or should not be asked in the first place. One of the problems with “traditional” kinship studies was their insularity. The formal approaches tend to reaffirm it because it is impossible to concisely model something that has empirical connections to naming, pronoun use, reported speech and a host of other phenomena. But it is precisely the multi-faceted nature of kinship terms (not their boundedness as a lexico-semantic class) that needs to be accounted for.

On another note, Levinson suggests the application to kinship studies of “computational techniques of biological phylogenetics to extract the historical development of patterning in cultural categories.” “Traditional” kinship studies out of anthropology has been doing this for the past 150 years since Lewis H. Morgan’s “invention of kinship” and my book “The Genius of Kinship” is the 2007 state-of-the-art in this subfield. Biological phylogenetics may be a more distant cousin to these approaches, while the comparative methodology in historical linguistics is a close sibling. And it’s precisely in the extent to which students of kinship can cross-pollinate with historical linguists that the visible progress in the dynamics of language-bound categories can be made. The application of Bayesian method derived from biological phylogenetics to kinship terminological evolution, as exemplified by Fiona Jordan’s 2011 paper “A Phylogenetic Analysis of the Evolution of Austronesian Sibling Terminologies” referenced by Levinson as showing “patterns of irreversible evolution,” can be misguided because the essential units of analysis, which require knowledge of both anthropology and linguistics, are not coded properly. (I communicated the problem to Fiona but apparently it was too late to fix it, hence the paper came out in its original form.) This will correspondingly result in the revival of “conjectural history” decried by Radcliffe-Brown, not of kinship studies.

Levinson is trying to enter kinship studies but, from the very onset, he does it with a wrong set of assumptions about kinship studies. These questionable assumptions can be dispelled by a thorough historiographic dive or they can be solidified by a narrow focus on the some of the most recent works that just scratch the surface of the field.

Svan Terms for ‘Sister’ and the Kartvelian Term for ‘Mother’ (With Notes on Basque and Burushaski)

July 31st, 2012

As a follow-up to my earlier post, Heinz Fähnrichs Kartwelisches Etymologisches Worterbuch (2007, p. 119-120), which had existed in Georgian for 15 years before being translated into the more accessible German, contains an interesting etymological analysis of the Svan terms for ‘man’s sister’ and ‘woman’s sister’.

Svan is unique among Kartvelian languages in having special terms to denote siblings depending on Ego Gender. The pattern of contrasting man’s brother, woman’s brother, man’s sister, woman’s sister is very rare cross-linguistically. Unlike Klimov, Fähnrich sees the same root da– in both Svan u-d-il ‘woman’s sister’ (*udild, with the diminutive *-ild) and da-chwir ‘man’s sister’ (also in da-j ‘husband’s sister’). According to Klimov, the more specific meaning ‘woman’s sister’ found in Svan is original to the generalized meaning ‘sister’ found in the other Kartvelian languages. Another apparent archaism is the presence of the “frozen” obligatory possessive affix u– in the Svan form. We don’t know what the formant –chwir in ‘man’s sister’ comes from.

Since cross-linguistically (see The Genius of Kinship) sibling sets tend to lose semantic distinctions, rather than gain them, Svan must have lost the original term for either ‘man’s sister’ or ‘woman’s sister’. Root *da– came to replace it but it’s unclear which term is a survivor and which one is a replacement.

It’s possible that the underlying root *da– is further related to Kartvelian *ded- ‘mother, grandmother, woman, wife, mother-in-law’, which Fähnrich (pp. 128-129) presents in the following way:

If the Kartvelian term for ‘mother’ in its unreduplicated form is the ultimate source for the Svan terms for ‘man’s sister’, ‘woman’s sister’ and ‘husband’s sister’, then it’s easy to understand how the original independent stems for ‘man’s sister’ and ‘woman’s sister’ got replaced by a single-stem term. The system pulled a female term lacking Ego Gender semantics from the upper generation to create a new Ego-Gender-neutral form in the Ego generation. The morphology of u-d-il vs. the morphology of da-chwir are so different that it suggests that, since the replacement of the original terms for ‘man’s sister’, both u-d-il and da-chwir have undergone significant changes.

A close semantic parallel to the Kartvelian situation is furnished by Indo-European. Lith mosha ‘husband’s sister’ is a diminutive derivative of mote ‘mother’, while Albanian motre ‘sister’ goes back to IE *meH2ter ‘mother’. In the case of Albanian, it’s likely that the lowering of the ‘mother’ form to denote ‘sister’ (also Alb vella ‘brother’ comes from *awentlo-, which is found in Lat avus ‘grandfather’, Lat avunculus, Lith avynas and Breton eontr ‘mother’s brother’, see Huld, Martin E. 1984. Basic Albanian Etymologies. Columbus.) springs from an Omaha-type skewing in Proto-Indo-European (PIE) associated with patrilineal social organization. As part of this generational skewing, PF = MB = MBS and M = MZ = MBD. A later shift to ‘Hawaiian” or Generational nomenclature in Ego generation resulted in the form *awentlo– to acquire the meaning ‘mother’s brother’s son, mother’s sister’s son’, brother’. Finally, the shift from Generational to Lineal terminology led to the narrowing of the MBS = MZS = B semantic cluster to just refer to ‘brother’ (historical vella). It’s possible that Kartvelian has undergone a similar change and that the cognation of *ded– ‘mother’, *u-d-il ‘woman’s sister’ and da-chwir ‘man’s sister’ indicate that Proto-Kartvelian had an Omaha-type generational skewing, too.

Another Eurasian language that has the same 4-way division of sibling categories is Burushaski. But the neutralization woman’s sister ~ man’s sister in Svan is different from the neutralization found in Bur –co ‘a man’s brother; a woman’s sister’. In the Svan case, Ego Gender is neutralized, in the Burushaski case Referent Gender is neutralized.

Finally, Basque is the third language in Eurasia that displays the same pattern of classifying siblings. In all the Basque dialects but Biscayan (anaya mB, arrabea mZ, neba wB, aiztia wZ) Ego Gender is neutralized in the term for ‘brother’, so that Labourdin, Navarese, Guipuzcoan, Souletin have anay B, arreba mZ, ahizpa wZ.

While the three languages modify the original 4-term set in three different ways and the specific lexical forms don’t seem to be related, it’s possible that the rare sibling terminology attests to an ancient macrophylic unity underlying West Nostratic and West Dene-Caucasian.

Indo-European and North Caucasian: Linguistic Typology, Kinship Terms and Autosomal Genetics

July 7th, 2012

Ranko Matasovic presented rich typological evidence (consonant-to-vowel ratio, tonal accent, number suppletion in personal pronouns, the presence of gender and the morphological optative and, possibly, the presence of glottalized consonants and ergativity) in favor of areal contacts between Proto-Indo-European (PIE) and North Caucasian (NC) in the eastern part of the Pontic steppe. He writes (pp. 306-307):

“The adduced typological parallels between PIE and Caucasian languages make it likely that PIE was, indeed, in contact with languages of the northern Caucasus. However, these contacts could also have been of indirect nature, since there are no demonstrable loanwords from North Caucasian languages in PIE, or vice versa. If such loanwords exist, their number is certainly not high. If direct contacts did exist, we cannot determine their nature: both long-term bilingualism due to exogamy and trade networks, as well as rather rapid language shift appear equally possible.”

Matasovic (p. 288-289) mentions one of such loanwords, namely the PIE kinship term *snuso– (Gr. nuos, Arm. nu, OCS snuxa, etc. ‘daughter-in-law’), apparently borrowed into many North Caucasian languages (Chechen nus, Avar nus, Akhvakh nusa, Kabardian nesa) as well as into Megrelian (nosa). But he fails to mention the cases of 1) PIE *swesor ‘sister’ and Chechen sesag ‘wife’, Lak sus, Lezgin swas, Ubykh sasa ‘bride’ and 2) PIE *geme– ‘son-in-law’  (Skrt jamatar, Avest zamatar, Gk gambros, etc.) and Chechen zam-o, Ingush sam-e ‘best man’, Lezgin c:am, Agul zam (Nikolayev S. L., and S. A. Starostin. ? North Caucasian Etymological Dictionary. Moscow, 1994). The combination of the these three apparent loanwords, all referring to marriage and affinity, favor the long-term exogamy hypothesis between PIE speakers and the natives of the Caucasus.

Naturally, if long-term marriage exchange was indeed practiced between PIE speakers and the natives of the Caucasus, we may expect to find its genetic traces in mitochondrial, Y-DNA and/or autosomal DNA. The amateur genome blogger Dienekes Pontikos recently reported the elevated frequencies of a “Caucasus” autosomal component among modern Indo-Europeans and its absence among Basques and low frequencies among Finns. While he labeled it “West Asian” and misconstrued it as suggesting a Near Eastern origin for Indo-Europeans (in contrast to the mainstream Kurgan hypothesis), it seems to be the best available evidence for genetic exchange between Indo-European speakers and the speakers of North Caucasian languages in the Pontic steppe and North Caucasus areas. The Chechens whose language contains all three kinterm loans from PIE, show this component at 54.6%. Matasovic focuses on the Maykop culture (3700-2500 BC) as providing the best archaeological correlate to the contact zone between PIE and North Caucasian languages. The Maykop culture is centered in Adygeia, which shows 52.5% of that “Caucasus” autosomal component. We have, therefore, a very strong fit between linguistics, kinship studies, population genetics and archaeology in this case.

It remains to be seen if this fit is real or spurious. It’s noteworthy that all NC societies are strictly patrilocal and patrilineal. PIE society is also reconstructed as patrilineal and patrilocal (see The Encyclopedia of Indo-European Cultures, with the original proposal in Friedrich, Paul, “Proto-Indo-European Kinship,” Ethnology 5 (1966), pp. 1-36). This commonality would facilitate marriage exchange between the two populations in both directions, as PIE women marrying NC men would go live with their husbands without violating the rules of either society. The same works for NC women. At the same time, PIE men and NC men would rarely end up as son-in-laws in foreign households, unless they had been first taken as prisoners. We don’t know yet if PIE speakers contributed any genes to the NC speech community. Neither do we know if genetic admixture between PIE and NC speakers manifested in mtDNA and Y-DNA. If it did, then we may be able to infer from the pattern of this admixture whether this gene exchange was sex-biased and whether it took place under peaceful or violent circumstances.

Burushaski and Indo-European Kinship Terms: Burushaski suffix -taro and IE suffix *-ter.

June 24th, 2012

Ilija Cašule, of Macquarie University in Australia, is attracting more and more attention with his Indo-European-Burushaski hypothesis. As part of his thoroughgoing comparison between Indo-European and Burushaski, Cašule has looked at kinship terms (see p. 12 in the attached). Although, at first glance (see here), Burushaski kin terms support the Dene-Caucasian placement of Burushaski (if one is willing to entertain any long-range proposals at all), Cašule brings up the Burushaski plural suffix –taro used almost exclusively with kinship terms, which does strike one as similar to the ubiquitous Indo-European kin term ending –ter. As I argued at length elsewhere (here and here), IE kinship terms are puzzling in a lot of respects. One of them is the fact that many key kinship terms are already complex morphological structures at the Proto-Indo-European level, and the daughter languages don’t shed any light on the function of those widely-spread IE suffixes. Other language families typically maintain a clear trace of the semantic and pragmatic functions of kinterm-specific grammatical forms, but in IE languages such grammatical forms are obscure. Hittite data has so far contributed nothing to our understanding of the meaning of PIE –ter (or *Hter in some laryngeal reconstructions). Nostratic kinterm reconstructions are of very poor quality and they contain nothing approximating IE *-ter (see Dziebel, G. V. “Reconstructing ‘our’ kinship terminology: Comments on the Indo-European material in A. V. Dybo’s and S. V. Kullanda’s The Nostratic terminology of kinship and affinity.” Kinship Algebra, No. 10 (2006)). This suggests that the most divergent IE language hasn’t been found yet. And, who knows, maybe Cašule found it and it’s Burushaski.

From Complex to Simple: The Evolution of Tupi Sibling Terminologies

June 19th, 2012

Robert Walker has led another team of scholars applying the phylogenetic method to cultural and linguistic data. This time the paper entitled “Cultural Phylogenetics of the Tupi Language Family in Lowland South America” (free access) is about the reconstruction of the ancestor states for a set of 11 cultural variables for proto-Tupi (paternity beliefs, dances, sibling terminologies, post-marital residence, etc.), mapping it on the internal classification of the Tupi language family and circumscribing the likely geographical homeland for Tupi-speakers. Rob and I corresponded about this project back in 2006. Pursuant to those exchanges, Walker et al. used my database of kinship terminologies to code Tupi sibling terminologies for this paper (trait no. 5 in the table below). To simplify the coding they broke the Tupi sibling sets into two groups – complexly organized sets (type G) that lexicalize the semantic features of relatives age, relative sex and Ego-Sex and the simple sets without those distinctions. Walker et al.’s type G encompasses a wider variety of sibling set types than Murdock’s type G and my types G-5, G-6, G-8, but overall this rough division gives Walker et al. a good handle on understanding the dynamics of change in Tupi sibling terminologies. Notably, their conclusions are consistent with the evolutionary trend toward the simplification of sibling sets that I identified in the global sample. Now in addition to the well-documented sibling nomenclature simplification in Austronesian languages (see “The Genius of Kinship” for details and references), we have the case of Tupi languages displaying the same trend. It’s noteworthy, however, that in some cases Tupi languages show a more dramatic simplification of sibling sets, with languages such as Siriono going all the way from type G to type A (anóNge Sib) within the time afforded by the differentiation of the Tupi language family, but for the most part they maintain complexly differentiated sibling sets. At the same time Austronesian sibling terminologies show a less dramatic simplification from type 10 (the daughter type of G-8 and G-6) to type 1 but type 1 is very frequently found among them.

Walker et al. put the simplification trend in a concrete historical perspective pertaining to the evolution of Tupi social organization as a whole:

“Our phylogenetic reconstructions suggest that Proto-Tupi was likely characterized by a higher level of cultural complexity than seen in many contemporary Tupi societies and similar in many ways to the more complex Tupi societies (e.g., Munduruku and Tupinamba). Given correlations among several of the cultural traits examined here, it seems likely that some cultural traits are commonly lost together in culture-loss processes that reduce complexity in multiple social domains. The most extreme examples are for nomadic Tupi-Guarani hunter-gatherers that lived in small bands (Guaja, Siriono/Yuqui, Xeta, Ache). Trait reconstructions over the linguistic phylogeny indicate that these societies lost a number of cultural traits including canoes, shamans, ‘‘G’’ sibling terminology, and corporate structure, in addition to losing horticulture and sedentarism, in at least 4 independent events toward reduced cultural complexity.”

Walker et al. leave Juruna sibling terminology uncoded (? in their table on the left) but we do have information on Juruna sibling terms (uuraha o\\Sib, uidza y\\Sib, uadidja wB, uaibi mZ), which would make it fall into Walker et al.’s type G. Technically speaking, it’s type 10, according to the nomenclature adopted in The Genius of Kinship, which is derived from the most complex type G. It’s very rare in the New World but is typical for Austronesian-speakers and Papuans (likely an independent development from type G in both areas).

The divergent position of Karitiana in the Tupi linguistic tree (see below) caught my attention because of the complex nature of Karitiana kinship terminology outside of the sibling set. As described by Rachel Landin (Kinship and Naming among the Karitiana of Northwestern Brazil. M.A. thesis. University of Texas at Arlington, 1989), Karitiana kinship terminology is Bifurcate Collateral with Relative Age and Relative Sex distinctions in the parent generation. These distinctions are not typically found in Amazonia and the Relative Age distinctions in combination with Bifurcate Collateral segregation of same-sex and opposite-sex siblings of parents is more reminiscent of North American Indian terminologies (e.g., Uto-Aztecan, South Athabascan) than of South American ones. Intricate forms of name inheritance further complicate the kinship classification. It would be ideal to be able to compare Karitiana with Tupinamba and Munduruku to determine exactly the kind of social complexity is reconstructible for proto-Tupi. But overall the thesis of the simplification of Amazonian societies is consistent with the theory advanced by Paul Henley (South Indian Models in the Amazonian Lowlands. Manchester, 1996).

Finally, Walker et al. assume a genetic connection between Tupi and Carib languages (a linguistic proposal by Aryon Rodriguez that has received support from population genetics). Sibling terminologies seem to be consistent with this grouping as both Tupi and Carib languages are rich in examples of complexly differentiated sibling sets, all the way to Murdock’s and my type G. A few sibling terms in Tupi and Carib dialects are related, according to Rodriguez (see on the left, from Rodriguez 1985, p. 381, with Bk Bakairi, Gl Galibi, Tb Tupinamba, Tp Taulipang, Tr Tupari, Wn Wayana). If the same logic of simplification applies to the Tupi-Carib protolinguistic community, type G is reconstructible for this proto-language as well. Walker et al. may be able to prove or disprove this hypothesis applying the method of cultural phylogenetics.

Reading Ivan Bunin’s “A Merry Courtyard” Through the Lens of Marshall Sahlins’s Thoughts on Kinship

June 2nd, 2012

I was thoroughly pleased to read Marshall Sahlins’s two-part piece in JRAI entitled “What Kinship Is,” as it conjured up some the themes of my own book “The Phenomenon of Kinship” published in Russian in 2001. Basically, Sahlins argues for the need to think of kinship as an ontological problem transcending the nature-culture, natal-postnatal, real-fictive dichotomies politicized and perpetuated by the Schneiderian downturn in kinship studies. Sahlins amassed an impressive array of ethnographic examples that show that human kinship is fundamentally about the “mutuality of being,” as expressed through the dense networks of shared biological, material and mental substances that spring from the same ontological ground. Kinship involves fellow humans participating in each other’s existence, and, conversely, humanity is engendered, from an evolutionary standpoint, by the capacity for sharing psychological states with others, which is missing from the populations of big apes.

Sahlins refused to “drag the discussion of kinship into dark philosophical waters” – the risk I readily took in “The Phenomenon of Kinship.” When it came to the task of going beyond the pesky existential dichotomies in the study of kinship, it was too tempting for me not to attempt to read the anthropological turn in philosophical ontology that began with Martin Heidegger against anthropology, especially since anthropology is apochryphally defined as “empirical philosophy.” Sahlins latched on Descrates’s cogito ergo sum to exemplify the solipsistic orientation of Western philosophy, whereas I went a step further in trying to express the new kinship-like ontology as cogito ergo progigno (I think therefore I procreate). At the same time, Sahlins imports the generic concept of “ontology” into the anthropology of kinship by referring to the domains of kinship, nationalism, religion (in Schneider), magic and gift (in Viveiros de Castro) as ontologically (rather than “culturally,” as Schneider had it) similar. He sides with Viveiros de Castro in an anti-Schneiderian move to elevate kinship to the status of a cosmic totality instead of taking it off the table as a research subject. (I did the same thing in “The Phenomenon of Kinship” by coining the term “kinship cosmos.”) Sahlins follows Viveiros de Castro in inviting indigenous epistemologies to determine the exact way in which kinship acquires the status of a cosmic totality but at the same time he remains blind to the non-anthropological traditions of research into some of those ontologically kinship-like domains. Sahlins gives only a passing nod to linguistics, while mechanically cataloging the connections of his anthropological “mutuality of being” to such linguistic phenomena as personal pronouns, possessive predication and naming. “‘I think therefore I am’, said Descartes. ‘I also think. Therefore, I’m Descartes’.” Sahlins drops this Cartesian bon mot into an endnote without attempting to analyze the deictic and metapragmatic constituents of this philosophical paradox. Again, I chose to engage with linguistics on a much deeper level sensing the fundamental relevance of anthropological accounts of the social role of kinship terms, on the one hand, to linguistic approaches to “shifters” and speech act pragmatics and philosophical (as in Saul Kripke) approaches to naming reference, on the other. I arrive at a definition of kinship that emphasizes the interpenetration of the symbolic and the material, the cultural and the biological: kinship involves thinking with entities of your own kind, kinship is about treating fellow humans as signs of one another, a kinship system is a system of reproduction of unique human selves. Articulated in this way, kinship is renewed as a central object of anthropology, while putting anthropology in the center of linguistic, philosophical and other inquiries.

It’s rewarding to see Sahlins include death into his discussion of the “mutuality of being.” He borrows from Janet Carsten a catchy phrase “kinsmen are people who live each other’s lives and die each other’s deaths.”Most common,” writes Sahlins (pp. 231-232), “are mourning practices that signify a mutual death: that is, dying with one’s kinsmen by self-mutilation, tearing one’s clothing, going unwashed, not working, and other such forms of withdrawal from normal sociality.” I, too, both in “The Phenomenon of Kinship” (2001) and “The Genius of Kinship” (2007) integrated death into the definition of kinship and drew on Heidegger’s use of death as the way to give ontology a human, Da-Sein dimension. My interest in death from a kinship perspective originally stemmed from pure logic: if kinship is about birth and every birth is followed by death, then kinship must be equally about death and about birth. Sahlins’s examples (that can be further expanded, see “The Genius of Kinship”) demonstrate that, indeed, non-Western cultures treat death as much a kinship-constituting event as we treat birth. Among Inuits and !San, for example, it’s the reincarnation of a deceased person in a new born or the patterns of name inheritance that determine what kin relations are going to be and how kin terms are going to apply. This creates an impression of fluidity and arbitrariness of kinship relations but this is only because the exact paths of reincarnation and name inheritance are not as well understood as relations established through birth and marriage.

From a cross-cultural perspective, there’s something very limiting and artificial (in a curious contradiction to the notion of “fictive kinship”) in the folk Western and pre-constructivist anthropological focus on birth as the key constituent of what we call “kinship.” It’s not a matter to giving preference to biology vs. culture, as death is just as biological as birth. It’s a matter of cutting lived experience into arbitrary chunks. And Schneider, although he ostensibly revolted against the arbitrary labels, didn’t care about restoring the unity of lived experience, which is still longing for the “lost relatives” to re-unite.

In the context of the pronounced separation of kinship and death in Western cultures, it’s all the more intriguing to find an instance of the pairing of death and kinship in the Western literary tradition. The theme of kinship and death is explored by the Russian writer, Ivan Bunin, in “A Merry Courtyard” (Veselyi dvor) published in 1911 as part of a cycle of short stories about the Russian peasant countryside. They stand out as a departure from the more traditional 19th century depictions of Russian village life, such as Ivan Turgeven’s, centered on the estate of a landowner (dvorianskoe gnezdo, lit. “gentry’s nest”). Bunin’s writings tend to be uncompromising, illusion-free, critical, persnickety, often somber inquiries into the true nature of the Russian peasant condition. I’ve already blogged about Bunin here, here and here. This new gem goes to the heart of the issues raised by Sahlins for anthropological kinship studies.

The title of the story is sarcastic – villagers so dubbed one impoverished, unlucky, abusive household. It was run by a widow Anisya Minaeva, a woman so skinny from malnutrition that neighbors nicknamed her Ukhvat (Pan Handle). She was hard-working, humble, self-effacing and quiet. She lived there with her son, Yegor Minaev, who was a spitting image of his father – a foul-mouthed, ne’er do well who smoked like a chimney. They were different in only one way – Yegor was nicer and not abusive. Neighbors were okay with him and considered him a good stoveman, but despised him for being incapable of accruing wealth and building a life of his own. In every inner and outward respect, Yegor looked and acted the opposite from his mother, so that it was hard to believe they were parent and child. He was blondish, broad-boned, had a nasty habit of never taking off his shoes, always sick, sometimes cowardly, sometimes unabashed, always partying with other people away from home just to let another day pass by quicker. She was dark, skinny, dried-out “like a mummy,” even-tempered, humble and quiet, never sick, always barefoot, always lonely with an empty stomach, suffering from gripping sadness. Her other kids died, her husband froze to death, and her household soon after began to deteriorate. After a cock pecked her eye out, Anisya couldn’t find anymore work. The garden that she had – Yegor sold it. Every now and then she had to beg for food and money, but never did she remind her neighbors that there were times when she was helping them. “The earth has forgotten me, the sinful one,” Anisya used to say. Her sole purpose of existence was to save the house for Yegor when he gets married. But Yegor saw no reason to get married: “I never gonna marry. These days I’m free as a Cossack but once I marry I’ll have to care for my wife.” Yegor “didn’t care for family, property or motherland.”

One day Yegor was hired by a wealthy landowner to guard his woods, and he moved 15 miles away from his mother. His wages were paid in food with very little cash, so, once he moved out, he entirely stopped helping his mother. But he would use his elderly and sick mother as a pretext to ask his employer for advance wages, which he then would fritter away on booze with his buddy, a blacksmith. Sucking on the last morsel of bread, Anisya collected herself to go visit him hoping to live with him over the summer and partake of his food. “Even a defected child is beautiful in his mother’s eye,” she thought. “A son won’t refuse food to his mother,” a neighbor encouraged her. After a sleepless night, with her legs burned by bedbugs and stung by flies, she set out on her journey thanking God for the happiness of starting a new life, enjoying a new day and loving her son. But Anisya was too weak to handle the trip, and when she didn’t find Yegor in his roofless guardian’s dwelling, she lay down on a bench and passed away. Yegor, in the meantime was drinking vodka with his blacksmith buddy in another village close by talking about whether one can become a saint by eating only radish and whether tempering one’s body with ice-cold water will make it withstand putrefaction after death. When he returned home, he found her body and bellowed with his coarse voice scaring his dog out of her hideout in the bushes. Later, at the funeral Yegor drank so much that he almost passed away. “He danced right there at the grave for everybody’s entertainment oddly twisting his feet dressed in bast sandals, throwing his cap on the ground and giggling.” He felt a mix of emptiness and freedom. He aged quickly, within a month after his mother’s death. While she was alive, he felt younger – now nobody would call him “Anisya’s son,” just Yegor. “And the earth, the whole earth, just got empty.” Soon, when he was on a night watch with a group of teenagers and slept near railroad tracks, he suddenly woke up at dawn. The boys realized that something was wrong but Yegor calmed them down by smiling and saying he saw an apparition of sorts. They stayed awake and Yegor began telling them a story, while smoking, coughing and cursing after every word. As he heard a train approaching, he abruptly got on his feet, ran up the slope to the tracks and threw himself under the train.

As the drama was coming to an end, Bunin shifted from highlighting the differences between Anisya and Yegor to making some stark moral contrasts (the pointless procrastination of Yegor taking place at the time when his mother was dying in a forlorn guardian dwelling) and unearthing some critical similarities (“Yegor has been feeling lately what Anisya was feeling: physical frailty, diffused anxiety and disorderly thoughts”). Although far from being old, Yegor shared with his elderly mother the strange forebodings of death. His sight weakened, the darkness of the forest began assuming demonic shapes, and his guardian’s house started giving him nightmares. Anisya’s death came upon her through neglect by others, including Yegor. And Yegor himself kept having suicidal thoughts. Eventually, these suicidal thoughts came to fruition, thus laying bare the invisible ties of kinship that connected Yegor and his mother.

Reading Turgenev: Genealogies among Russian Serfs

May 22nd, 2012

In “Raspberry Water,” one of Ivan Turgenev’s “Sportsman’s Sketches” (1852), one finds a note related to genealogical reckoning among Russian serfs. He introduces the reader to Stepan (Stepushka), a young serf of unknown parentage who wasn’t listed in peasant censuses and didn’t receive any pay (in money or goods) from the landowner. This serf had no known kinship ties, no past and no residence. Then Turgenev mentions Grandpa Trofimych, ostensibly another serf, who knew the genealogies of all the serfs up to the fourth generation. Trofimych recalled that Stepan was a relative of a Turkish girl that the deceased landowner brought back from a military expedition.

19th century Russian kinship system was of Lineal type, with both maternal and paternal kin equally recognized and with no unilineal groupings. Hence genealogies were not diligently maintained by each and every family. Deep genealogies existed among nobility, as a tool legitimizing their rights and privileges. Among serfs, families had shallow genealogical knowledge. Only specialists such as Trofimych possessed interest in serf genealogies and they maintained them for a wide range of households. Interestingly, not only that serf Stepan didn’t have any known kindred, he wasn’t listed in censuses either. While in large-scale, state-run societies censuses provided a more accurate and comprehensive demographic outlook than genealogies, both form of human resource management complemented each other, so that an individual who had no kin didn’t make it into the census either.

What’s in a Kin Term? Observations on Errol Morris’s What’s in a Name?

May 7th, 2012

Errol Morris has a three-part opinion page in The New York Times on the nature of personal names and photographs. Errol anchors his exploration in the semantics of naming in the recent scandal around a Rockefeller impostor, the former German student in the U.S., Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter. Gerhartsreiter, now universally remembered as Clark Rockefeller, adopted the Rockefeller name in the early 1990s to oil his way into the cream-of-the-crop social circles of Boston and New York. Gerhartsreiter’s self-inflicted identity fraud had remained unnoticed, even by Gerhartsreiter’s super-intelligent wife and the sole bread-winner in their upscale Boston household, Sandra L. Boss (a Harvard Business School Graduate and a senior McKinsey executive who happened to be a one-time boss of my former boss at Arnold Worldwide), until after he divorced her, kidnapped their daughter and was hunted down by the police.

Any story of personal names is a detective story. Morris’s narrative manifests the thrill that he experienced while researching and pondering the nature of personal names, human identity and photographic imagery. Borderline mystical phenomena such as coincidences, ironies, paradoxical role reversals and shocking revelations seem to be part and parcel of any empirical study of naming. The above paragraph already contains a string of such coincidences and ironies: Gerhartsreiter’s wife’s family name is Boss and she lived up to the literal meaning of her name by being a) a senior executive at an iconic company that consults major businesses in the U.S. and worldwide, and b) the sole bread-winner in her marriage with Clark Rockefeller. She was also an ex-boss of my own ex-boss. All of this took place in Boston. One of the role reversals of the story is that, by being a stay-home dad and teaching their daughter how to write by the age of 2, Clark Rockefeller acted like a nurturing mother, while Sandra Boss, by being the sole bread-winner, acted like a father. One of the ironies of the story is that Sandra Boss’s self-effacing and street-smart ex-husband exposed what may very well be the Achilles heel of armchair, academic intelligence: its inability to call real things with their proper names. A brilliant-at-work Sandra turned out to be woefully naive in real life.

Or compare the a real modern descendant of the legendary American industrialist, David Rockefeller, namely his grandson Clayton Rockefeller, with the impostor Clark Rockefeller. They share the first three letters of their first names (Clark may be a portmanteau of Christian and Karl, Gerhartsreiter’s real first and middle names), obviously their last name is the same but both of them also love to wear horn-rimmed eyeglasses. The last fact makes the two look uncannily alike. The irony, as Morris notes, comes from the fact that the real Clayton Rockefeller never made it past the page 15 of the Weddings/Celebrations section of Sunday Styles, while the fake Clark Rockefeller commanded the front page of some major East Coast venues such as the Boston Globe. This is precisely where Morris’s fascination with naming comes from: a name is not simply a baggage tag on a person, it carries powerful associations that, under certain circumstances, can propel a completely random person into a national spotlight. But the irony is again right around the corner: Morris praises and adopts Saul Kripke’s model of personal names as “rigid designators,” but his choice of an opening case-study seems to furnish a paradoxical refutation of Kripke’s model: a name is inalienably attached to the thing in all possible counterfactual worlds (i.e. worlds in which the thing is stripped of all its associations) with the exception of those worlds in which the name is assumed to be a rigid designator of the thing. Gerhartsreiter’s fraud became possible precisely because people around him believed that the name Rockefeller is always the name of a real Rockefeller. Within the social circle of his friends and his wife’s family and friends he became a celebrity by claiming to be a Rockefeller. He bolstered his personal myth by publicly ordering Oysters Rockefeller at restaurants and buying properties exclusively from Cushman & Wakefield — the managers of Rockefeller Center. Outside of the primary circle in which Gerhartsreiter’s Rockefeller myth lived he was not known at all – neither as a Gerhartsreiter, nor as a Rockefeller. His natal family in Germany had lost track of him, while those who knew the real Rockefellers did not know Clark. When Gerhartsreiter entered the national spotlight, he became famous not because he was Gerhartsreiter or Rockefeller but because he was a fake Rockefeller or a non-Rockefeller. But in any case it was the name Rockefeller that continued to define Gerhartsreiter in the public eye, as if he was re-baptized as Nonrockefeller by virtue of the fact that the real Rockefellers confirmed that Gerhartsreiter was not related to them. Kripke erred in his belief that names are rigid designators of things – the enigma surrounding names stems from the fact that they are things. Note that names are rarely translated from one language to another – they are usually reproduced in another language as faithfully as phonetics allows. And as sound things they can be manipulated and appropriated. Gerhartsreiter literally stole Rockefeller from the Rockefellers, as if it was a family relic, and proudly wore it around as if it was an expensive piece of clothing. But they are not simply things – they are things conditionally related to essences. And every culture has its own native theory of those essences.

Morris chose the example of Clark Rockefeller without fully exploring the fact that Rockefeller is not just a name but a family name. For his purposes, a family name is just another proper name to be looked at through a Kripkean prism. He noted, in passing, the connection between the Rockefeller genealogy and Gerhartsreiter’s deception:

“When we use the family name “Rockefeller” or the proper name “Clark Rockefeller,” what are we doing? We are calling up a rich set of associations. And we are also claiming provenance: a matriarchal or patriarchal link from the original Rockefeller, John D. Rockefeller, to his progeny — his son, John D. Rockefeller, Jr.; his grandsons, Laurance, Winthrop, Nelson, David, etc. All these Rockefellers are genetically related to the original Rockefeller and presumably heirs to part of his vast fortune. And then the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-generation Rockefellers. They are all part of the Rockefeller family tree with John D. Rockefeller as the trunk. When we use the name “Rockefeller” we imagine we are picking out some individual related to the 19th-century patriarch…Isn’t there a remote possibility that Gerhartsreiter really is a member of the Rockefeller family? Or that they had common ancestors? By this account, John D. Rockefeller’s roots can be traced back to Germany in the 1600s. Perhaps they had common ancestors.” 

And in the accompanying note 14:

“This kind of claim is complicated by uncertainties about John D. Rockefeller’s two half-sisters, Clorinda and Cornelia. The Rockefeller family line veers surprisingly from the straight and narrow during the life of John D. Rockefeller’s father, William Avery Rockefeller. William, or Big Bill as he became known, was from a young age a drifter, schemer and occasional con man — perhaps a spiritual if not actual progenitor of Clark Rockefeller. He once rode into a small town in upstate New York posing as a deaf-mute selling novelties, hoping to gain sales through sympathy. He also discovered that with this “deaf and dumb” identity he could overhear or extract town gossip he could use to his advantage. Months later, when a woman who’d befriended the supposed mute ran into him chatting at a social gathering, she was so impressed by the man’s “progress” that she said to him, “I see that you can talk better than when I saw you last.” Without missing a beat, Big Bill replied, “Yes, I’m somewhat improved.” Bill was equally unorthodox in his home life. During his travels, he met and married Eliza Davison. Some suggested it was her father’s farm and modest wealth that Bill found most attractive, considering he already had a mistress, Nancy Brown. And not long after bringing Eliza to the tiny farmhouse he’d constructed, he also brought Nancy to live there, in what essentially was a ménage à trois. In two years, in the same house, Bill had four children: Eliza had Lucy, and a few months later Nancy had Clorinda. The next year, Eliza gave birth to John Davison Rockefeller, and in that same year Nancy had another daughter, Cornelia. Eventually, Nancy and her two daughters went to live with her parents one town over. Clorinda died as a child, but Cornelia grew up and married, becoming Cornelia Saxton, and most of her neighbors never knew she was the half-sister of the richest man in America. The Saxton line, which without the name still bore the traces of Rockefeller lineage, continues off in another direction, save for a few exceptions in John D. Rockefeller’s records when they collide again to ask for money; these requests were turned down by John D.’s secretaries, and it remains unclear if he knew he had two illegitimate half-sisters.”

Christian Gerhartsreiter claimed that the name Rockefeller had been given to him by a man named “Harry Copeland,” his godfather from New York.

“My godfather gave it to me. He insisted that is what my name is.”

Christian Gerhartsreiter claimed descent from a member of the Rockefeller clan, George Percy Rockefeller, and his wife Mary Roberts who came from the privileged upper neck of Virginia. Gerhartsreiter’s imaginary parents died in a car accident when he was 18. Harry Copeland, his presumed godfather, died in the 1990s. By the time Gerhartsreiter was put to trial for kidnapping his daughter, his real father Simon Gerhartsreiter, a painter, was dead, too. His mother Irmgard, a homemaker, and brother Alexander recognized him. Gerhartsreiter’s pattern of deception matches the neurotic fantasy of noble origin described by Freud in his rarely quoted work “Der Familienroman der Neurotiker.”

“There are only too many occasions on which a child is slighted, or at least feels he has been slighted, on which he feels he is not receiving the whole of his parents’ love, and most of all, on which he feels regrets at having to share it with brothers and sisters. His sense that his own affection is not being fully reciprocated then finds a vent in the idea…of being a step-child or an adopted child…The later stage in the development of the neurotic’s estrangement from his parents, begun in this manner, might be described as ‘the neurotic’s family romance’… [T]he child’s imagination becomes engaged in the task of getting free from the parents of whom he now has a low opinion and of replacing them by others, who, as a rule, are of higher social standing” (Freud, Sigmund. “Family Romances,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 9. Pp. 236-241. London, 1959, 237-239).

If Christian Gerhartsreiter chose to become Clark Gerhartsreiter, it wouldn’t make much of a difference. He was clearly going after the essence of being a Rockefeller, the richest man in America. People who are passionate about genealogical research are searching for the timeless essence of their real family name(s). Christian Gerhartsreiter abandoned his real family name, just as he left his native Germany, in favor of an American one, with possible deeper German roots, that already had a noble, albeit shallow, genealogy associated with it.

In “The Genius of Kinship” (2007) I touched upon the relationship between names and kin terms. Since then, I’ve been thoroughly fascinated with the opportunities contained in the cross-disciplinary analysis of names and kinship terms (and pronouns, for this matter). The boundary between kin terms, pronouns, names and natural kind terms can easily blur. Consider a few examples:

1. My dad is coming.

2. Yesterday I became a dad.

3. Dad, when are you coming?

4. (Mother to son) Go, talk to dad about it.

The same form dad assumes four different grammatical functions: in [1] dad is a kin term, in [2] dad is a natural kind term, in [3] dad is a vocative form of dad in [1] and as such it is like a pronoun, and in [4] dad is a personal name or a private, family-only nickname.

When Errol Morris tries to define what is special about names he writes,

“It is interesting that the word “of” is used in portrait photography and proper names. We speak of a photographic portrait and a proper name being of someone.”

This of-ness of names is, for him, the indicator of rigid designation. But, as any specialist in kinship studies could tell Morris, kin terms are rarely, if ever used in abstract, so that a father is always the father of someone. (Just like boss is always someone’s boss.) Just as names, according to Kripke, originate in the act of baptism, kin terms originate in the event of birth (or re-birth, as some cultures holding reincarnation beliefs would have it), marriage, death or adoption. A refrigerator magnet in my mother-in-law’s house reads “When a child is born, so is the grandmother.” Of course, there’s a pool of kin terms from which individual kin terms are drawn, just like there’s a pool of personal names from which parents select a name for their child, but they are activated as a result of a life-cycle event.

By virtue of their relational property, kin terms are called “relational nouns.” If they are used in abstract, they switch their grammatical function to become a natural kind term, as in example [2] above. Around the time when the great British philosopher John Stuart Mill quoted by Morris discussed names in “A System of Logic: Ratiocinative and Inductive” (1843), the British logician Augustus De Morgan came to realize that kin terms are relational nouns (see “The Genius of Kinship,” p. 23ff). One of the founders of semiotics, the American philosopher Charles Peirce, developed De Morgan’s insight into the well-known classification of signs into icons, indexes and symbols. About a kin term he writes (Peirce, Charles S. “The logic of relatives,” in Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, 1933, Vol. 3, 459),

“A relative is just that, an icon, or image, without attachments to experience, without ‘a local habitation and a name,’ but with indication of the need of such attachments.”

It’s important to note that Peirce likened a kin term to an icon in the same way as Errol Morris likened a name to a photograph. The difference between a photograph and an icon (in the original sense of the icon) is that a photograph captures the appearance, while a (religious) icon captures the essence. (This may not be a true difference but rather an artifact of the specific term usage by Peirce, though.) Kin terms define one person by referring to another person: X is the father of Y. One person is defined in multiple ways depending on his relationship to other people: X is the son of Y, the father of Z, the uncle of A, etc. Every kin term has at least one other kin term as its direct reciprocal: X is the son of Y, Y is the father of Z. Kin terms are used by everyone in society but it’s only a small group of people that know which specific individuals are addressed by those terms by other individuals. Personal names are usually bestowed on a person by his close relatives (including adoptive parents), often they are recycled names of more distant/deceased relatives, but they can become very widely known outside their bearers’ immediate circle. People may be known all over the world by their names, but the people whom they call “father” and “mother” most of the time remain obscure.

It’s likely that kin terms and names are so closely related semiotically that one cannot tease them apart by invoking rigid designation, similarity, photographic imagery or the act of baptism. They break the terminological conventions and disciplinary silos established in analytical philosophy, logic and linguistics and require a conceptual apparatus of their own.

Russian Kinship Thesaurus: I

May 1st, 2012

In “Sukhodol” (1911), Ivan Bunin documents a saying “a wolf is no affine to a horse” (volk koniu ne svojstvennik) (Bunin I. A. Derevnia. Moscow, 1981, p. 171).

I personally have never heard this expression but recall a similar one “A horseman is no partner to a person on foot” (konnyj peshemu ne tovarisch). It’s likely that “affine” is an early symbol of contractual obligations superseded during the Soviet times by a new label generalized social contract – tovarisch “partner, comrade.”

Kinship Systems Shaped by Vertical Transmission, not Environment

April 24th, 2012

One of the fundamental premises my book “The Genius of Kinship” is that human kinship systems and their linguistic expressions, kinship terminologies, are largely unacknowledged sources of insight into human prehistory and direct partners to historical linguistics and population genetics in the task of unraveling the enigma of modern human origins and dispersals. The following quote from an evolutionary anthropologist, Barry Hewlett, reinforces the same point:

“We are conducting further studies to evaluate the coevolution of genes, culture, and language in Africa and the Americas, and preliminary data suggest that kinship and family beliefs and practices tend to be conserved along with genes. In other words, aspects of kinship and family tend to be highly conserved, similar to genes, and their distribution across the landscape does not appear to be linked to adaptations to particular natural environments…The data imply that the current distribution of kinship and family patterns is due to demic diffusion and conservative cultural transmission. This is supported by a nonevolutionary study of kinship by Burton et al. (1996) where he uses a sophisticated analysis of kinship and family patterns to describe culture areas. His kinship culture areas fit very nicely with the world’s language and genetic distance trees (Jones 1999). He systematically generates two key dimensions of variability in family in kinship – a matricentric-patricentric continuum and a bilateral-unilineal continuum. For instance, Africa is strongly unilineal, but relatively egalitarian on the gender dimension, whereas the middle Old World (North Africa, the Middle East, South and Central Asia and most of China) is unilineal but patricentric. The distrubution of the various culture areas of kinship are linked to the movements and expansions of dominant peoples (e.g., demic diffusion and vertical transmission) throughout history (e.g., Bantu expansion)” (Hewlett, Barry S. “Neoevolutionary Perspectives on Human Kinship,” in New Directions in Anthropological Kinship, edited by Linda Stone. Lanham, 2001, p. 105).

It has taken evolutionary anthropologists 150 years to come around to the notion pioneered by the young Lewis H. Morgan that human kinship systems reflect what we might call these days “populational processes,” rather than abstract evolutionary stages. The Morgan of the “Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family” (1871) is very different from the Morgan of “Ancient Society” (1877) because of his new strong focus on those stages, rather than on geographically localized and demically conditioned types of kinship systems (the very name “Turano-Ganowanian” in the “Systems” was supposed to relate Tamil and Iroquois kinship systems into a tangible historical unity derived from the hypothesis of a migration of the ancestors of American Indians from Asia to the New World). While in those concrete specifics Morgan was wrong, the overall classification of kinship systems into “classificatory” and “descriptive” remains valid and finds parallels outside of kinship studies.

Gender Neutralization in Kinship Terms: Putting the Swedish Experiment in Perspective

April 13th, 2012

Sweden is going through another “sexual revolution.” Traditional gender roles and stereotypes have been so thoroughly challenged in all spheres of life (politics, labor laws, advertising, clothing, sports – you name it) that time has come for change the lexicon and the grammar of the Swedish language.








The linguistic devices that are affected by a societal shift to gender-neutrality are personal names, pronouns and, potentially, kinship terms. There are currently 170 legally recognized unisex names in Sweden. Swedish parents are increasingly likely to give a girl a traditional boy’s name and a boy a traditional girl’s name. The online version of the country’s National Encyclopedia now contains a new pronoun hen defined as a gender-neutral personal pronoun instead of han ‘he’ and hon ‘she’. It’s kinship terms’ turn now and a male writer, Jasper Lundqvist, is publishing a gender neutral book for children (see above) called “Kivi och monsterhund” (Kivi and monster dog). This book is full of neologisms such as mappor, pammor (instead of gender-specific mammor ‘mothers’ and pappor ‘fathers’), morbroster (from morbror ‘uncle, mother’s brother’ and moster ‘aunt, mother’s sister’) and bröstrar (from bröder ‘brothers’, and systrar ‘sisters’).

Time will show how sticky these new kinship terms, personals names and the pronoun hen are, but, in at least two ways, these changes are systematic.

First, there’s a tendency for kinship terms and personal names to develop similar gender marking. In Spanish, gender-specific affixes affect both kinship terms and personal names in a patterned fashion (comp. Mario/Maria and hermano ‘brother’/hermana ‘sister’).

Second, many Swedish kinship terms are already highly compounded, descriptive and artificial, being juxtapositions of simple kinship terms (e.g., farbror ‘father’s brother’, morbror ‘mother’s brother’). The portmanteau formations such as mappor don’t seem to come out of the blue in a pure response to sociopolitical forces related to gender; rather they could qualify as changes originating in the internal structure of the kinship terminology or at least as changes heavily constrained by it.

Third, kinship terminologies show a global trend toward progressive expulsion of Ego Gender and Speaker Gender (see The Genius of Kinship). This can clearly be seen in sibling terminologies where the progressive removal of Ego Gender and Relative Age results in the dramatic simplification of sibling sets (Swedish systar and broder, just like their cognates in other Indo-European languages, are already heavily simplified sets). If we look at the opposite pole of terminological elaboration of sibling sets (and concomitantly at the geographically opposite side of the globe from Sweden), we find that societies differentiating their siblings in linguistically complex ways also exhibit a similar concern with gender segregation in siblings’ roles, outward appearance and behaviors. As reported by Garcilaso de la Vega (Royal Commentaries of the Incas. Austin and London, 1966, 4, 2, 211) about the colonial Incas, boys and girls were supposed to strictly adhere to the proper usage of kinship terms marked by Ego Gender, otherwise boys would become girls and girls would become boys.

While a Swedish toy catalog (see above, left) is experimenting with showing a boy pushing a pink stroller to appeal to gender-neutral parents, the Incas of colonial times were busy enforcing the opposite – the strict segregation of gender outfits and behaviors through language from an early age. The two behaviors are apparently associated or consistent with two radically different ways of manifesting gender in kinship terms because saying is being.

It’s possible that the reason why gender dynamics in society correlate so intricately with gender indexing in kinship terms, pronouns and personal names is because it’s precisely in these classes of language items that ontology impinges upon language.

Via Slate and Transparent Language.

Kinship Terms and Naming Taboos: Oroch

April 13th, 2012

Among the Altaic-speaking Oroch (Orochi) in eastern Siberia, personal names are subject to various pragmatic restrictions. Personal names can’t be duplicated or pronounced loudly, and they shouldn’t be used when cursing somebody or an evil spirit would harm the name-bearer. Kinship terms are not subject to any taboos and can be used freely. Parents can use personal names to address their children but even in this case there is a special set of birth-order terms to refer to children that’s used alongside names.

Source: Startsev A. F. “Nomenklatura rodstva,” in Istoriia i kultura orochei. St. Petersburg, 2001, p. 28 (in Russian).

It appears that cross-linguistically kinship terms, unlike personal names, are not subject to speech taboos. It’s also noteworthy that, by being taboo-free, kinship terms function as substitutes for personal names and, as such, approach the function of pronouns (Russian mestoimenie, lit. ‘name substitute’). The difference between kinship terms as name substitutes and pronouns is that kinship terms index deictically not the Speaker (vocative terms do), but the Name-Bearer.

Generational Reversal in Names and Kinship Terms

April 10th, 2012

Lucy Mair in “Marriage and Family in the Dedza District of Nyasaland,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 81 (1-2), 1951, (p. 103) reports on the pragmatic functioning of descent names among Bantu-speaking Ngoni and Cewa.

Not only are they used vocatively, as one would expect, in the respect register but also, conversely, in playful address to small children. Typically, cross-linguistically, older and younger relatives are treated differently: older relatives are addressed using respectful forms, while younger children are addressed using familiar forms. For instance, children can often be addressed by their personal names, while they in turn must use kinship terms when addressing adults. But there’s a known property to kinship terms whereby in some cultures (Arabic, Georgian, Hopi, see The Genius of Kinship, pp. 156-157, for a more complete roster) adults and children within the same family reverse their normative kinship terms in direct address to each other, so that a child becomes “father,” “mother,” “grandfather,” “grandmother,” “uncle,” or “aunt” to a corresponding adult, and the other way around. It seems that among the Ngoni the use of a descent name in playful interactions with children belongs to the same category of pragmatic phenomena. It may function as an educational device, so that children learn descent names from an early age, or as a restricted relaxation of verbal prescription and taboos in specialized playful contexts.

Kinship and Naming: A Note about Warao

April 4th, 2012

In his doctoral dissertation (The Warao: A Study in Microevolution.  University of California – Los Angeles, available online from HRAF), Mark Fleischman (pp. 65-66) reports on the centrality of kinship terms among the Warao:


“In small village groupings ego is unlikely to have much contact with very distant relatives. The social interdigitation of people living closely with one another would lead naturally to a greater complexity of terminology for people within the group. This specificity of kinship terminology within a small village group would negate any need for proper names for individuals, since, in most instances, the kinship term used by ego would show which individual he is addressing or talking about. Knowledge on the part of the others of all of ego’s relatives is necessary under these circumstances. Such information would be difficult to maintain in large living groups, or in groups where people are distantly, if at all, related. The Warao conform to the above expectations, and prior to missionary contact placed little importance on proper names.”


One of the key features of personal names is their referential precision. They are capable of referring to one individual and one individual only. The important point in the Warao quote above is that in small populations kinship terms possess greater specificity over personal names. It’s also noteworthy that Fleischman identifies the reason for why small populations often exhibit unusual complexity of their kinship categories and why complexity is not always of recent origin. This is the point I made in “The Genius of Kinship” when I postulated that Murdock’s “Complexly Differentiated Sibling Type” represents an evolutionary archaism and not a recent development. In a situation when other linguistic domains, such as personal names, numbers or pronouns, may be suppressed and underdifferentiated because of the lack of a strong functional need for these classifications, kinship terminological systems acquire a greater prominence as they take over some of the functions of those other linguistic domains.

Kinship and Naming: The Semantics of a Russian Address Form Usage

April 2nd, 2012

The issue of kinship terms and personal names has had a patchy coverage in anthropological, linguistic and philosophical literature. I’ve been always curious about the semiotic relationship between the two, but has never had a chance to tackle it in-depth. In Ivan Bunin‘s “Village” (Bunin I.A. Derevnia. Moscow, 1981, 61) there’s an interesting social explanation of why one of the peasants, Yakov, was called by his fellow villagers, Yakov Mikitich. Mikitich is a patronymic referring to Yakov’s father’s name Mikita. As a general rule, the Russian naming tradition requires a patronymic to be spontaneously (i.e., without any special ceremony) added to the first name of the person as the person becomes older. A person grows into his patronymic. A patronymic is one of the last stages in the hierarchy of Russian naming forms, from the soft diminutive applied to little kids and beloved family members (e.g., Yashen’ka), to the standard diminutive applied to older kids, adolescents and peers outside the family (Yasha), to the full first name applied to peers and young adults outside of the family (Yakov), to the first name plus patronymic combination applied to older people outside of the family (Yakov Mikitich) to, finally, the full first name plus patronymic plus family name applied to an individual in formal bureaucratic contexts. The exact age at which a patronymic is added varies by social context. In this case, however, Yakov was called Yakov Mikitich because he was “‘rich’ and greedy” (bogat i zhaden). Bunin puts ‘rich’ in quotation marks because Yakov was rich only by the standards of rural poverty, but the fact remains that he stood out as being well-off as compared to his peers.

The name phrase “Yakov Mikitich” does not “mean” “rich and greedy” in the same way as “cow,” say, means “a full grown female animal of a domesticated breed of ox.” But the fact that the referent is “rich and greedy” is the reason for the shift from “Yakov” to “Yakov Mikitich.” It seems that the “Yakov Mikitich” usage deviates from Saul Kripke’s “rigid designator” description of personal names, as it does connote certain socially recognizable properties of the referent that make him different from other villagers of the same age referred to by their first names only. However, it does conform to analytical philosophers’ general understanding of personal names as rooted in the act of baptism: once the name is bestowed, it becomes valid in all possible worlds. It’s just that personal names, just like kinship terms, can have several baptismals acts during the lifetime of the referent making them into indexical, deitic forms. At the same time, they are different from such deictic forms as personal pronouns because they shift not with every single speech act, but with every significant event in a referent’s life, and not with every speaker, but with every social role that the referent assumes. The semantics of personal names and kinship terms are, therefore, paced up differently.

Kinship Relations and the Russian National Character

April 2nd, 2012

Reading “Village” by Ivan Bunin (1870-1953), I came across a remarkable passage. Voiced by a provincial anti-Slavophile, Kuzma Krasov, it uses relations between kin and affines to illustrate the peculiarities of the Russian national character. Kuzma Krasov thinks Russians are a “wild nation” exceeding others in brutality. His great-grandfather, a Gypsy, was mauled by his master’s hunting dogs for having eloped with his master’s paramour. Kuzma Krasov cites (Bunin I.A. Derevnia. Moscow, 1981, 72) passages from Russian epics (byliny), Russian village lore (songs and sayings) and various historical writings to show how relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers- and sisters-in-laws, parents-in-law and daughters-in-law were fraught with perfidy, backbiting, mud-slinging and direct violence.

In the discourse of Slavophiles, on the other hand, the same Russian village kinship relations were used as an argument for the purity of the Russian soul serving as an antithesis and a potential savior of the Western civilization. In both cases, kinship is treated as the central locus defining the meaning of an ethnic character (comp. the use of Indo-European kinship terms as proving the kinship of Indo-European languages among such Neo-Grammarians as the Grimm brothers), but its interpretation by Slavophiles vs. Westernizers is diametrically different. In one of my papers published in Russian, I argued for a close connection between kinship and ethnicity. This stands unchanged. But it’s important to think about both not as the celebration of sameness, homogeneity and amity, but equally as schismogenic (Pace Gregory Bateson) social structures capable of manifesting themselves as social conflicts.

Kartvelian Sibling Terms

March 30th, 2012

In The Genius of Kinship, 278-279, I described a type 8 sibling set among the Svan, the most divergent language of the Kartvelian family. At the time of the writing of the book, I was not aware of Klimov’s Etymological Dictionary of the Kartvelian Languages (Berlin, 1998). Regarding Svan udil ‘woman’s sister’, Klimov (p. 36) confirms that it must be the earliest meaning simplified in other branches of Kartvelian to mean ‘sister’.

This supports the global trend toward simplification by the deletion of semantic distinctions, as widely observed in sibling sets.

Indo-European KInship Terms: A Discussion with P.A.Kerkhof

March 30th, 2012

More than a year ago I had a productive discussion regarding Indo-European kinship terms with P. A. Kerkhof (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) at Wanana sculon Francon.

Burushaski and North Caucasian Sibling Terms

March 30th, 2012

Bengston & Blažek defend the Dene-Caucasian hypothesis against the recent claim by I. Cašule that Burushaski is related to Indo-European. As part of their defense, they suggest (p. 55) etymological links between Burushaski and North Caucasian sibling terms.

Burushaski has a version of a typologically rare sibling type 8 (see Dziebel, The Genius of Kinship, 290). North Caucasian languages have type E, with the same underlying root for both brother and sister, which is two mutational steps down from type 8. The Burushaski term for ‘brother of male’ and ‘sister of female’ fits well with the North Caucasian root underlying the brother and sister terms. Bengston & Blažek see the same root behind one of Basque sibling terms and the only term for ‘sibling’ in Ket. The Dene-Caucasian hypothesis has not been well-received by the mainstream academic establishment, but it’s infinitely more robust than the Casule proposal. In light of the rarity of type 8 globally, it’s noteworthy, as I pointed out in The Genius of Kinship, that Basque, another member of the putative Dene-Caucasian stock, shares sibling type 8 with Burushaski. The reduction from type 8 to type E (North Caucasian) or A (Ket) is consistent with the global phylogeny of sibling sets.


Bengston, John D., and Václav Blažek. 2011. On the Burushaski-Indo-European Hypothesis by I. Cašule. Journal of Language Relationship 6: 25-63.

Grammatical Marking of Relative Age in Yakima Kinship Terms

March 30th, 2012

Joana Jansen, in her Ph.D. dissertation “A Grammar of Yakima Ichshkin/Sahaptin” (University of Oregon, 2010, p. 152) reports that in Yakima, possessive forms of kin terms take different grammatical modifiers depending on whether the designated relative belongs to an older generation or to a younger/same generation as Ego.

The grammatization of the older-younger distinction in kin terms is also recorded in another Sahaptin language, Umatilla.

No grammatical encoding of Speaker Gender is reported, although Yakima has different referential terms for younger siblings of a man and younger siblings of a woman.

The Genius of Kinship blog

April 18th, 2009

Welcome to the Genius of Kinship blog!

In the past additions to a book had to await a new edition. These days authors can blog to update the readers on the ways in which more recent research confirmed or disproved the observations, hypotheses or theories advanced in their books.

New research pertaining to the issues raised in The Genius of Kinship emerges every day. Old research is also becoming increasingly available thanks to the new information-processing and information-sharing capabilities offered by software and the Internet. I will try to update my readers on the new findings in kinship studies, linguistics, genetics, ethnology or physical anthropology, which seem relevant to the themes discussed in the book. Sometimes it’ll be nitty-gritty factoids, sometimes full-fledged studies.