Archive for the ‘Affinity’ Category

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

Monday, 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.

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

Saturday, 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.

Russian Kinship Thesaurus: I

Tuesday, 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.”