Posts Tagged ‘kinship’

Victor Golla on Proto-Athabascan Grandparental Terminology and Apachean Conservatism

Monday, 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Golla sent me an e-mail (cc-ing Jack Ives, Michael Krauss, Johanna Nichols and James Kari) in which he attached a short unpublished manuscript “Where Does Navajo náli Come From?”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

Saturday, 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

Saturday, 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.


Allen, Nick J. 1975. Byansi Kinship Terminology: A Study in Symmetry. Man 10 (1): 80-94.

Allen, Nick J., H. Callan, R. Dunbar and W. James (eds.). 2008. Early Human Kinship. Oxford: Blackwell.

Barnard, Alan. 2012. Genesis of Symbolic Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Benedict, Paul. 1941. Kinship in Southeastern Asia. Ph.D. dissertation. Harvard University.

Cook,  Edwin A., and Denise O’Brien. 1980. Patterns in Highland New Guinea Kinship: An Overview. In Blood and Semen: Kinship Systems of Highland New Guinea, edited by Edwin A. Cook and Denise O’Brien. Pp. 463-474. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Dahl, Östen, and Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm. 2001. Kinship in Grammar. In Dimensions of Possession, edited by Irène Baron, Michael Herslund and Finn Sørensen. Pp. 201-225. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Dousset, Laurent. 2013. From Consanguinity to Consubstantiality: Julian Pitt-Rivers’ ‘The Kith and the Kin’. Structure and Dynamics 6 (1).

Driberg, Jack H. 1923. The Lango, a Nilotic Tribe of Uganda. London: T.F. Unwin.

Dutta, Parul. 1959. The Tangsas of the Namchik and Tirap Valleys. Shillong: North-East Frontier Agency.

Dziebel, G. V. 1992. Sistemy terminov rodstva shoshovov. B.A. thesis. St. Petersburg State University.

Dziebel, G. V. 2000a. K teorii i metodologii ideneticheskoi rekonstruktsii protosistem terminov rodstva. Algebra rodstva 5: 5-52.

Dziebel, G. V. 2000b. Teoriia i praktika v sravnitel’noistoricheskikh issledovaniiakh. Algebra rodstva 5: 98-188.

Dziebel, G. V. 2001a. Esche raz o idenetike, sravnitel’noistoricheskom iazykoznanii i indoevropejskikh terminakh rodstva. Algebra rodstva 7: 66-136.

Dziebel, G. V. 2001b. Fenomen rodstva. St.Petersburg. (Algebra rodstva 6.)

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.” Algebra rodstva 10.

Dziebel, G. V. 2007. The Genius of Kinship: The Phenomenon of Human Kinship and the Global Diversity of Kinship Terminologies. Youngstown, NY: Cambria Press.

Ehret, Chris. 2008. Reconstructing Ancient Kinship in Africa. In Early Human Kinship: From Sex to Social Reproduction, edited by Nicholas J. Allen, Hilary Callan, Robin Dunbar and Wendy James. Oxford: Blackwell.

Fienup-Riordan, A. 1983. The Nelson Island Eskimo: Social Structure and Ritual Distribution. Anchorage: Alaska Pacific University Press.

Friedrich, Paul. 1966. Proto-Indo-European Kinship. Ethnology 5 (1): 1-36.

Hage, Per. 2001. The Evolution of Dravidian Kinship Systems in Oceania: Linguistic Evidence. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 7 (3): 487-508.

Hage, Per. 2003. On the Reconstruction of the Proto-Nostratic Kinship System. Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 128 (2): 311-325.

Hage, Per. 2006. Dravidian Kinship Systems in Africa. L’Homme 177-178: 395-407.

Hettrich, Heinrich. 1985. Indo-European Kinship Terminology in Linguistics and Anthropology. Anthropological Linguistics 27 (4): 453-480.

Huld, Martin E. 1984. Basic Albanian Etymologies. Columbus, OH: Slavica Publishers.

James, Wendy R. 1979. Kwanim Pa: The Making of the Uduk People. An Ethnographic Study of Survival in the Sudan-Ethiopian Borderlands. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Kelkar, Ashok R. 1968. Boro Kinship Terms. In Studies in Indian Linguistics. Professor M. B. Emeneau Sastip?rti Volume, edited by Bhadriradju Krishnamurti. Pp. 166-178. Annamalainagar: Deccan College, Poona University and Annamalai University, Centers of Advanced Study in Linguistics.

Koch, Harold J. 1982. Kinship Categories in Kaytej Pronouns. In Languages of Kinship in Aboriginal Australia, edited by Jeffery Heath, Francesca Merlan and Alan Rumsey. Pp. 64-71. Sydney: University of Sydney.

Kryukov, M. V. Sotsial’noe i etnicheskoe: problemy sootnosheniia. Rasy i narody. 1992. Moscow, 1993.

Kryukov, M. V. 1998. The Synchro-Diachronic Method and the Multidirectionality of Kinship Transformations. In Transformations of Kinship. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Kullanda, Sergey. 2002. Indo-European “Kinship Terms” Revisited. Current Anthropology 43 (1): 89-111.

Lowie, Robert H. 1917. Notes on the Social Organization and Customs of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Crow Indians. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 21 (pt. 1): 1-99.

Luong, Hy V. 1990. Discursive Practices and Linguistic Meanings: The Vietnamese System of Personal Reference. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Jørgensen, Stine L. 2011. Ethnographic Reflections on Marriage in Mursi: A Group of Transhumant Agro-Pastoralists in Southwestern Ethiopia. M.A. thesis. Oslo: Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Faculty of Social Sciences and Technology Management, Department of Social Anthropology.

McConvell, Patrick. 2009. Omaha Skewing in Australia and New Guinea: Overlays, Dynamism and Change. Manuscript.

Mallory, James P., and Douglas Q. Adams. 1997. Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. London: Taylor & Francis.

Mallory, James P., and Douglas Q. Adams. 2006. Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Marshall, Lorna. 1957. The Kin Terminology System of the !Kung Bushmen. Africa 27 (1): 1-25.

Moore, Henrietta L. 1986. Space, Text and Gender: An Anthropological Study of the Marakwet of Kenya. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Needham, Rodney. 1987. Editor’s Introduction. In Imagination and Proof: Selected Essays of A. M. Hocart. Pp. 1–14. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Parkin, Robert. 1988. Reincarnation and Alternate Generation Equivalence in Middle India. Journal of Anthropological Research 44 (1): 1-19.

Popov, V. A. 1977. K istoricheskoi tipologii sistem terminov rodstva: tipy Crow i Omaha. Sovetskaia etnografiia 2: 43-54.

Popov, V. A. 1982. Sistemy terminov rodstva akanov kak etnosotsiologicheskii istochnik. Afrikanskii etnograficheskii sbornik Vol. 13.

Sahlins, Marshall D. 2011. What Kinship Is. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17 (1): 2-19; (2): 227-242.

Seligman, C. G., and Brenda. Z. Seligman. 1928. The Bari. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 58: 409-479.

Seligman, C. G., and Brenda Z. Seligman. 1965. Pagan Tribes of the Nilotic Sudan. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Shimkin, Demitry B. 1941. The Uto-Aztecan System of Kinship Terminology. American Anthropologist 43 (2, pt. 1): 223-245.

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

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.

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

Friday, 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.

From Complex to Simple: The Evolution of Tupi Sibling Terminologies

Tuesday, 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

Saturday, 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

Tuesday, 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.

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.”