Posts Tagged ‘sibling terminology’

Dene-Caucasian Kinship and Dene-Caucasian Kinship Terms

Friday, June 26th, 2015

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

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

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

Bengtson & Starostin go on to write:

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

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

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

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

KinshipStudies-AthabascanHoijer copy


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

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

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

KinshipStudies-AthabascanHoijerFZ copy

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


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



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.

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

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

Friday, April 13th, 2012

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








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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Via Slate and Transparent Language.

Kartvelian Sibling Terms

Friday, March 30th, 2012

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

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

Burushaski and North Caucasian Sibling Terms

Friday, March 30th, 2012

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

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


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