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Open Access Publications from the University of California

KAES: An Expert System for the Algebraic Analysis of Kinship Terminologies

  • Author(s): Read, Dwight W
  • Behrens, Cliff
  • et al.

In this paper we discuss a new algebraic approach for analyzing kin terminology structure and describe a computer-based system being created to assist researchers in implementing the algebraic approach. A key aspect of our algebraic analysis is a shift away from a genealogical orientation to one of viewing a kinship terminology as a structured, culturally defined conceptual system. The basic idea is that a kinship terminology can be viewed as a structure consisting of a set of symbols (kin terms) interconnected through a binary product (of kin terms) subject to certain structure defining equations. Because algebraic modeling uses a language unfamiliar to many anthropologists, we are developing a computer program, KAES, based on (1) the expertise marshaled by a mathematical anthropologist when deriving algebraic solutions, and (2) the knowledge used by a cultural anthropologist for relating kin terms as part of a logical system. The program KAES will provide the user with the capacity to creatively work with abstract algebras as a means both to model the logic of, and to compare, kinship terminology structures. Examples of models produced through the KAES program are discussed, along with their theoretical implications.

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