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Structure and Dynamics

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  • Author(s): Matthey de l'Etang, Alain
  • et al.

Here I report on Dwight Read’s theory for a paradigm change in kinship anthropology which entails kinship terminologies being interpreted as symbolic computational systems based on kin-term products. I also report on how Read argues that different conceptualizations of sibling, either sibling resulting by descent from parent, or sibling viewed in terms of shared parentage, two cultural conceptions that are rendered – here exemplifying the masculine side – by the kin-term products, S o F = B [son of fatherbrother] or F o B = F [father of brotherfather), lead to respectively building up a descriptive or a classificatory terminology. The chapter also deals with how Dwight Read accounts for the relationship between genealogical tracing and the working out of kin terms using kin-term products and how the logic of kin-term products is consistent with the extension of kin terms to kin-type categories beyond the primary ones.

The paper also reports on a discussion between Dwight Read and the author, initiated by questions and observations from the latter, regarding different aspects of Read’s reasoning. Not exhaustively, to be mentioned here is the way kin relationships are concretely worked out using kin-term products, the model of the family space and the nuclear family, group marriage,  how the conceptualization of sibling in terms of shared parentage expressed through the kin-term product F BF [fatherbrotherfather] relates to ethnographic data, the nature of the logic of kinship terminologies, the status of the structural equation S o F = B [sonfatherbrother] when used within the context of a classificatory terminology, the axiomatic nature of a number of kin-term products pertaining to specific kin terminologies, the equations pertaining to classificatory kinship terminologies that are  likely to algebraically reduce chains of kin-terms products, mapped from corresponding kin type strings, like “son of son of father of father of father” (S o S o F o F o F) is mapped from the collateral genealogical relations, father’s father’s father’s son’s son (fffss or fffbss) to an irreducible kin term, here father, which is the one native speakers use for the said genealogical connection.

The discussion also addresses, taking the example of ancient Chinese dialects, the question of what should be the structural prerequisites for a transition from classificatory (Dravidian) terminologies into bifurcate collateral and descriptive terminologies, a transition that is often posited by a number of linguists and anthropologists. Finally, the discussion deals with the question as to whether the kinship terminologies of the world all ultimately derive from a pre-dispersal African Proto-Sapiens kinship terminology. Throughout these lines of discussion, the central question is raised as to why different cultural choices on how siblings are conceptualized were made that led to different human kinship terminologies and social structures.

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