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Structure and Dynamics

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Persistent Cultures: Miskitu Kinship Terminological Fluidity


Kinship is understood dynamically and processually but kinship terminologies are remarkably stable idea systems. They provide cultural continuity over time and are more resistant to modification than many types of cultural instantiations. Miskitu speakers in Nicaragua, however, have adopted new kin terms that appear to have fundamentally changed the idea system used to generate their kin terms historically. The shape of the changes that have occurred in Miskitu kin terminologies over time are the result of powerful economic, political and social forces introduced, in part, as a consequence of the geography of Mosquito Coast economies, migrations and political processes. We argue that the current use of kin terms is atypically hybrid and is not the result of a single, algebraically derivable idea system. Rather than negating the validity of mathematical approaches to kinship terminologies, the case of Miskitu kinship terminology suggests that core idea systems, although subject to change over time, move between informationally economical forms adapted to socioeconomic changes.

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