Kinship terminology

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Under kinship terminology is generally understood the terminology used to describe relationships .

The investigation of different kinship terminologies has long been the central research field of ethnosociology . The focus of the investigation is how people in certain family relationships are either named differently or summarized with a designation ( term ) (example from German: "Uncle" can be the brother of the mother or the father, but also the husband of a sister of one of the parents while “daughter” is only used for one type of relationship).

Important representatives of the research direction are, for example, Carl August Schmitz , George P. Murdock , Lewis Henry Morgan and Robert Lowie . Roughly two different approaches can be distinguished in research: One approaches the individual terms themselves, the other is dedicated to the social systems of categorizing relatives into certain groups based on their naming.

Investigation of a term

A single kinship term contains three broad levels of reference:

  • Type of use
  • linguistic structure
  • genealogical range

Use of the terms

A distinction is made here between address terms and reference terms.

Reference terms are used to talk about someone who is not there. Address terms are used to address a person directly. This category also includes nicknames and all other forms of addressing people directly, which means that the range of address terms can be significantly greater than that of the reference terms. Address and reference terms can be completely or partially identical, but they can also be completely different.

Differences can arise, for example, from the fact that avoidance taboos oblige people to never use certain expressions when addressing a higher person. This gives address terms a good insight into social structures and the hierarchy.

The degree of relationship that is used in a salutation does not have to correspond to the biological type of relationship. People who are personally close are often acknowledged with terms of close relationship.

Linguistic structure

The investigation of kinship terms based on their linguistic structure goes back to Carl August Schmitz , who differentiates between three different types of terms:

  • Elementary terms : These cannot be further reduced and consist of only one word. Elementary terms are therefore father, sister, uncle ...
  • Derived terms : These are formed from an elementary term + adjective: Examples of the German language are mother-in-law, grandfather ...
  • Descriptive terms : They describe the relationship very precisely by stringing together elementary terms. An example would be the ethnosociological term father mother for the paternal grandmother (compare for example Swedish farmor from far “father” and mor “mother”), or in Turkish the differentiation between amcamın oğlu (“son of my uncle on my father's side”), halamın oğlu (“son my aunt on my father's side "), dayımın oğlu (" son of my uncle on my mother's side ") or teyzemin oğlu (" son of my aunt on my mother's side "), for which only a collective term (" cousin "or" cousin ") is available in German today.

Genealogical reach

A distinction is made here between denotative and classificatory terms.

Denotative terms are used for only one type of relationship. There are eight such terms in German: father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, husband and wife.

All other terms are classificatory: Our term “grandmother” includes the father mother and mother mother. An aunt can be the sister of the father or mother or the wife of the brother of one of the parents.

Criteria according to which one can further differentiate classificatory terms are whether one term summarizes relatives in only one generation or in different generations, or ignoring the sex of relatives (compare "siblings"), and not distinguishing between consanguinity and marital relationship (such as uncle) or collaterality and linearity .

Relationship Terminological Systems and Criteria

The basic principle of research into kinship terminological systems is that certain close relatives (usually the parents and their siblings) are classified differently in the world and that these terminological differences can be divided into categories.

The first to discover that there are different systems for naming relatives on earth was the missionary and ethnographer Joseph François Lafiteau , who at the end of the 18th century came to the conclusion that the Iroquois use a different system than the Europeans .

Morgan systems

Lewis Henry Morgan made this discovery again in the 19th century. The evolutionist Morgan is considered to be the founder of kinship research, as as a result of this discovery he began to compare different systems and systematize the data.

He roughly divided the various systems into descriptive and classificatory systems. He described systems as descriptive in which a distinction is made between collaterality and linearity, so the systems in which terminological terms such as “mother” and “mother sister” are not differentiated are classified.

As an evolutionist, he saw civilized societies in descriptive systems, while for him classifying societies were primitive. However, he already recognized that kinship terms are older than the social system. Therefore, for him they were a look back into the history of the respective society and its structure.

Classification scheme according to Lowie

Robert Lowie created a scheme with four main systems, each with a different naming scheme for the parents' siblings:

Ruler system
Distinguishes between linear and collateral relatives: There is a term for “mother”, “father”, “uncle” and “aunt”. This system, which the German language also follows, is what George P. Murdock calls the Eskimo type .
Generational system
All men or women within a generation are referred to with the same term, there is no distinction between linear and collateral relatives: All men or women of the parent generation are given the same name (there is a common term for uncle and father or mother and aunts). This system corresponds to Morgan's classification scheme or Murdock's Hawaiian type.
Bifurcate merging
The parents and their relatives of the same sex have the same term, for example the brother of the father is referred to as the father. A separate term is used for cross-related uncles and aunts (father sisters and mother brothers). This group was further differentiated by Murdock.
Bifurcate collateral
Separate terms for mother, mother sister and father sister, analogous to male relatives. Corresponds to the Sudan type of Murdock.

Murdock classification scheme

In contrast to Lowie, George P. Murdock names his kinship terminological systems not after their structure, but after a society that follows this scheme.

Murdock draws on both the first rising generation and the ego generation to differentiate . Three of his six systems correspond to the systems that Lowie developed. The bifurcate merging but he divided into three systems:

Eskimo type
This type corresponds to Lowie's linear system. While the English system does not differentiate the collateral relatives of the ego generation according to gender ("cousin"), in German this differentiation is made (cousin or base). This system can also be found in the western world. B. with the Eskimo .
Hawaii typus
Corresponds to Lowie's generational system.
Sudan type
Corresponds to Lowie's bifurcate collateral . There are just as many terms for the eight different base or cousin relationships. The Sudan type is the rarest of all.

Iroquoi, Crow and Omaha types are included in Lowie's bifurcate merging . All three systems name parallel aunts and uncles like father and mother; their sons and daughters also have a common term for each gender. The distinction is made on the basis of the cross cousins ​​and cousins.

Iroquo type
same term for mother's brother's son / daughter and father's sister's son / daughter

With the crow and granny types, generations are inclined. A term can appear in different generations. For both types, the gender of the speaker is also decisive, shown here from a male point of view:

The term "father (brother)" or "father sister" is also used for the children of the father sisters; a male ego uses the same term for matrilateral cross cousins ​​as for his children.
Schematic representation of the Omaha type
Grandma type
Mother brother children are referred to as the mother (sister) or a mother brother. Patrilateral cross cousins ​​are referred to as nephews and nieces.

Use in 597 societies studied in Marvin Harris' Ethnographic Atlas

  • 251 the Hawaii system
  • 166 the Iroquo system
  • 102 a Crow / Omaha system
  • 71 the Eskimo system
  • only 7 of the Sudan type.

Dravidian kinship terminological system

As the seventh system alongside the six described by Murdock, Louis Dumont discovered a Dravidian type in 1953, which was finally identified as independent by Floyd Lounsbury in 1964 - previously it had been assigned to the Iroquoi type. In this system, the odd or even number of connecting male relatives to cousins ​​and grand cousins ​​is of significance.


Alfred Kroeber was the first to recognize that the mere distinction between linear and collateral relatives, as in the case of Morgan, is not enough to make a sufficient differentiation. His research led to a list of eight criteria that are either applied in a particular society and thus lead to different naming of relatives or not, thus merging different types of kinship terminologically.


  • the same or a different generation
  • blood related or married (affinity)
  • linear or collateral relationship
  • relative age within a generation (another term for older or younger brothers)
  • Gender (male / female) of relative
  • Gender (male / female) of the speaker
  • Gender of the connecting relative (bifurcation)
  • Dead or alive status of the connecting relative
  • Polarity: Relatives of different generations refer to each other with the same term or not

See also


  • Claude Lévi-Strauss : The Elementary Structures of Relationship . Translated from the French by Eva Moldenhauer . 3. Edition. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt / M. 2009, ISBN 3-518-28644-7 (French first edition 1948; Lévi-Strauss, 1908–2009, was an ethnologist, founder of ethnological structuralism and early representative of an ethnosociology ).
  • George P. Murdock : Social Structure. Macmillan, New York 1949 (English).
  • Floyd G. Lounsbury: A Formal Account of the Crow- and Omaha-Type Kinship Terminologies. In: Ward H. Goodenough (Ed.): Explorations in Cultural Anthropology. Essays in Honor of George Peter Murdock. McGraw-Hill, New York 1964, pp. 351-393.
  • P. Kay: On the multiplicity of cross / parallel distinctions. In: American Anthropologist. Volume 69, 1967, pp. 83-85 (English).
  • MV Kryukov: Historical Interpretation of Kinship Terminology. Institute of Ethnography, USSR Academy of Sciences, Moscow 1968 (English).
  • Marvin Harris: Culture, Man, and Nature: An Introduction to General Anthropology. New York 1971 (English).
  • Harold W. Scheffler: Dravidian-Iroquois: The Melanesian Evidence. In: LR Hiatt, E. Jayawardena (Ed.): Anthropology in Oceania. Angus and Robertson, Sydney 1971, pp. 231-254.
  • B. Pasternak: Introduction to Kinship and Social Organization. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs 1976 (English).
  • Franklin E. Tjon You Fat: More Complex Formulas of Generalized Exchange. In: Current Anthropology Volume 22, Issue 4, 1981, pp. 377-399 (English).
  • B. Pasternak, M. Ember, C. Ember: Sex, Gender, and Kinship: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River 1997 (English).

Web links

  • Gabriele Rasuly-Paleczek: Introduction to Ethnosociology (Part 1/2). (PDF; 250 kB) Institute for Cultural and Social Anthropology, University of Vienna, 2006, pp. 12–82 , archived from the original on October 1, 2008 (82 pages, without page numbers and images; documents for their lecture in the 2006 summer semester).;
  • Hans-Rudolf Wicker: Kinship as the primary form of social organization. (PDF: 387 kB, 47 pp.) In: Guide for the introductory lecture in social anthropology, 1995–2012. Institute for Social Anthropology, University of Bern, July 31, 2012, pp. 2–17.
  • Brian Schwimmer: Kinship Terminologies. In: Tutorial: Kinship and Social Organization. Department of Anthropology, University of Manitoba, Canada, 2003 (English, extensive kinship tutorial).;