March 25, 2013

Kinship Terminology Explained



Ego: The point of view taken in describing a relationship ; thus “Ego’s MBD.” Contra. “Alter”

Elementary Family: Same as “Nuclear Family“. Note that a childless family would not constitute an elementary family. ES:75.

Elementary Kinship Term: “A term that cannot be reduced into component elements. “Father” and “niece” are elementary terms in English.” ES:75.

Endogamy: “A requirement for marriage within a defined category or range or group or community (“in-marriage”). All societies are minimally endogamous in that they limit marriage to members of the same species; most limit marriage to members of the opposite sex.” RK:149. Contra. “Exogamy”.

Endodeme: “An endogamous local group lacking a descent rule.” ES:75.

Exogamy: Marriage to person(s) outside the group, however defined (e.g., descent, locality, castes, etc.). Contra. “Endogamy”

Extended Family: “A domestic group or composite of domestic groups consisting of two or more nuclear families linked together through parent and child (patrilineal extended family, matrilineal extended family) or through siblings (fraternal or sorroral extended family).” (RK:149). The social unit, usually co-residing, consisting of two or more nuclear families affiliated through an extension of parent-child relationships; i.e., the nuclear family of a married adult joined to that of his/her parents (NG-359).

Family: GP Murdock (1949):1 “…a social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation, and reproduction.” Others argue that the family should be considered as a kinship group and should not be confused with other social groups based on common residence (household) or function (domestic unit)

Family of Procreation: The nuclear family which Ego establishes by marriage, consisting of his/her “wife/husband”, sons and daughter (GPM:13; NG-365). Contra. “Family of orientation”

Family of Orientation: The nuclear family into which Ego was born and reared, consisting of his father, mother, brothers and sisters (GPM: 13; NG-365). Contra. “Family of procreation”


Levinson and Malone Typology of Families: (LM: 79ff)


Matrifocal Family: consists of a mother and her children.

Nuclear Family: consists of a wife/mother, husband/father, and their children.

Polygynous Family: consists of a husband/father, two or more co-wives/mothers and their children.

Polyandrous Family: consists of one wife/mother, her children and two or more husband/fathers.

Extended Family: consists of individuals who are recognized as both husband/father and son/brother or wife/mother and sister/daughter at the same time. Extended families combine at least one individual’s family of orientation with his or her family of procreation. Murdock (1949) views the extended family as composite nuclear families. Linton views them as multi-generational consanguineal families to which spouses are added. Murdock (1949) provides us with a typology of extended families based on post-nuptial residence. Nimkoff (1965:19) has produced a typology based on structural differences.


Murdock’s Typology of Extended Families:


“An extended familyconsists of two or more nuclear families affiliated through an extension of the parent-child relationship rather than of the husband-wife relationship, i.e., by joining the nuclear family of a married adult to that of his parents.” Murdock 1949:2

“The several types of extended family depend primarily upon the prevailing rule of residence.” Murdock 1949: 33.

Patrilocal: the families of procreation of a man, his married sons and his sons’. GPM:34

Matrilocal: the families of procreation of a woman, her daughters and her daughters’ daughters.

Bilocal: either the son or the daughter, depending upon circumstances of the particular case, may remain at home and thereby attach his family of procreation to his/her family of orientation. Thus the nuclear family of a married couple is united with those of some but not all of their sons, of some but not all of their daughters, and of some but not all of their grandchildren of either sex. Nuclear families of adjacent generations, in short, may be linked by any type of parent-child relationship.

Avunculocal: a man, his wife or wives, his young sons and unmarried daughters, several of his sister’s adolescent but unmarried sons, a sister’s son who is married to his daughter, the young children of the latter couple, possibly other married nephews or daughters with their families, and occasionally even a grand nephew or two. In this instance the associated nuclear families are linked through two relationships, that between parent and daughter and that between maternal uncle and nephew. In some societies with this type of extended family, however, the nephew does not marry the daughter, so that the uncle-nephew link alone connects the associated nuclear families of adjacent generations.


Nimkoff’s Typology of Extended Families:


Stem Family: two nuclear families in adjacent generations with one son/husband or daughter/wife who is a member of both families.

Lineal Family: One nuclear family in the senior generation and two or more nuclear families in the junior generation.

Fully Extended Family: the families of at least two siblings or cousins in each of at least two adjacent generations.

Joint Family: two or more nuclear families who form a corporate economic unit.


Fictive Kinship: “A relationship, such as godparenthood, modeled on relations of kinship, but created by customary convention rather than the circumstances of birth.” RK:149 Examples include “blood brothers”, “godparents”. ES:5. Some would make a distinction between “fictive” kin and “putative” kin, the latter including adopted children.

Filial Widow Inheritance: “The norm that allows a man to inherit his father’s widows, except his own mother. It can occur only in polygynous tribes but even then is rare.” ES:76.

Filiation: “Relationship to or through one’s father and one’s mother, or the basing of rights on this relationship.” RK:149.

Fraternal Joint Family: “Consists of two or more brothers and their wives (and children); the bond of union is consanguineal.” ES:76.

Fraternal Polyandry: “A family consisting of several brothers with one wife in common.” ES:76. See “Adelphic Polyandry”

Generalized Exchange: A system of marriage exchange in which women are viewed as circulating within groups. Wife-givers cannot be wife-takers. RF:219.

Genitor: Biological father (genitrix = biological mother). Contra. “pater.”

Genitrix: Biological mother (genitor = biological father). Contra. “mater”.

Gens: An antiquated term for a patrilineal descent group now more commonly known as a clan. See “clan”.

Group Marriage: A marital union involving several women and several men at once (GPM: 24). It does not appear to ever have existed as the cultural norm or the prevailing type of union in any known society.

Hawaiian Kinship Terminology: “A mode of kinship reckoning, usually associated with bilateral kinship or cognatic descent, in which relatives are distinguished only according to sex and generation.” RK:149.

Hypergamy: Denotes a marriage rule prescribing union of a female with a male of higher status. Contra. “Hypogamy”

Hypogamy: Denotes a marriage rule prescribing union of a female to a male to a male of lower status. Contra. “Hypergamy”

Incest: “Sexual intercourse between two persons who are related by a real, assumed, or artificial bond of kinship that is regarded as a bar to sex relations. Where sex relations are forbidden, but not because of kinship, they may be called mismating. Where either party occupies a status forbidding sex relations, e.g., a nun, sexual intercourse may be termed status unchastity. (Murdock 1949:261).” ES:76.

Incest Taboo: “A rule prohibiting sexual relations between immediate kin (father and daughter, mother and son, brother and sister) and others culturally defined as in an equivalent relationship. Differs from “exogamy”, which prohibits marriage but not necessarily sexual relations.” RK:149.

Indirect Exchange (échange géneralisé): “A system of alliance (prescriptive marriage) whereby kin groups exchange wives indirectly, so that a man must marry his actual or classifactory MBD (matrilineal alliance) or FZD (patrilineal alliance, said not to exist) but so that wife-givers cannot be wife takers.” RK:149.

Iroquois Terminology: “A mode of kinship reckoning, usually but not always associated with unilineal descent, in which cross and parallel relatives are distinguished according to relative sex of connecting relatives in the middle three generations only.” RK:149.

Joint Family: two or more nuclear families who form a corporate economic unit. LM:86

Joking Relationship: “Patterned behavior between kin that calls for mild to taunting or ribald joking.” ES:76.

Kin Class: A class or set of kin types labeled by a single kin term. E.g., “cousin”, “uncle”, “grandfather”. See “kin term” and “kin type”.

Kin Group: “A social group whose members define their relationship (or their eligibility for membership) by kinship or common descent.” RK:150. ES:76.

Kin Term: A lexeme whose primary referent is genealogical. “Uncle” “aunt”, etc.. See “kin type” and “kin class”.

Kin Type: Any specific genealogical relationship. E.g., Mother’s brother, Father’s brother, Father’s sister’s husband.

Kindred: “A social group or category consisting of an individual’s circle of relatives, or that range of a person’s relatives accorded special cultural recognition.” RK:150. “A group of persons, all of whom have a single relative (Ego) in common who is not an ancestor of theirs. It follows that the only persons having identical kindreds would be full siblings. (RF-164; NG-205).” DT

Kinship: “Relationship based on or modeled on the culturally recognized connection between parents and children (and extended to siblings and through parents to more distant relatives.)” RK:150.

Kinship Terminology: “A system of linguistic categories for denoting kinds of relatives.” RK:150.

Levirate: “A system where a dead man’s brother (or equivalent close male relative) succeeds to his status as husband, by marrying his widow.” RK:150. “Rule whereby a man is entitled to inherit the widow of his deceased brother. Also, Leviratic polyandry: simultaneous marriage of a woman to two or more men who are brothers (to one another).” DT Contra. “Sororate”

Lineage: “A unilineal descent group based on patrilineal descent (patrilineage) or matrilineal descent (matrilineage) whose members trace descent from an apical ancestor/ancestress by known genealogical links.” RK:150. “A descent group in which the links connecting living members with a common ancestor (or ancestress) may be actually demonstrated. Variations: patrilineage, where links are traced exclusively through the male lines; matrilineage, where links are traced exclusively through the female lines; cognatic lineage, where links are traced through both sex lines” (RF-49). DT.

Lineal Kinsmen: Direct descendants and ancestors to whom Ego has an unbroken chain of parent-child linkages. For example, Ego’s father, mother’s father, father’s father’s mother’s father, son, son’s daughter’s son, etc. Contra. “Collateral Kinsmen”

Lineal Terminology: “Recognizes collaterality but not bifurcation. FB and MB are grouped; FZ and MZ are grouped; there are separate terms for M and F. American kinship is lineal.” ES:77.

Main Sequence Kinship Theory: Murdock first stated this theory in its entirety as follows: “When any social system which has attained equilibrium begins to change, such change regularly begins with modification of the rule of residence. Alteration in residence rules is followed by development or change in form of descent consistent with residence rules. Finally adaptive changes in kinship terminology follow (Murdock 1949:221-222).” LM: 105.

Mater: Sociological mother (pater = sociological father), not necessarily biological mother. Contra. “genitrix”. See genitor.

Matriarchy: “Rule of the family (and society) by the mother; no strictly matriarchal societies are known. “Maripotestal” is a synonym for matriarchal.” ES: 77.

Matrideme: “An exogamous, nonunilinear group with matrilocal residence. See “Deme”.” ES:77.

Matrilateral Relations: Those kinship relationships one acquires through mother. One’s kinsmen and kinswomen on “mother’s side”.

Matrilineage: A unilineal descent group based on matrilineal descent.

Matrilineal Descent: “A principle of descent from an ancestress through her daughter, her daughter’s daughter, and so on (in the female line)” RK:150.

Matrilocal Residence: A post-nuptial residence pattern in which the newly wed couple establishes residence with wife’s group. Some would restrict this usage to those societies which have unilineal descent groups. See uxorilocal residence. Contra. “patrilocal”.

Matri-patrilocal Residence: “A pattern of initial matrilocal residence followed by permanent patrilocal residence.” ES:77.

Merging: “The grouping of lineal and collateral kinsmen under one classificatory term. Classifying the FB with F or MZ with M is a common merging practice.” ES:77.

Migration Theory of Matrilocality: Divale countered the warfare theory of matrilocality as follows: “…matrilocal residence is an adaptive response to the disequilibrium that occurs when a virilocal or patrilocal society migrates into an already inhabited region. The sudden immigration will result in external warfare between the migrating and indigenous societies. Most of the world’s societies (approximately seventy per cent) practice patrilocal residence and are characterized by the presence of fraternal interest groups, which have been shown to be conducive to the frequent feuding and internal warfare that also characterizes these societies. In face of severe external warfare, the changes of successful adaptation would be increased if these societies cease their feuding and internal war and instead concentrate all their resources against the other society. Matrilocal residence accomplishes this, because the dispersal of males from their natal villages upon marriage results in the breakup of fraternal interest groups (Divale 1974b: 75)” LM:111. See “Warfare Theory of Matrilocality”

Mixed Descent: “Gillin (1948:433) notes that mixed descent is relatively rare but two varieties do occur. Sex-linked mixed descent affiliates males with their father’s male line; females with the mother’s female line. Cross-sex mixed descent affiliates males with the mother’s father, females with the father’s mother.” ES:75.

Moieties: “A division of a society into two social categories or groups, characteristically by a rule of patrilineal descent (patri-moiety) or matrilineal descent (matri-moiety).” RK:150. “The formally recognized “halves” of a society which regularly interact in prescribed manners. Most authors consider moiety intermarriage to be criterial to the definition, but many societies possess non-exogamous moieties which interact in ritual and ceremonial contexts unconnected with marriage (NG-155); RF 182).” DT.

Monogamy: “A form of marriage which limits a person to only one spouse at a time. Lowie (1948:114) estimates that few people in history practiced monogamy on principle but that the majority, in fact, led monogamous lives.” ES:77.

Bands, Gens and Clans
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