Family/Kinship words (continued)

Classificatory kinship systems

English speakers use ‘sister’ and ‘brother’ mostly for people who share at least one parent. Warumungu and Gurindji use these sibling words, not only for these people, but also for the children of their father’s brothers and mother’s sisters, and for the grandchildren of their father’s father’s brothers and mother’s mother’s sisters, and so on.  So, some people that English speakers call ‘cousins’ are called ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ in many Aboriginal societies. This is called a ‘classificatory’ kinship system type, specifically one with an unlimited extension of range (e.g. there is no limit to the number of classificatory mothers and fathers one has). Note that there are two ways of extending the range of a kin-term.  It can be done on the basis of role, e.g. calling a close friend of your mother’s ‘aunty’, as English speakers sometimes do.  Or it can be done on the basis of kin relationship in culturally specific non-arbitrary ways.  A kinship term describing a specific biological relation (e.g. people with the same parents) is extended to other biological relations, e.g. calling your mother’ sister’s son ‘brother’.

Traditionally, all Australian groups have classificatory kinship systems, as do many groups in Asia and the Pacific. 

Aunts and uncles

Australian Aboriginal classificatory kinship systems extend beyond a person’s brothers and sisters.  A person’s father’s brothers are also often called ‘father’, while a person’s mother’s sisters are also often called ‘mother’.  However, there may be special words for ‘father’s sister’ and ‘mother’s brother’.  The relationship between a man and his sister’s children is very important in Aboriginal societies.  The terms ‘uncle’ and ‘auntie’ are not used in the Austkin database, because the person called ‘uncle’ is typically a mother’s brother and a person called ‘auntie’ is typically a father’s sister.

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