[Lingtyp] Kinship systems that distinguish age but not gender

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at shh.mpg.de
Wed Jul 19 09:07:21 UTC 2017

On the basis of Turkish (/kardeş/) and Minangkabau (/adiak/), which 
neutralize the sex distinction in the younger sibling term, one could 
propose the following universal:

"If a language makes a distinction between elder and younger siblings 
and neutralizes sex only in one type, then it neutralizes in younger 

This may seem bold, but I think that such bold formulations are 
productive in that they are likely to elicit responses from language 
specialists whose language goes against the generalization. (And if the 
bold generalization makes it into print somewhere, then one can even 
write an abstract on the basis of one's data and argue against a 
previous claim.)

Now it so happens that a claim very similar to the one above has already 
been made, on p. 76-77 in Greenberg's chapter "Universals of kinship 
terminology", which is Chapter five of his most important work:

Greenberg, Joseph H. 1966. /Language universals, with special reference 
to feature hierarchies/. The Hague: Mouton.

Greenberg formulates the generalization in terms of one kind of kinship 
being "marked", the other "unmarked". "Marked" features tend to be 
neutralized, so saying that younger siblings are "marked" amounts to the 
same as the above claim. (In my view of things, this would mean that 
some kinds of kinship features are more frequently used than others.)

(Greenberg also says somewhere that masculine/male is unmarked, so he 
probably predicts that female terms ternd to be neuralized for age, thus 
answering Siva Kalyan's question.)

So there are a lot of interesting predictions that could be tested if 
someone finally made a comprehensive world-wide database on kinship 
terms (I think some people near Hedvig are working on this).


On 19.07.17 10:50, David Gil wrote:
> Matt beat me to it on Malay/Indonesian!  I would just like to add that 
> while many (most?) varieties that I am familiar with work the way Matt 
> describes, some exhibit an asymmetry in which elder siblings are 
> distinguished for gender while younger ones are not. This pattern is 
> also evident in closely-related Minangkabau:
> adiak - 'younger sibling'
> uda - 'elder brother'
> uni - 'elder sister'
> And I suspect that it is common in other languages of the region.
> On 19/07/2017 10:40, Matthew Carroll wrote:
>> Hi Guys
>> What about Indonesian/Malay? kakak/adik for elder/younger sibling 
>> respectively.
>> Best,
>> Matt
>> On Wed, Jul 19, 2017 at 9:31 AM, Hedvig Skirgård 
>> <hedvig.skirgard at gmail.com <mailto:hedvig.skirgard at gmail.com>> wrote:
>>     Dear LINGTYP,
>>     Does anyone know of a language that has a distinction in the
>>     kinship system for age of referent (younger/older) without also
>>     having a distinction for gender of referent? For example, a
>>     language that marks siblings as being younger or older to ego
>>     without reference to being sister or brother.
>>     The hypothesis is that this doesn't happen/is very rare. We'd
>>     like to know if you've come across any examples of this.
>>     I'm asking for my friend Alex (cc:ed) who is not on the list.
>>     Please direct any responses or comments to her.
>>     *****
>>     *Tōfā soifua,*
>>     *Hedvig Skirgård*
>>     *
>>     *PhD Candidate
>>     The Wellsprings of Linguistic Diversity
>>     ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language
>>     School of Culture, History and Language
>>     College of Asia and the Pacific
>>     Rm 4203, H.C. Coombs Building (#9)
>>     The Australian National University
>>     Acton ACT 2601
>>     Australia
>>     Co-chair of Public Relations
>>     Board of the International Olympiad of Linguistics
>>     www.ioling.org
>>     Blogger at Humans Who Read Grammars
>>     http://humans-who-read-grammars.blogspot.
>>     _______________________________________________
>>     Lingtyp mailing list
>>     Lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
>>     <mailto:Lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
>>     http://listserv.linguistlist.org/mailman/listinfo/lingtyp
>>     <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/mailman/listinfo/lingtyp>
>> _______________________________________________
>> Lingtyp mailing list
>> Lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
>> http://listserv.linguistlist.org/mailman/listinfo/lingtyp
> -- 
> David Gil
> Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
> Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
> Kahlaische Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany
> Email:gil at shh.mpg.de
> Office Phone (Germany): +49-3641686834
> Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-81281162816
> _______________________________________________
> Lingtyp mailing list
> Lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
> http://listserv.linguistlist.org/mailman/listinfo/lingtyp

Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at shh.mpg.de)
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10	
D-07745 Jena
Leipzig University
IPF 141199
Nikolaistrasse 6-10
D-04109 Leipzig

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/lingtyp/attachments/20170719/76ee63d5/attachment.htm>

More information about the Lingtyp mailing list