Kinship Terminologies

Kin terms constitute a culture's kinship vocabulary, a catalog of the names that are assigned to relatives, e.g., father, mother, uncle, grandson. Different societies of course use different labels to designate their kin; "uncle" is "oncle" in French and "tio" in Spanish. However, there are more important differences in classification, as cultures frequently go beyond mere labeling differences to group relatives into completely different categories. For example, the Dani term that corresponds to "uncle" is "ami". This category includes a person's mother's brother but not his/her father's brother who is called "opaije", the term that is used for "father"

Differences in Labeling and Categorizing Kin
  • Spanish and English use different words for the same categories.

  • Dani terminology differs from English both in the words used and the categories constructed by them.

Often the particular system of categorization gives clues to a culture's priniciples of social organization and construction of social roles. For example the Dani definition of "opaije" reflects an important distinction between kin on the mother's and father's side of the family.

© Brian Schwimmer
University of Manitoba
Created: Sept. 1996
Last Updated: August 1998