Re: Inclusive Language, Hungarian

Tue, 22 Nov 1994 13:25:00 PST

Benke writes:

" 1.) What can we say empirically about the relationship of the categorical
system a given language offers and the social structure the language is
used in? It seems we have been *assuming* a straightforward relationship,
where a more complex one is the case.

Let me make an observation or two based on work I am doing with kinship
terminologies, as some of the issues being raised can be approached in this
domain. As is well known, Leach some time back made a fairly influential
argument about social categories preceding kin terms, with the latter
constituting linguistic labeling for the former. This contrasted with
arguments that saw kin terms as prior and social categories as being
constructed out of kin terminology and marriage rules (much of the argument
has to do with marriage classes in australia). Neither side of the argument
really resolved very much in that neither side provided any sustantive
understanding of what constitutes the domain of kinship terms. The work I
have been doing takes the viewpoint that there is an abstract semantic domain
defined through a kinship terminology. Evidence for this lies in the
(amazing) extent to which the set of kin terms constitutes a generative
system in which distinctions made in the terminology follow precisely from
structural equations which define the kin termonology structure. For
example, the use of 'consanguineal' kin terms in the American Kinship
Terminology for Uncles and Aunts by marriage does not need reference (as was
done by Homans and Schneider) to external properties such as affect since it
can be shown that the equaiton, "Spouse of [Uncle, Aunt] = [Aunt, Uncle]"
logically follows from a more primitive property, namely Spouse of Sibling =
Sibling of Spouse.

Part of this argument leads to consideration of the sex marking of kin terms;
e.g., Cousin is not sex marked in our terminology, and the presence, in some
terminology, of both sex marked and non-sexmarked terms that are
"interchangeable"; e.g., Parent, versus [Father,Mother]. Modeling of kin
terminology strucuture identifies where such sex-marking enters into the
structure. THus, in our terminology, it appears that the fundatmental terms
from which the terminiology is constructed are Parent, Child and Self, with
sex markings of terms arising when a spouse term is added to the
consantuineal structure. In constrast, a terminology such as that of the
Shipibo Indians of S. AMerica, while having a structure that is a
transformation of the underlying structure of the AKT (a property heretofore
unknown and probably unknowable by conventional approaches to the analysis of
kinship terminology structure), use terms which can be glossed as Father and
Son (or alternatively, Mother and Daughter) as fundamental terms from which
structure is generated.

Thus, even sex marking of kin terms is already a complex issue that requires
careful analysis of the structure of the domain before it is possible to make
assertions about how gender is mapped onto the semantic domain of kin terms.
Further, the fact that properties of terminologies (including the often
maligned distincition between classificatory and discriminatgory
terminologies) arise out of the logic of the generation of structure, and
the fact that these properties often are related (but not necessarily in a
one-to-one manner) to social categories as well, suggests that the linkage
between a cultural domain taken as an abstract system of thought and its
empirical mapping onto the real world of persons is complex, hence the
linkage between category and social structure is going to be complex, as
Benke suggests.