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Eskimo kinship terminologies Stevenson, David

Abstract

Seventeen complete and incomplete Eskimo kinship terminologies are examined and compared with a view to determining and assessing the nature and extent of the reported discrepancies. It is shown that the lack of a standardized orthography for the Eskimo language has contributed to the difficulties of comparing the distribution of terminology. Nuances of the language, especially those relating to the use of different suffixes for 'step', 'adoptive', and 'lesser' are shown to give rise to some of the reported discrepancies. The definitions of Spier and Murdock relating to the 'Eskimo Type' of kinship system and social structure are examined and found to be invalid for the areas for which data are available. It is established that a core of terminological and structural similarity exists between the geographically isolated systems. But the importance of local variables demands that correlations between the kinship system and the associated social structure must be made within the framework of the local economic and ecological factors impinging upon the domestic group. The apparently asymmetrical relationship between-ascending and descending generations is examined within the conceptual framework of the developmental cycle of domestic groups. It is suggested that the specificity of terminology is related to the economic effectivity of the category of relative under discussion. The data available are insufficient for statistical analyses but it is thought that the statistical approach will provide a more coherent picture of the structural and functional inter-relationships between the on-going institutions and that local variations will be shown to have rational bases.

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