Kinship systems in southern African non-Bantu languages:
Documentation, comparison, and historical analysis

In IP5 we aim to utilize the study of kinship, and especially kinship terminology structures and related aspects of social organization, to decipher aspects of the history and prehistory of ‘Khoisan’ peoples. Kinship terminologies represent a particularly valuable domain for studying cultural borrowing and common origin because they make up complex cognitive systems and are linked to historical processes of changing social practices and norms. They are shaped by and reflect (past) behaviour towards relatives, familial obligations, rules of incest avoidance, marriage or residence.

The researchers aim to compare, classify and analyze the kinship terminologies of ideally all Southern African non-Bantu languages. The terminologies of selected Bantu-languages spoken across the Kalahari basin will also be included in order to control for the effects of the comparatively recent contacts between Bantu and Khoisan kinship terminologies together with the related processes of social change. This is necessary to better understand mutual influences and, by analogy, arrive at better hypotheses concerning earlier transformations.

The documentation includes fieldwork in San communities whose kinship systems have not yet been documented in detail. For comparison a database is generated combining information on kin terms, structural dimensions of terminologies (e.g. bifurcation, relative age, sex of speaker, sex of referent, relative gender, etc.) and related normative rules such as joking/avoidance behaviour, or rules of marriage and residence. The current distribution of structural or cultural patterns is then used to arrive at conjectural histories for the populations of the Kalahari Basin.



Principal investigator     Location
Alan Barnard     University of Edinburgh   
Email:         United Kingdom
Gertrud Boden     Jenny Lawy
Email:         Email: