Kinship categories across languages

kinship communication game

This page contains information related to Kemp and Regier (2012), Kinship categories across languages reflect general communicative principles, Science, 336(6084).


Summary:    Every language includes a system of kin terms but different languages carve up the family tree in different ways. Our paper proposes a theory that helps to explain which kin classification systems are found in the languages of the world. We argue that kin classification systems are shaped by a tradeoff between two competing principles: good systems are simple, and they enable informative communication. The principles of simplicity and informativeness are relevant to other semantic domains such as color, and the tradeoff between them may provide a domain-general foundation for variation in category systems across languages.
Paper: Download the paper and supplementary material.
FAQ: Responses to some questions about the paper.
Data: The Murdock data were originally published in Murdock (1970), Kin term patterns and their distribution, Ethnology, 9(2). This paper was reprinted in World Cultures, 11(1) in 2000 and we used the electronic data file that accompanied this reprint.

Corpus statistics were collected from the Corpus of Contemporary American English and the German Reference Corpus.

Code: Download the code.
References: The following are especially relevant to our work.

J. Greenberg, Universals of kinship terminology: their nature and the problem of their explanation.

D. Jones, The universal psychology of kinship: evidence from language.

S. B. Nerlove, A. K. Romney, Sibling terminology and cross-sex behavior.

T. Regier, P. Kay, N. Khetarpal, Color naming reflects optimal partitions of color space.

Funding: Our work was supported by the National Science Foundation under awards CDI-0835797 and SBE-0541957 and by the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse Opportunity Fund.