(<< see what i did there? PIE? geddit? (~_^) )

historical linguists have worked out what they think (there are debates within the discipline, of course) were the likely kinship terms in proto-indo-european (PIE). i’m not going to get into the terms here, but you can read all about them in Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans: A Reconstruction and Historical of a Proto-language and a Proto-culture, in chapter seven — “The social organization, economy, and kinship system of the ancient Indo-Europeans” — starting on page 643 (for something of an opposing viewpoint, see chapter five — “Proto-Indo-European Kinship” — here).

to get straight to the point, it seems that pretty much all of the historical linguistics working on PIE agree that the proto-indo-europeans probably had an omaha kinship system (where they disagree is on how to interpret the signficance of that, for example, did the proto-indo-europeans marry their…wait for it…cousins?). they haven’t actually worked out what the proto-indo-europeans called their cousins — whether they had just one word (like us) or several words (like the chinese or the arabs) — but they have figured out via the naming of other relatives (like uncles and grandfathers) that the system was an omaha one.

the omaha kinship system looks like this (real world kinship systems often vary a bit from these schematic outlines, so you should keep in mind that while the PIE system was probably close to this scheme, it may not have necessarily matched it perfectly — click on image for LARGER view):

omaha kinship

the notable points about this system are that: 1) ego’s paternal uncle (his father’s brother) is called the same term as his father, and his mother’s sister is called the same as his mother; 2) therefore, the children of these uncles and aunts (ego’s cousins) are called the same as his siblings; 3) for some whacky reason that i don’t fully grok yet, ego’s mother’s brother is called the same thing as ego’s PATernal grandfather, therefore those cousins are actually called “(grand)father” and “mother” (i.e. there’s a generational shift in the terminology — on the right of the diagram); and 4) at the other end of the family (diagram), ego’s father’s sister is called “sister” and his cousins there are called “nephew” and “niece.”

don’t worry, you don’t have to learn all that! this material will not be included in the final exam. the important point here is that the naming of the cousins might give us some indications of which cousins (if any) were considered marriage material and which were off-limits. my thinking on first looking at this omaha system was that 1) the cousins called the same thing as siblings (fbd and mzd) must be off-limits — who marries their siblings? and 2) the cousins called the same thing as “mom” (mbd) DEFINITELY must be off-limits — who marries their MOM?! =/

in my view, the only available cousins to marry in this scheme appear to be the father’s sister’s daughter (fzd) who is called “niece.” plenty of peoples have uncle-niece marriage, so that concept isn’t (that) strange at all. (to be fair, a few populations with omaha kinship systems do manage to marry their mbds — the cousins called “mom” — but they typically have all sorts of purification rituals surrounding those marriages — ’cause, ewwww!)

however, the general consensus of the PIE researchers seems to be that both cross-cousins — the fzd AND the mbd — were probably marriage material as far as the proto-indo-europeans were concerned. the only question is, to what extent did they marry these cousins? who knows. that is simply impossible to say. (again, there are some dissenting voices out there wrt cousin marriage among the PIE speakers).

gamkrelidze and ivanov are some of the historical linguists who think that mbd marriage was probably possible, too, despite the ewwww-factor of marrying someone you call mom. mbd is the most common form of cousin marriage there is, so maybe proto-into-europeans did, indeed, marry them, too [pg. 671]:

“The fact that individuals bearing different kinship relations are called by the same term — father’s father and mother’s brother, grandson and sister’s son — can be explained if we assume that they were functionally identical from ego’s viewpoint. This reconstructed system points to a close consanguineal relation between the father’s father and mother’s brother, as is possible in a dual-exogamous cross-cousin marriage system, where a man can marry his mother’s brother’s daughter or father’s sister’s daughter, both of whom belng to the other lineal group.”

proto-indo-europeans are thought to have had a patrilineal family system — descent was reckoned primarly through the father’s line — and patrilocal residence — a woman would leave her family upon marriage and go live with her husband and his family. finally, they had clans [pg. 652 — i’m missing the PIE script formatting here]:

“7.4.1. The Indo-European word for ‘kin, clan’

“One of the basic structural units of ancient Indo-European society was the kin grouping *k’en-(th-) ‘clan, tribe, kin collectivity’. The stem is etymologically related to *k’en- ‘give birth’ (Skt. janati ‘gives birth’, OLat. geno ‘(I) give birth’, Gk. gignomai ‘(I) issue from, come from’, etc. The word for ‘clan’, etc. is a derivative in *-th- from this root, a formation well preserved in a number of early Indo-European dialects….

“In Italic the Proto-Indo-European word for ‘clan’, etc. is represented by Lat. gens, gen. gentis ‘clan; kinship grouping; tribe’. In Germanic the root is attested in a derivative, Goth. kindins ‘clan leader’ (from *k’enthi-nos)….”

so, the PIE speakers were: a patrilineal, patrilocal, clannish people who probably married their cross-cousins to some extent.

that is all!

previously: more on inbreeding in germanic tribes and archaic greek mating patterns and kinship terms

(note: comments do not require an email. pie!)

Advertisements