The relationship between a woman and her child is different from the
relationship between a man and his child. In English we use
the words ‘child’, ‘daughter’, or ‘son’ regardless of whether the
parent is a woman or a man. But in many Aboriginal societies,
separate words are used for ‘child of woman’, and ‘child of man’.
That is seen as a more important distinction than whether the child is
female or male. Here are examples from Gurindji:
|female child of woman||kurturtu|
|male child of woman||kurturtu|
|female child of man||ngalawuny|
|male child of man||ngalawuny|
Words for grandparents vary a lot. Some Aboriginal societies are like
English, and have one term for ‘grandfather’, regardless of whether you
are talking about your mother’s father or your father’s father. Others
have special words for mother’s father and father’s father, and also
for mother’s mother and father’s mother. From the table you can
see that speakers of the Central Australian language Gurindji use
different words for each of these grandparents.
The English kinship system is linear; we add ‘great’ to ‘grandparent’
or ‘grandchild’ to extend upwards many generations. And we add ‘second,
third, fourth..’ to ‘cousin’ to describe the children and grandchildren
of our parents and grandparents’ cousins.
Australian Aboriginal groups generally have non-linear kinship systems; they may cycle around, so that great great grandparents may be called the same as grandparents. Some Australian Aboriginal groups may use one word for more than one generation. For example, they may use the same word for one’s mother’s mother’s brother and one’s mother’s mother’s brother’s child. This is called ‘skewing’.
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