Volume 11, Issue 1
  • ISSN 2214-3157
  • E-ISSN: 2214-3165
Buy:$35.00 + Taxes



According to theories of “moral grammar,” judgments of what is wrong or right – like judgments of what is ungrammatical or grammatical – are guided by implicit, often unconscious rules. An ideal test case for exploring the parallels between moral rules and language rules is the moral regulation of mating in relation to kinship. Here I argue that combinatorial variation in both kin terminologies and marriage rules results from the operation of a grammar faculty, which juggles tradeoffs between conflicting constraints according to the principles of “Optimality Theory.” This works to produce kinship grammars, input-output systems that map some kin types onto others via mergers and reductions. This in turn can yield marriage rules. If a kin type maps onto a close consanguine, this corresponds to a marriage proscription. If a kin type maps onto a close affine, this corresponds to a marriage prescription/preference. I analyze both elementary structures of kinship (where cross kin are prescribed spouses, and parallel kin are proscribed; e.g. Dravidian southern India) and complex structures (where kin are divided into an unmarriageable core and a marriageable periphery, and affines are sometimes tabooed because they are equated with close consanguines; e.g. Jane Austen’s England). Rather than treating social organization as the source of mental categories, this analysis starts with the machinery of categorization and shows how it spontaneously generates marriage rules. The result is an updating of structuralism in light of cognitive science: moral codes vary within limits set by fundamental structures of the human mind.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Borg, J. S., Lieberman, D., & Kiehl, K.
    (2008) Infection, incest, and iniquity: Investigating the neural correlates of disgust and morality. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20(9), 1529–1546. 10.1162/jocn.2008.20109
    https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn.2008.20109 [Google Scholar]
  2. Bresnan, J.
    (2001) The emergnce of the unmarked pronoun. InG. Legendre, S. Vikner, and J. Grimshaw (Eds.), Optimality-Theoretic Syntax, (pp.113–142). Cambridge: MIT Press. 10.7551/mitpress/5161.003.0008
    https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/5161.003.0008 [Google Scholar]
  3. Brown, D.
    (1991) Human Universals. McGraw-Hill
    [Google Scholar]
  4. Busby, C.
    (1997) Of marriage and marriageability: Gender and Dravidian kinship. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 3(1), 21–42. 10.2307/3034363
    https://doi.org/10.2307/3034363 [Google Scholar]
  5. Cheney, D. L., & Seyfarth, R. M.
    (2007) Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 10.7208/chicago/9780226102429.001.0001
    https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226102429.001.0001 [Google Scholar]
  6. Cressy, D.
    (1986) Kinship and kin interaction in early modern England. Past and Present, 1131, 38–69. 10.1093/past/113.1.38
    https://doi.org/10.1093/past/113.1.38 [Google Scholar]
  7. Dumont, L.
    (1953) The Dravidian kinship terminology as an expression of merriage. Man, 531, 34–39. 10.2307/2794868
    https://doi.org/10.2307/2794868 [Google Scholar]
  8. Farber, B.
    (1970) Heider’s “Anthropological models of incest laws in the United States”: A comment. American Anthropologist, 72(4), 846–847. 10.1525/aa.1970.72.4.02a00100
    https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.1970.72.4.02a00100 [Google Scholar]
  9. Godelier, M., Trautmann, T. R., & Tjon Sie Fat, F. E.
    (1998) Transformations of Kinship. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  10. Goodenough, W.
    (1965) Yankee kinship terminology: A problem in componential analysis. American Anthropologist 1967(5), 259–287. 10.1525/aa.1965.67.5.02a00820
    https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.1965.67.5.02a00820 [Google Scholar]
  11. (1967) Componential analysis. Science, 671, 1203–1209. 10.1126/science.156.3779.1203
    https://doi.org/10.1126/science.156.3779.1203 [Google Scholar]
  12. Gould, S. H.
    (2000) A New System for the Formal Analysis of Kinship. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America.
    [Google Scholar]
  13. Greenberg, J. H.
    (1990) Universals of kinship terminology: Their nature and the problem of their explanation. InK. Denning and S. Kemmer (Eds.), On language: Selected Writings of Joseph Greenberg, (pp.310–327). Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  14. Greene, J. D., Somerville, R. B., Nystrom, L. E., Darley, J. M., & Cohen, J. D.
    (2001) An fMRI investigation of emotional engagement in moral judgment. Science, 293(5537), 2105–2108. 10.1126/science.1062872
    https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1062872 [Google Scholar]
  15. Hage, P.
    (2001) Marking theory and kinship analysis. Anthropological Theory, 11, 197–211. 10.1177/146349960100100203
    https://doi.org/10.1177/146349960100100203 [Google Scholar]
  16. Haidt, J.
    (2001) The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review, 108(4), 814–834. 10.1037/0033‑295X.108.4.814
    https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.108.4.814 [Google Scholar]
  17. Heider, K.
    (1969) Anthropological models of incest laws in the United States. American Anthropologist, 71(4), 693–701. 10.1525/aa.1969.71.4.02a00070
    https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.1969.71.4.02a00070 [Google Scholar]
  18. Héritier, F.
    (1999) Two Sisters and their Mother: The Anthropology of Incest. New York: Zone Books.
    [Google Scholar]
  19. Hill, K.
    (2009) Animal “culture”?InK. Laland and B. G. Galef (Eds.), The Question of Animal Culture, (pp.269–287). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 10.2307/j.ctv322v4wf.15
    https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv322v4wf.15 [Google Scholar]
  20. Hogeweg, L.
  21. Jay, T.
    (1999) Why we curse: A neuro-psycho-social theory of speech. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 10.1075/z.91
    https://doi.org/10.1075/z.91 [Google Scholar]
  22. Jones, D.
    (2010) Human kinship, from conceptual structure to grammar. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(5), 367–416. 10.1017/S0140525X10000890
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X10000890 [Google Scholar]
  23. (2016) Socially enforced nepotism: How norms and reputation can amplify kin altruism. PLoS ONE, 111, e0155596. 10.1371/journal.pone.0155596
    https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0155596 [Google Scholar]
  24. (2018) Kinship in mind: Three approaches. InW. Shapiro (Ed.), Focality and Extension in Kinship: Essays in Memory of Harold Sheffler, (pp.343–367). Australian National University Press. 10.22459/FEK.04.2018.11
    https://doi.org/10.22459/FEK.04.2018.11 [Google Scholar]
  25. (2022) Yet another view of Trobriand kin categories, from optimality to conceptual structure. Kinship2(1). https://escholarship.org/uc/item/0hn3r2cv
    [Google Scholar]
  26. Kemp, C., & Regier, T.
    (2012) Kinship categories across languages reflect general communicative principles. Science, 3361, 1049–1054. 10.1126/science.1218811
    https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1218811 [Google Scholar]
  27. Kroeber, A. L.
    (1909) Classificatory systems of relationship. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 391, 77–84.
    [Google Scholar]
  28. Kronenfeld, D. B.
    (2004) Definitions of cross versus parallel: Implications for a new typology (an appreciation of A. Kimball Romney). Cross-Cultural Research, 38(3), 249–269. 10.1177/1069397104264276
    https://doi.org/10.1177/1069397104264276 [Google Scholar]
  29. (2006) Issues in the classification of kinship terminologies: Toward a new typology. Anthropos, January, 203–219.
    [Google Scholar]
  30. Kuper, A.
    (2009) Incest and Influence: The Private Life of Bourgeois England. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 10.4159/9780674054141
    https://doi.org/10.4159/9780674054141 [Google Scholar]
  31. Leaf, M., & Read, D.
    (2014) Human Thought and Social Organization: Anthropology on a New Plane. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books.
    [Google Scholar]
  32. Lehman, F. K.
    (2001) Aspects of a formalist theory of kinship: The functional basis of its genealogical roots and some extensions in generalized alliance theory. Anthropological Theory, 1(2), 212–238. 10.1177/146349960100100204
    https://doi.org/10.1177/146349960100100204 [Google Scholar]
  33. Lévi-Strauss, C.
    The Elementary Structures of Kinship (1969) Translated byR. Needham. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  34. Lieberman, D., Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L.
    (2003) Does morality have a biological basis? An empirical test of the factors governing moral sentiments relating to incest. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B, 2701, 819–826. 10.1098/rspb.2002.2290
    https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2002.2290 [Google Scholar]
  35. (2007) The archtecture of human kin detection. Nature, 4451, 727–731. 10.1038/nature05510
    https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05510 [Google Scholar]
  36. Lounsbury, F.
    (1964a) The formal analysis of Crow- and Omaha-type kinship terminologies. InW. Goodenough (Ed.), Explorations in Cultural Anthropology (pp.351–393). New York: McGraw-Hill.
    [Google Scholar]
  37. (1964b) The structural analysis of kinship semantics. InH. G. Hunt (Ed.), Proceedings of the Ninth International Congress of Linguistics (pp.1073–1093). Berlin: De Gruyter.
    [Google Scholar]
  38. McCarthy, J.
    (2004) A Thematic Guide to Optimality Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  39. (2010) An introduction to Harmonic Serialism. Language and Linguistics Compass, 41, 1000–1018. (pp.1073–1093). 10.1111/j.1749‑818X.2010.00240.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-818X.2010.00240.x [Google Scholar]
  40. Mikhail, J.
    (2011) Elements of Moral Cognition: Rawls’ Linguistic Analogy and the Cognitive Science of Moral and Legal Judgment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9780511780578
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511780578 [Google Scholar]
  41. Murdock, G. P.
    (1949) Social Structure. New York: Macmillan.
    [Google Scholar]
  42. Prince, A., & Smolensky, P.
    (2004) Constraint Interaction in Generative Grammar. Oxford: Blackwell.
    [Google Scholar]
  43. Radcliffe-Brown, A. R.
    (1941) The study of kinship systems. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Briatain and Ireland, 71(1/2), 1–18. 10.2307/2844398
    https://doi.org/10.2307/2844398 [Google Scholar]
  44. Read, D.
    (1984) An algebraic account of the American kinship terminology. Current Anthropology, 25(4), 417–449. 10.1086/203160
    https://doi.org/10.1086/203160 [Google Scholar]
  45. (2010) The generative logic of Dravidian language terminologies. Mathematical Anthropology and Cultural Theory: An International Journal, 3(7), 27 pages.
    [Google Scholar]
  46. Read, D. & Behrens, C.
    (1990) KAES: An expert system for the algebraic analysis of kinship terminologies. Journal of Quantiative Anthropology, 21, 353–393.
    [Google Scholar]
  47. Romney, A. K., & D’Andrade, R. G.
    (1964) Cognitive aspects of English kinship. American Anthropologist, 671, 146–170. 10.1525/aa.1964.66.3.02a00870
    https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.1964.66.3.02a00870 [Google Scholar]
  48. Rudner, D.
    (1990) Inquest on Dravidian kinship: Louis Dumont and the essence of marriage alliance. Contributions to Indian Sociology, 241, 153–173. 10.1177/006996690024002001
    https://doi.org/10.1177/006996690024002001 [Google Scholar]
  49. Schapera, I.
    (1977) Kinship Terminology in Jane Austen’s Novels. London: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.
    [Google Scholar]
  50. Scheffler, H. W.
    (2020) Australian Kin Classification. Berlin: De Gruyter.
    [Google Scholar]
  51. (1977) Kinship and alliance in south India and Australia. American Anthropologist, 79(4), 869–882. 10.1525/aa.1977.79.4.02a00060
    https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.1977.79.4.02a00060 [Google Scholar]
  52. Schelling, T.
    (1960) The Strategy of Conflict. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  53. Tadmor, N.
    (2001) Family and Friends in Eighteenth-Century England: Household, Kinship and Patronage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9780511496097
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511496097 [Google Scholar]
  54. Talmy, L.
    (2000) Toward a Cognitive Semantics (Language, Speech, and Communication): Concept Structuring Systems (Volume 1). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  55. Thomson, J. J.
    (1985) The trolley problem. Yale Law Journal, 941, 1395–1415. 10.2307/796133
    https://doi.org/10.2307/796133 [Google Scholar]
  56. Trautmann, T. R.
    Dravidian Kinship (1981) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  57. Westermarck, E.
    (1921) The History of Human Marriage, Vol.21. New York: Allerton.
    [Google Scholar]
  58. Wolfram, S.
    (1987) In-laws and Outlaws: Kinship and Marriage in England. London and Sydney: Palgrave Macmillan.
    [Google Scholar]
  59. Wolf, A. P.
    (2014) Incest Avoidance and the Incest Taboos: Two Aspects of Human Nature. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  60. Zwarts, J.
    (2019) Competition between word meanings: The polysemy of (a)round. Proceedings of Sinn Und Bedeutung, 81, 349–360.
    [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): incest; kin terms; kinship; marriage rules; moral grammar
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error