Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Hausa Kinship Terminologies: Insights Into Culture and Cognition

Hausa Kinship Terminologies: Insights Into Culture and Cognition

Grace Pappalardo

Kinship classification systems have historically played a critical role in understanding human cognition because of their cross-cultural prevalence and paradigmatic completeness. While componential analysis was the revolutionary tool of kinship analysis at its inception, this paper instead utilizes Optimality Theory, which argues that languages share universal constraints, but apply them differently when it comes to choosing between linguistic efficiency and accurate communication. In attempts to negotiate the rigidity of OT and remember the humanity behind the structure, this paper pairs a formal approach with an extensive analysis of family and social structures among Hausa language speakers. It engages with questions about the extent to which cognitive structures and cultural factors interact in the production of kinship terms and presents potential evidence for how the use of these terms influences the thought patterns of Hausa speakers as well as their conceptions of familial relationships. This paper applies cultural practice to theory to propose an underlying cognitive framework that lends itself to being shaped by cultural values and norms, ultimately producing kinship terminologies in the Hausa language. Using a variety of ethnographic texts, language learning resources, and the author’s own study of the Hausa language, this paper analyzes sets of Hausa kinship terms in context, applying the linguistic and cultural data to Optimality Theory. The model proposed claims that speakers are therefore equipped with a cognitive structure that creates a need for efficient communication and accuracy, but results in linguistic variation in kinship terminology production when a language’s speakers much negotiate with the above constraints. Ultimately, this paper argues that Hausa language speakers rank their most valued terminological distinctions based on cognitive constraints and cultural influences in order to produce the kinship terms found in the lexicon.


April 6, 2015 - Posted by | abstract

1 Comment »

  1. Sounds like you have a good grip on what you want to do. I would suggest informing your readers who Hausa speakers are at the point you introduce the term: where found, how many, related linguistic groups. Just in case they are as ignorant as myself.

    Comment by Dan Harrison | April 6, 2015 | Reply

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