Cognition, Algebra, and Culture in the Tongan Kinship Terminology

Journal of Cognition and Culture 7 (1-2):49-88 (2007)
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We present an algebraic account of the Tongan kinship terminology (TKT) that provides an insightful journey into the fabric of Tongan culture. We begin with the ethnographic account of a social event. The account provides us with the activities of that day and the centrality of kin relations in the event, but it does not inform us of the conceptual system that the participants bring with them. Rather, it is a slice in time of an ongoing dynamic process that links behavior with a conceptual system of kin relations and vice versa. To understand this interplay, we need an account of the underlying conceptual system that is being activated during the event. Thus, we introduce a formal, algebraically based account of TKT. This account brings to the fore the underlying logic of TKT and allows us to distinguish between features of the kinship system that arise from the logic of TKT as a generative structure and features that must have arisen through cultural intervention.

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Dwight Read
University of California, Los Angeles


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