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Dr Alice Gaby seminar "This I tell ya, brother: the mutual dependence of kinship and pragmatics", 12 June 2015

Australian National University, Shape

Date: 12 June 2015

On 12 June 2015, Dr Alice Gaby visited the ANU to deliver a guest seminar, "This I tell ya, brother: the mutual dependence of kinship and pragmatics". An edited version will soon be available via the CoEDL iTunes-U channel.

Australian languages are famed for their classificatory kinship systems, the terms of which extend to everyone in the social universe. But Australian languages are also notable for incorporating multiple subsystems, a fact often ignored in studies of kinship. This first part of this talk considers what we can learn by considering the wide variety of speech contexts in which kin terms are used. We find that the Kuuk Thaayorre kinship lexicon comprises four subsystems, only two of which may be considered classificatory. Such an analysis also reveals culturally significant but covert categories (such as the matriline, patriline and generational harmony), and speaks to the nature of semantic categories more generally.

Just as the study of kinship semantics is enriched by the consideration of the pragmatic contexts in which these terms are used, the second part of this paper explores what kinship can teach us about pragmatics. Research on politeness in Aboriginal Australia has traditionally emphasized indirectness, vagueness and obliqueness. This is far from the whole story, however. In the appropriate context, speakers of Australian languages speak with remarkable clarity and directness. The key to understanding the respective distributions of direct and indirect speech is the kinship system. This has several implications for both first and second wave politeness theories. In conclusion, the contextual embedding of language, on the one hand, and the structure and semantics of Australian kinship systems, on the other, are mutually illuminating.

  • Australian Government
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