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Seminar: Marriage networks and language identities in Arnhem Land and beyond, Ian Keen, 4 Nov, 3.30pm, ANU

Australian National University, Shape

Date: 26 October 2016

Seminar: Marriage networks and language identities in Arnhem Land and beyond

Speaker: Ian Keen

When: Firday 4 November 2016, 3.30-5:00pm

Where: Engma Room (5019), CoEDL, HC Coombs Building, ANU


In the light of more recent research on the Maningrida languages, this paper extends an earlier comparison of Yolngu and Burarra kinship and marriage (Keen 1982) to consider in greater detail the relationship between, on the one hand, the structure of Yolngu and Burarra marriage networks (northeast and north central Arnhem Land) (as recorded in genealogies of the late 1950s and mid 1970s respectively), and on the other, patrigroup, language and regional identities. It extends the earlier comparison further to include recorded marriage networks and identities among Ngarinyin people and their neighbours of the Kimberley of the mid-1970s (Blundell and Layton xxxx) and Ganai (Kǔrnai) of eastern Victoria (Howitt 2004).

The “Aranda-type” kin terminology and marriage preferences of Burarra speakers engendered “dispersed affinal alliance”—webs of cross-cutting marriages between congeries of small patrigroups, which map on to named regional identities, together with low levels of polygyny. 

The markedly asymmetrical Yolngu marriage network was engendered by the asymmetric “Murngin type” kin terminology and prescriptive matri/patrilateral cross-cousin marriage, associated with high levels of polygyny and hence fast-growing patrigroups. Patterns of language identities exhibit related contrasts; between dialects mapped on to partly endogamous regional identities (Burarra), and patrilects extended to two or more patrigroups of the same moiety, clustered into dialect groups (Yolngu).

Looking further afield, the Ganai (Kǔrnai) dispersed marriage networks between localities (eastern Victoria) (Howitt 1904) engendered by the Non-dual kinship terminology and preference for marriage between distant ‘siblings’, relates to regional identities in a similar way to Burarra. The Ngarinyin pattern (Kimberley) is similar to the Yolngu one, with markedly asymmetrical marriage ties between patrigroups engendered by an Aranda-type terminology (modified by skewing) and a preference for marriage between ‘FMBSD’ and ‘FFZSS’. Patrigroups are ordered into patrimoiety clusters, associated with regions identified with language varieties. Patrigroups are simpler in structure than Yolngu ones, however, and marriage alliances between pairs of clans are repeated only in alternate generations.

In conclusion, these cases suggest that Aboriginal patterns of kinship and marriage have had a considerable influence on structures of language and regional identities.

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