Kin Types and Kin Terms
The investigation of kinship terminology begins with a distinction
between kin types and kin terms. Kin types refer to the basic
uncategorized relationships that anthropologist use to describe the
actual contents of kinship categories. They are supposedly culture
free, etic components. Kin terms are the labels for categories of
kin that include one or more kin types. They are emic structures and
vary across cultures.
A kin type is a designation that is assigned to each individual
such as a mother, father, mother's brother, mother's sister.
Each relationship is described by a sequence of primary components,
which are strung together to indicate actual biological relationships:
The diagram which follows shows how several basic relationships are
designated by kin types.
Primary components and letter symbols|
- Mother's sister
- Mother's sister's daughter
- Sister's son
Kin types are culturally neutral.
An anthropologist uses these types to begin a description and analysis of
any kinship system prior to a consideration of principles of classification
within that system. On the other hand, kin terms, the set of names
that people actually use to designate and address their relatives,
are specific to each culture.
The terms uncle, cousin, grandfather, peculiar to English terminology,
are not kin types but categories which include more than one relationship
and therefore more than one kin type.
English Kin Terms Designated by Kin Type:
© Brian Schwimmer
|FBS, FBD, FZS, FZD
MBS, MBD, MZS, MZD
University of Manitoba
Created: Sept. 1996
Last Updated: August 1998