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  • Linguistic Evidence for Primogeniture and Ranking in Proto-Oceanic Society1
  • Per Hage

The presence of a seniority distinction in Proto-Oceanic sibling terminology has been used as evidence for primogeniture and ranking in Proto-Oceanic society. Cross-culturally, however, sibling terminologies with the seniority distinction are very common, found in egalitarian as well as ranked societies. A stronger argument can be made. If Proto-Oceanic society was based on primogeniture and ranking, the term for elder sibling should be marked in Oceanic terminologies. There is both diachronic and synchronic evidence in support of this hypothesis.

Kirch (1997) suggests that one explanation for the rapid and extensive Lapita (Oceanic) expansion was a ranking system based on a rule of primogeniture in which "first-born sons inherited rights to the ancestral house and its estate. In such societies junior siblings frequently adopt a strategy of seeking new lands to settle where they can found their own 'house' and lineage, assuring their own offspring access to quality resources" (Kirch 1997:65). This scenario is consistent with Bell-wood's (1995) more general theory that a "founder-focused ideology" was the motive for the earlier Malayo-Polynesian expansion. As evidence for a ranking system, Kirch cites the presence of a seniority distinction in Proto-Malayo- Polynesian (PMP) sibling terminology, in the contrast set *kaka 'elder sibling' versus *Sua(n)ji 'younger sibling', and the continuation of this distinction in a great many Oceanic (OC) terminologies. Cross-culturally, however, sibling terminologies with the seniority distinction are very common, found in egalitarian as well as ranked societies (Murdock 1968). A stronger argument is possible. Although very little research has been done on markedness in kinship terminologies, it appears that seniority, like sex, is not marked on a universal basis.2 If [End Page 366] Proto-Oceanic and Proto-Malayo-Polynesian society was based on primogeniture and ranking, the term for elder sibling, which designates successor and heir, should be marked in OC and MP terminologies. There is both diachronic and synchronic evidence in support of this hypothesis.

As shown in table 1, PMP, POC, and Proto-Polynesian (PPN) sibling terminologies have the same four categories with terms for elder parallel (same sex) sibling, younger parallel sibling, man's sister, and woman's brother (Blust 1980; Pawley 1981; Marck 1996). PPN terms are reflexes of POC terms, and POC terms are derived from PMP terms.


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TABLE 1.

SIBLING TERMS IN PROTO-MALAYO-POLYNESIAN (PMP), PROTO-OCEANIC (POC), AND PROTO-POLYNESIAN (PPN)*

In the evolution of PN sibling terms there is, as Clark (1975) has shown, a pattern of semantic simplification in which the seniority distinction is lost first, then the sex distinction, and, finally, the parity distinction ending with a single term for sibling. For cognate terms there is "a fairly consistent pattern of semantic survival where one term extends to a larger category and ousts another. Thus *tahina replaces *tuakana; *tuanga'ane replaces *tuafafine and *tahina replaces *tuanga'ane ..." (Clark 1975:86). Clark suggested, although he did not pursue the matter, that an explanation for this pattern "might be sought in terms of semantic markedness" (1975:86).

Markedness or marking refers to a hierarchical relation between two terms of an opposition. The concept applies to all levels of language-phonological, grammatical, and lexical-semantic. Three criteria of marking, from Greenberg (1966, 1990 [1980]), are applicable to the analysis in this paper.

1. Par excellence expression. The unmarked term may represent the entire category or the opposite of the marked term. For example, in English (and in many other languages) man = 'human being' and man = 'male human being' (unmarked) versus woman = 'female human being' (marked). [End Page 367]

2. Contextual neutralization. In certain contexts only the unmarked term appears. For example, in German phonology voice is neutralized in the final position for obstruents.

3. Syncretization. When two sets of categories intersect, distinctions that are present in the unmarked category are absent or neutralized in the marked category. In the English pronominal system, a gender distinction in the singular (he, she, it) is neutralized in the plural (they).

If merger...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9421
Print ISSN
0029-8115
Pages
pp. 366-375
Launched on MUSE
1999-12-01
Open Access
No
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