: kinship and communication

  • Bruce Arthur Sommer

    Student thesis: Masters by Research - CDU


    This thesis accounts for a broad scope of language use by the Kunjen (Oykangand) people of western Cape York Peninsula. The literature on language use reveals that in the Australian Aboriginal context, considerations of kinship, more than any other factor, determine the acceptability and interpretation of grammatically well formed utterances of a language. It is clear that this holds true for the Kunjen, also. Social realities, such as formal betrothals and actual marriage alliances, 'close' vs. 'distant' kin, death and funerary observances, names and totemic attachments, affective responses, and social mechanisms restricting the flow of resources (such as food and materiel) each interact with the behavioural norms attached to each kinship dyad, creating a rich matrix of possible interpretive contexts, and allowing a wide spectrum of verbal behaviour.

    An examination of Kunjen language use would therefore be expected to reflect and illuminate kinship structures, and allow assessment of the impact of these social realities in determining speech patterns. The analysis of Kunjen kinship necessary to this task reveals underlying patterns indexed by sub-categories of kin, and concomitant linguistic behaviour that together reach beyond the usual 'kinship study'.

    The work of Michael Agar and other scholars defining discrete 'frames' comprising coherent aggregates of social and linguistic variables which in turn determine the appropriate behaviour of participants in a given context is called on for the theoretical perspective on these data. The inherent complexity of two interacting systems of meaning -- kinship and language -- and their mutual reinforcement, make significant demands on the frame as a descriptive construct. Its strength as a theoretical device is in its explanatory power, comprising as it does an assemblage of relevant parameters or conditions that in turn enables speakers to make judgments on linguistic behaviour based on prior experience.
    Date of AwardAug 1998
    Original languageEnglish

    Cite this