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Kinship and language documentation in Bhutan

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Title: Kinship and language documentation in Bhutan
Authors: Tshering, Karma
Issue Date: 28 Feb 2013
Description: The documentation of kinship terminology as part of a language documentation project can reveal rich information about the social organization of a given community. In Bhutan, documentation of the Tibeto-Burman language Dzongkha reveals a fascinating kinship system. In this talk I present Dzongkha kinship in light of Tibetan data, which, I argue, suggests that Dzongkha speakers have experienced a social history divergent from neighboring Tibetan speakers.

Dzongkha is linguistically a Tibetan dialect (van Driem 1998) but displays a different kinship system than Tibetan. There are several forms, such as terms for ‘mother’, ‘father’, ‘grandmother’ and ‘grandfather’ which are shared between the two languages. There are also several terms similar in form but slightly different in use. For example, Dzongkha ‘aku ‘uncle’ references father’s brother and mother’s second husband but Tibetan akhu references only father’s brother.

Other domains show more divergence in form and use. In sibling terminology, for example, Tibetan has different terms for elder sister (M ego), elder brother (F ego), sister (M ego), brother (F ego) and an additional term for younger sibling of the same gender. Dzongkha, however, has different terms for younger sister (F ego), younger sister (M ego), elder sister, elder brother, and younger brother. Some of the Dzongkha terms appear to be cognate, in part, to Tibetan terms but neither phonological or semantic relationships are straightforward.

Finally, some domains exist in Dzongkha but are completely absent from Tibetan. Most strikingly, there is a reciprocal term in Dzongkha for husbands of sisters; the term ’mâro references the special relationship a man has with his wife’s sister’s husband. No equivalent exists for women married to brothers. In fact, through study of Dzongkha kinship a general tendency emerges for there to be more terms to express relationships to women than to men.

Dzongkha is often passed over in serious language documentation studies as a national language and merely a Tibetan ‘dialect’. However, a deep study in the domain of kinship reveals a fascinating world of social organization, unique to Dzongkha-speaking society and indeed quite distinct from Tibetan. More specifically, I argue the kinship data suggest the Dzongkha-speaking world has been historically shaped by matrilocal and matrilineal social organization, unlike in Tibet. Data in this presentation are organized and illustrated using the MPI program KinOath Kinship Archiver.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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