Uncle-type Kinship Terms in Sinitic Languages: An NSM-based Semantic Typological Approach




Xue, Wendi

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The semantics of kinship terms is a vibrant field that explores the intersection of language, culture, and biology. Chinese, with its diverse dialectal variations and extensive historical documentation, presents a unique opportunity to delve into fundamental questions in this domain, including the development of descriptive kinship terminologies and the diachronic typological shifts across Sinitic varieties. This study specifically focuses on uncle-type terminologies, which serve as a key aspect of a kinship system. Surprisingly, there is a dearth of English scholarship on kinterms in Chinese dialects beyond Classical Chinese and Standard Mandarin. Furthermore, Chinese kinship linguistics has often neglected the examination of uncle-type terms, and a comprehensive insider-view semantic analysis or lexico-semantic typological survey that encompasses all Sinitic branches is lacking. To bridge these gaps, the study employs an integrated approach, incorporating Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM), lexico-semantic typology, and cultural anthropology. By investigating uncle-type terms in 34 representative varieties across all 13 Sinitic groups, this research offers an unprecedented panoramic typological landscape of Chinese kinship variation. The collected and verified dataset consists of 166 uncle terms, meticulously analysed through the NSM approach, resulting in the formulation of 56 semantic explications. By considering both onomasiological and semasiological perspectives, the study identifies various typological patterns, including lexicalisation types and strict/loose colexifications, pertaining to the three consanguine uncle types, BO, SHU, and JIU, found in Chinese languages. Additionally, the genetic, geographical, and geo-typological distributions of these patterns are thoroughly examined and discussed. By tracing the evolutionary trend of Sinitic uncle terms, the study provides insights into the historical dimensions of the Chinese kinship system alongside its synchronic typological landscape. Moreover, it demonstrates the profound impact of cultural beliefs and social practices on the usage and development of diverse kinship terms. The results shed light on the often-overlooked diversity within Chinese kinship organisation and elucidate the factors influencing its evolution. Implications are drawn from cultural-cognitive, sociolinguistic, and historical-evolutionary perspectives. Furthermore, the study delves into the subcategorisation of the uncle semantic domain, identifying mechanisms for colexification. As a result, a total of 25 implicational typological tendencies are proposed. In conclusion, this thesis expands the empirical database of kinship terminology, revealing the fascinatingly intricate landscape of uncle terms in Sinitic languages. It offers a comprehensive analysis of their semantic, typological, historical, and cultural dimensions, significantly contributing to our understanding of Chinese kinship and the profound impact of cultural beliefs and social practices on its development.






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