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Social Anthropology: Research


EuroBabel project: Kinship systems in southern African non-Bantu languages

EuroBABEL – Kinship systems in southern African non-Bantu languages: documentation, comparison and historical analysis

Funded by the ESRC and the European Science Foundation (EUROCORES programme)

Project team:

  • Principal Investigator: Professor Alan Barnard
  • Postdoctoral Researcher: Dr Gertrud Boden
  • PhD Student: Jenny Lawy (from 1st October 2010) 

Aims and objectives of this project:

Kinship terminology is both a part of language and a part of society. Behaviour towards relatives, familial obligations, and rules of incest avoidance and marriage can be diverse even within an ethnographic region. The ‘Khoisan’ (non-Bantu-speaking) region of southern Africa is extremely diverse in these ways, especially considering the relatively small size of that population group (a few hundred-thousand), but nevertheless has structural features in common over vast distances and even across language group boundaries.  Some of these features may be thousands of years old.

This project aims to utilize the study of kinship, and especially kinship terminology structures and related aspects of social organization, to decipher aspects of the history and prehistory of ‘Khoisan’ peoples. It is part of a larger EuroBABEL group of five collaborating projects, based in different countries, but all working together to find out the degree to which peoples called ‘Khoisan’ are linguistically and culturally related and how they are related, for example, from common cultural or linguistic origins or through cultural borrowing.

The project will be conducted by Professor Alan Barnard (Principle Investigator), Dr Gertrud Boden (Postdoctoral Researcher) and Jenny Lawy (PhD student) over a three-year period.

The larger project of which this is a part:

‘EuroBABEL’ is short for the European Collaborative Research (Eurocores) scheme Better Analyses Based on Endangered Languages, and the project is attached to the larger EuroBABEL project, The Kalahari Basin area: a ‘Sprachbund’ on the verge of extinction. The larger project includes the present one, as the United Kingdom’s contribution, plus four other ‘individual research projects’ (IPs) based in various countries and one ‘associated project’ (AP). The Leader of the full project is Prof. Dr. Tom Güldemann, Humboldt-Universität, Berlin.

The six projects are:

IP1. A documentation and description of Shua (Kalahari East Khoe) (PI: Prof. Dr. William McGregor)

IP2. Salvage documentation of South African Khoekhoe and !Ui languages (PI: Prof. Dr. Maarten Mous)

IP3. Inheritance and contact in a language complex: the case of Taa varieties (Tuu family) (PI: Prof. Dr. Tom Güldemann)

IP4. The Central Kalahari area with a focus on ǂHoan (Ju-ǂHoan family): language contact and population genetics (PI: Dr. Dr. Brigitte Packendorf)

IP5. Kinship systems in southern African non-Bantu languages: documentation, comparison, and historical analysis (PI: Consul Prof. Dr. Alan Barnard)

AP. The southwestern Kalahari Khoe languages of the G||ana and Naro groups (PI: Prof. Dr. Hiroshi Nakagawa)

Edinburgh Students