Accepted Paper:

Language and the body in Datooga children's concepts of kinship  

Authors:

Alice Mitchell (Universität zu Köln )
Joe Jordan (University of Bristol)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how Datooga-speaking children of Tanzania articulate kinship concepts through verbal and embodied action. To what extent is the body a resource for communicating kinship concepts, and what might this tell us about how children conceptualise kinship relations?

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores how Datooga-speaking children of Tanzania articulate kinship concepts through verbal and embodied action. To what extent is the body a resource for communicating kinship concepts, and what might this tell us about how children conceptualise kinship relations?

Much anthropological study of kinship has abstracted kin terms from their interactional contexts, while practice-based approaches to kinship have typically concentrated on nonlinguistic behaviour (e.g. Carsten 2004). Here we bring the language of kinship back into focus but consider its use in terms of the contextual configurations in which it occurs (Goodwin 2000). We look in particular at the Datooga concepts of gee- and qee- 'house', which can refer both to physical spaces and kinship units, and which form part of compound phrases meaning 'sibling'. How do children's bodily practices, including gesture, gaze, and spatial orientation, build on or modify the linguistic meanings of these terms?

Based on twenty hours of transcribed video recordings of Datooga children's interactions, we show that while children often rely solely on the verbal modality for expressing kinship concepts, the body can serve to highlight aspects of those concepts. For example, on one occasion, a four-year-old boy appeals to another child to take responsibility for his younger brother's behaviour. As he says 'brother', he gazes at the elder boy while pointing at the younger brother, thus constructing with his body a visual index of the kinship relation between the two. This action also reveals an acute awareness of the social obligations that kinship entails.

Panel Lang01
Semiosis as orchestration