The Nature of Kinship: From Dad and Mum to God and Society, 2019

25 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2020

Date Written: June 1, 2019


Why do we call our parents mother and father? Why do we call ourselves these general words as parents? These personal questions have not sufficiently drawn the attention of linguists and psychologists, yet any account of language and human cognition must be able to provide a good answer. Indeed, our minds have evolved and develop in a social setting that is primarily governed by norms of kinship. This article demonstrates how those norms encapsulate the relationship between language and reality, individual and society. It suggests that the use of kin terms is characterized by a linguistic conflation of address and reference that corresponds to a cognitive conflation of social and natural concepts. This analysis rests on a biological view of language and human sociality. From this grounded perspective, I integrate findings across the behavioral sciences. I argue that myth has a basis in child-directed speech, and that child-directed speech is a means of socialization, not so much a means to help children learn to speak or relate to others. I also discuss the theoretical issues that result from this lack of meta-linguistic awareness, issues that go back to the beginnings of philosophy. Because the concept of kin combines nature and nurture, yet nature is prior to nurture, understanding the nature of this concept elucidates central problems, from the origin of societies to the current questioning of gender and parenting roles.

Suggested Citation

Maanmieli, Jose, The Nature of Kinship: From Dad and Mum to God and Society (June 1, 2019)., 2019, Available at SSRN:

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