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Higher Seminar in Diversity Linguistics: Kinship semantics in Papuan languages


Date: Tuesday 19 April 2022

Time: 15.00 – 16.00

Location: Zoom

We are happy to announce the April session of the Higher Seminar in Diversity Linguistics. Bruno Olsson will give a talk on his ongoing work on the semantics of kin terms in Papuan languages.

Bruno Olsson is currently Akademischer Rat at the University of Regensburg in Germany. He studied linguistics at Stockholm University (MA) and NTU, Singapore (PhD) and has been working at the Australian National University in Canberra. He is the author of a recent comprehensive grammar of Coastal Marind and co-editor of two volumes on Grammatical gender and linguistic complexity. His current research includes work on the Yaqay language and alignment and valency change in Papuan languages.

Vector map of New Guinea by Mostphotos


In this talk, I report on ongoing work on the semantics of kin terms in Papuan languages, which is made possible by the new database Kinbank, developed by my two collaborators and their colleagues (see Passmore et al. 2021). Situated at the crossroad of language and culture, kinship systems have been studied by both linguists and anthropologists, which means that we have detailed data for more than 100 Papuan languages – a luxury that we lack for most linguistic domains of the languages of New Guinea. In the talk, I offer some snapshots of the diversity of Papuan kin terminologies, discuss some key syncretisms (i.e. the lumping together of different kin types under the same kin term) and their distribution, and how the patterns in our data set fare against the patterns of the classic kinship typologies (Hawaiian, Eskimo etc.).

Passmore, S., Barth, W., Quinn, K., Greenhill, S. J., Evans, N., & Jordan, F. M. (2021). Kin against kin: internal co-selection and the coherence of kinship typologies. Biological theory, 16(3), 176-193.
Kin Against Kin: Internal Co-selection and the Coherence of Kinship Typologies



This seminar will be held online, via Zoom. A zoom link is distributed via email lists. If you wish to attend but have not received a link, please contact Bernhard Wälchli:


More about Bruno Olsson’s research

Bruno Olsson (

A Grammar of Coastal Marind (about the book)

Grammatical gender and linguistic complexity I: General issues and specific studies (

Grammatical gender and linguistic complexity II: World-wide comparative studies (