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Ethnobiological Classification

Ethnobiological Classification: Principles of Categorization of Plants and Animals in Traditional Societies

Brent Berlin
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 354
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  • Book Info
    Ethnobiological Classification
    Book Description:

    A founder of and leading thinker in the field of modern ethnobiology looks at the widespread regularities in the classification and naming of plants and animals among peoples of traditional, nonliterate societies--regularities that persist across local environments, cultures, societies, and languages. Brent Berlin maintains that these patterns can best be explained by the similarity of human beings' largely unconscious appreciation of the natural affinities among groupings of plants and animals: people recognize and name a grouping of organisms quite independently of its actual or potential usefulness or symbolic significance in human society. Berlin's claims challenge those anthropologists who see reality as a "set of culturally constructed, often unique and idiosyncratic images, little constrained by the parameters of an outside world." Part One of this wide-ranging work focuses primarily on the structure of ethnobiological classification inferred from an analysis of descriptions of individual systems. Part Two focuses on the underlying processes involved in the functioning and evolution of ethnobiological systems in general.

    Originally published in 1992.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6259-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. Part One: Plan

    • CHAPTER ONE On the Making of a Comparative Ethnobiology
      (pp. 3-51)

      As its name implies, ethnobiology as a discipline combines the intuitions, skills, and biases of both the anthropologist and the biologist, often in quite unequal mixtures. There is no generally accepted definition of the field, although most practicing ethnobiologists would probably agree that the field is devoted to the study, in the broadest possible sense, of the complex set of relationships of plants and animals to present and past human societies.

      Almost any topic dealing with plants, animals, and human beings falls within the realm of the field. Consider the listing of some recent Ph.D. dissertations of interest to ethnobiologists...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Primacy of Generic Taxa in Ethnobiological Classification
      (pp. 52-101)

      One of the essential questions of modern systematic biology is why species exist. For ethnobiological classification, one adds the equally essential questions, of those species that exist,whichare recognized andwhy?

      Picture an ethnographer in the field just beginning fieldwork with a group of Indians somewhere in the upper Amazon of South America. Building a vocabulary is high on her agenda, given the ethnographer’s goal of wanting to start using the native language as quickly as possible. She sets off down a forest trail with an assistant who has agreed to help her in this difficult task. As they...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Nature of Specific Taxa
      (pp. 102-133)

      A folk generic may be divided into two to several named subgroups. The categories that result from such splitting of folk genera will be referred to here asfolk specific taxa. In accordance with standard usage, generic classes that are further divided into named subgroups are said to bepolytypic, in contrast with the large majority of folk genera, that contain no further named subgroupings and are, accordingly,monotypic.

      While some generics may be biologically polytypic and range over several species, as seen in the last section, this biological diversity may not necessarily be afforded linguistic recognition. When we speak...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Natural and Not So Natural Higher-Order Categories
      (pp. 134-196)

      Toward the middle of chapter 2, I provided a hypothetical example of the biological collecting efforts of a naturalist somewhere in the rain forests of South America. The reader will recall that the naturalist was involved in carrying out a survey of the major vertebrate fauna found in the area. Briefly, let me take up the story from where we left off.

      After considerable effort, the naturalist will have assembled a sizable collection of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish, all having been carefully prepared and preserved. The reader will also remember that the Western biologist had, from time to...

  5. Part Two: Process

    • CHAPTER FIVE Patterned Variation in Ethnobiological Knowledge
      (pp. 199-231)

      Ever since Sapir (1938),¹ anthropologists have recognized the truism that cultural knowledge is distributed throughout a population in ways related to a number of factors, associated at least with a person’s sex and age, social status and role, kinship affiliation, personal experience, and basic intelligence. The manifestation of this knowledge in action is strongly constrained by social context.² Ethnobiological knowledge is no different in this regard, and researchers working on ethnobiological classification have made some efforts to deal with the differences observed in the variable ways native speakers conceptually organize the world of plants and animals. Although I cannot provide...

    • CHAPTER SIX Manchúng and Bíkua: The Nonarbitrariness of Ethnobiological Nomenclature
      (pp. 232-259)

      Take another look at the line drawings in figure 6.1. These are rough approximations of the drawings used in a famous experiment on sound symbolism described several decades ago by the great German gestalt psychologist Wolfgang Köhler (1929). In the study, subjects were asked to look at the drawings and to assign the nonsense words,taketeandmaluma, to the figure they thought most appropriate to each term. All of the subjects, and I predict the reader of this monograph as well, invariably paired the nonsense wordtaketewith the sharp, angular figure andmalumawith that drawn with free-flowing...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN The Substance and Evolution of Ethnobiological Categories
      (pp. 260-290)

      The Cenepa River takes a 90-degree turn at the small Aguaruna settlement of Huampami (Wampám), affording the observer standing on its northern bank an unobstructed view of the steep slopes that form the constrictive channel guiding the river’s clouded waters southward to the Marañón and finally the Amazon. In late afternoon, a falling western sun illuminates the face of the broad mountainside like a great lamp, the contrasts of shadow and light emphasizing the rich complexity of a surface that one rarely notices at midday. Especially prominent now are the great forest giants, trees of thirty to forty meters in...

  6. References
    (pp. 291-308)
  7. Author Index
    (pp. 309-312)
  8. Index of Scientific Names
    (pp. 313-321)
  9. Index of Ethnoscientific Names
    (pp. 322-330)
  10. Subject Index
    (pp. 331-335)