Pointing to the body: Kin signs in Australian Indigenous sign languages

Jennifer Green, Anastasia Bauer, Alice Rose Gaby, Elizabeth Marrkilyi Ellis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Kinship plays a central role in organizing interaction and other social
behaviors in Indigenous Australia. The spoken lexicon of kinship has been
the target of extensive consideration by anthropologists and linguists alike.
Less well explored, however, are the kin categories expressed through sign
languages (notwithstanding the pioneering work of Adam Kendon). This
paper examines the relational categories codified by the kin signs of four
language-speaking groups from different parts of the Australian continent:
the Anmatyerr from Central Australia; the Yolŋu from North East Arnhem
Land; the Kuuk Thaayorre from Cape York and the Ngaanyatjarra/Ngaatjatjarra
from the Western Desert. The purpose of this examination is twofold.
Firstly, we compare the etic kin relationships expressed by kin signs with
their spoken equivalents. In all cases, categorical distinctions made in the
spoken system are systematically merged in the sign system. Secondly, we
consider the metonymic relationships between the kin categories expressed
in sign
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-36
Number of pages36
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • sign language
  • Australian Indigenous languages
  • kinship
  • bimodal contact
  • body

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