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Magistrsko delo Mentor: Študijski program: red. prof. dr. Eva Sicherl Anglistika – E, P Ljubljana, 2022


Academic year: 2022

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TINA IVICA 18183042

Sociocultural Effects on the Perception of Prototype:

A Case Study of the Concept ‟Familyˮ

Sociokulturni učinki na percepcijo prototipa:

Študija primera koncepta ‟Družinaˮ

Magistrsko delo

Mentor: Študijski program:

red. prof. dr. Eva Sicherl Anglistika – E, P

Ljubljana, 2022



I would like to thank my family and friends for their unconditional love and support. I would also like to thank my mentor, red. prof. dr. Sicherl, for whom I am very grateful. She has generously guided me throughout this whole process while allowing me to stay true to my ideas.


Key document information

Name and SURNAME: Tina IVICA


Place: Ljubljana Year: 2022

No. of pages: __89__ No. of appendices: __2__ No. of pages in appendices: __14__ No. of reference notes: __56__

Supervisor: red. prof. dr. Eva Sicherl



In this thesis, I will analyze the influence of sociocultural factors on the perception of prototypes. This research aims to provide theoretical and practical evidence and support for the hypothesis that different sociocultural factors play a major role in language, i.e. in perception, conceptualization, and categorization, which then leads to differences in the creation of prototypes.

The leading and crucial chapters of this thesis are 2. Language and Thought, 3. Sociocultural Factors and Language, 4. Family and Language, and 5. The Experiment. While chapter 2.

introduces the main idea of the thesis, chapters 3., 4. and 5. analyze sociocultural effects on language and more precisely on the perception of the concept ‘family’.

Chapter 5. provides the experimental part of the thesis. Within the experiment, a questionnaire has been used to provide support for the claim that sociocultural factors influence people’s perception of the prototype ‘family’. The questionnaire results indicate that these factors do indeed impact one’s understanding and use of language. Furthermore, the results successfully support the main idea of this thesis.

Keywords: language, sociocultural factors, culture, prototype, family, influence, conceptualization, perception, categorization



V tej nalogi bom analizirala vpliv sociokulturnih dejavnikov na percepcijo prototipov. Namen raziskave je zagotoviti teoretične in praktične dokaze ter potrditi hipotezo, ki predvideva, da imajo različni sociokulturni dejavniki veliko vlogo pri jeziku, oziroma percepciji, konceptualizaciji in kategorizaciji, kar vodi k razlikam pri ustvarjanju prototipov.

Vodilna in ključna poglavja naloge so 2. Jezik in misel, 3. Sociokulturni dejavniki in jezik, 4.

Družina in jezik ter 5. Eksperiment. Poglavje 2. predstavlja uvod v glavno idejo naloge, poglavja 3., 4. in 5. pa analizirajo sociokulturne učinke na jezik, s poudarkom na percepciji koncepta ‘družina’.

Peto poglavje vsebuje eksperimentalni del magistrske naloge. V njem predstavim vprašalnik, ki podpira trditvi, da sociokulturni dejavniki vplivajo na percepcijo prototipa ‘družine’.

Rezultati vprašalnika pokažejo, da omenjeni dejavniki resnično vplivajo na razumevanje in uporabo jezika posameznikov. Poleg tega pa tudi uspešno potrdijo glavno idejo naloge.

Ključne besede: jezik, sociokulturni dejavniki, kultura, prototip, družina, vpliv, konceptualizacija, percepcija, kategorizacija


Table of Contents




2.1.1. Cognitive Lexical Semantics vs. Traditional Approaches ... 4

2.1.2. Conceptualization, Categorization, and Perception ... 4


2.2.1. Challenging the Classical View ... 8

2.2.2. What is a Prototype? ... 9

2.2.3. Gradation ... 10



3.1. Language and Culture ... 14

3.2. Language and Community ... 15

3.2.1. Worldviews ... 17

3.2.2. The Community and the Individual ... 17

3.2.3. Perception ... 19

3.2.4. Context ... 19

3.2.5. Concepts and Prototypes ... 20

3.3. Stereotypes ... 21

3.3.1. Language and Stereotypes ... 22

3.3.2. Culture and Stereotypes ... 23

3.3.3. Stereotypes and Prototypes ... 24

3.3.4. Breaking Free From Imposed Thinking ... 25


4.1. Language – the Mirror of the Mind ... 27

4.2. Language and Social Reality... 28

4.3. Kinship ... 28

4.3.1. Prototype Theory and Kinship ... 30

4.4. Who is Family? – Different Prototypes of the Term 'Family' ... 31

4.4.1. Different Families = Different Prototypes ... 32

4.5. The ‘Family’ Concept in Dictionaries ... 35

Family ... 36



6. CONCLUSION ... 59 7. REFERENCES ... 61 8. APPENDICES ... 68




The world we live in has been the most dynamic people have ever experienced and not a second goes by without changes occurring in the world. With everything moving so fast - technology, politics, ideologies, education, world problems, fashion, and much more - linguistics is trying to catch up. The way people think is drastically evolving and changing and the only solution for language to serve its users is to be dynamic and open to change like the world around it. Since external contexts constantly alter, language needs to be flexible and adaptive (see also Günther 2016, 106).

Cultural and other novelties have left their mark on languages and they are significantly influencing how individuals understand and conceptualize different language structures.

What I would like to present in my thesis is how language changes on the basis of various sociocultural factors. More precisely, I will focus on how people with different sociocultural backgrounds perceive concepts differently, making it difficult to determine where the margins of a certain category are. In order for people to understand each other, language has to find a balance between stability (conventionality) and variability (individuality) (see also Günther 2016, 107).

To sum up, this thesis aims to demonstrate and analyze the interlinkage between language and culture, i.e. the enormous impact of sociocultural factors on the understanding and production of linguistic meaning, conceptualization, perception, and categorization. Guided by the idea that “we think in language” (Underhill 2012, 22), the thesis also examines the role our mind plays in the language-culture circle.

To better introduce the topic of my thesis, I will begin by commenting on how language impacts our minds and vice versa. I will, therefore, discuss cognitive linguistics with an emphasis on perception, conceptualization, and categorization as these are essential for the



creation of a prototype, which is the focal point of my thesis. Furthermore, since our thoughts and language are to a large extent influenced by sociocultural factors, I will also mention linguistic relativity and the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, which are of major importance when it comes to analyzing the influence of sociocultural factors on the perception of prototypes. To exemplify the impact of sociocultural factors on prototypes, I will use the concept ‘family’; a concept greatly impacted by different cultures, ideologies, politics, traditions, and much more.




A worthy introduction to the prototype theory and its interplay with sociocultural features is the topic of language and thought, or in other words, language and mind. It would be insufficient to analyze language without considering the impact our thinking has on it, just as it would be incomplete to ignore the role language has on our minds. Language impacts thought and behavior (see also House 2000, 70), or as Lee puts it, language and thought mutually influence each other; by being functionally intertwined, they create a complex cognitive activity (qtd. in Enfield 2000, 135).

This language-thought approach to linguistics was mostly influenced and enriched by linguists such as Benjamin Lee Whorf, Edward Sapir, and Franz Boas, all of whose contributions greatly impacted linguistics and anthropology at the beginning of the 20th century (see also Bromhead 2018, 2).


Since many linguists claim that “language and thought mutually depend on each other”

(Trabant 2000, 27), we are further led to explore the language-mind relationship, or in other words, the language-cognition interconnection. When it comes to this area of linguistics, it was the early 1980s that were the era of the development of Cognitive Lexical Semantics as a cognitive linguistics field (see also Cuyckens et al. 2003, 1). By introducing various theories within this domain, such as the prototype theory, the field of cognitive linguistics was finally able to account for the link between the internal structure of categories and the structure of lexical categories (ibid.). This opened the door for a better understanding of individual differences in linguistic use, perception, conceptualization, categorization, and production, which are evident in the variations in the perception of prototypes. Even though it is still not known to what degree language affects our mind (see also Günther 2016, 7.), it “is an integral part of human cognition” (Langacker 1987, 12, qtd. in Günther 2016, 10).



2.1.1. Cognitive Lexical Semantics vs. Traditional Approaches

In contrast to cognitive lexical semantics, when talking about the meaning of words, many traditional approaches in linguistics have failed to take into consideration different aspects and factors, which, in that respect, makes them inadequate (see also Cuyckens et al. 2003, 3).

Therefore, one of the main reasons why cognitive linguistics became successful is because it takes into consideration various factors that have been neglected by other approaches.

Before being challenged by cognitive-functional linguists, experts assumed that words were the only contributors to the concepts expressed by sentences (see also Michaelis 2003, 164).

However, according to cognitive linguistics, conceptualization is much more than mere words. Word meanings are concepts; they are cognitive, i.e. mental constructs created in confrontation with experience (see also Allwood 2003, 30). Taking such a deeper approach to language analysis helps us understand why different individuals use language differently. We do, however, have to keep in mind that there is certain uniformity in language that allows individuals to communicate with each other.

2.1.2. Conceptualization, Categorization, and Perception

When discussing the relationship between cognition and language, the main cognitive processes involved are conceptualization1, categorization2, and perception3, all of which are ultimately connected to the prototype theory (more about that in Chapter 2.2). These three cognitive areas, i.e. processes are all closely related to each other and their implications are often intertwined. They are dynamic and fluid (rather than static) (see also Hays 2000, 166) and are open to change which is often imposed by the fast lifestyle of the modern world.

Cognitive abilities, especially categorization, perception, and memory, influence linguistic structure and meaning (see also Günther 2016, 10) and, as Geeraerts (2006, 7) put it,

1 The process of forming “an idea of something in your mind” (OLD, 2021)

2 “The process of putting people or things into groups according to what type they are; a group made in this way” (OLD, 2021)

3 “An idea, a belief or an image you have as a result of how you see or understand something” (OLD, 2021)



“meaning is conceptualization” (qtd. in Günther 2916, 96). Furthermore, these cognitive abilities do not only influence language, but are also influenced by language themselves, thus creating a mutual never-ending circle of interaction. Since we formulate our thoughts by using our language, it is inevitable that our language influences perception and categorization (see also Günther 2016, 7), therefore conceptualization as well. In other words, language has the power of changing our perception (see also Hays 2000, 169) and since perception is closely related to the prototype theory, we could say that language has the power of changing one's perception of prototypes.

Using a specific lexical structure indicates a specific way of conceptualizing a concept (see also Günther 2016, 10). For example, according to Günther (2016, 10), “the use of a particular structure for expressing a particular content also reflects or realizes a particular manner of conceptualizing this content”. Since everyone has different experiences that mold their language, people cannot have identical perceptions and prototypes in their minds.

However, due to shared knowledge within a community, it is more likely that the speakers of the same language will have a more similar concept in mind than speakers of another language. That is why sociocultural differences may play a big role in the perception of prototypes.

Conceptualization and Perception (= Ception)

While some argue that perception and cognition are two different cognitive areas, others believe that they in fact form one cognitive domain, often called ception (perception + cognition = ception) (see also Günther 2016, 86). Hence I find it appropriate to discuss these two terms simultaneously.

The way we conceptualize things to a great extent affects how we think, plan, reason, solve problems and make decisions (see also Sloutsky and Deng 2017, 1284). But why do we conceptualize things the way we do? According to Lakoff and many other linguists, there is a



strong link between our experience and our conceptual structure (qtd. in Hays 2000, 163). As Sloutsky and Deng put it, concepts can originate “(1) in interactions with the world and get lexicalised later or (2) in the language and get grounded later” (2017, 1284). While (1) proposes a “from category learning to a concept” process, (2) suggests a “from a word to a concept” process (ibid.). For example, if encountered with dogs several times, a child is already aware of this category before even knowing the word for it, while concepts such as 'germs' are acquired through language (rather than experience) (ibid.). When deciding which of these two processes is more appropriate for a certain concept, we have to look at the bigger picture. For example, if we consider the word 'family', we have to keep in mind that it is a social concept susceptible to change, in which case I believe the more suitable process would be the “from category learning to a concept” process. Furthermore, these two different ways of learning categories can also be marked as 1) bottom-up (from experience to concept) or 2) top-down (from language to concept) (ibid.). When a category is lexicalized, it becomes a concept (see also Sloutsky and Deng 2017, 1285). We can thus say that concepts are

“lexicalised classes of real or fictitious entities” (ibid.). In other words, concepts are lexicalized categories (ibid.).

Some of the most important factors that affect how a concept is learnt are parents' vocabulary and education, surrounding topics, access to books, media, and formal education (ibid.). This leads us to the conclusion that concepts are both linguistic and cultural (see also Enfield 2000, 150). As Wierzbicka stated, “different languages [...] suggest different conceptual universes” (qtd. in Enfield 2000, 137). Therefore, when talking about differences in conceptualization, we should take into consideration external situational context, social context, and cognitive context (see also Günther 2016, 156). In other words, the link between language and perception is highly influenced by a complex contextual environment, composed of both the external (situational and social) and the internal (cognitive) (see also



Günther 2016, 415-416). How we perceive, conceptualize and think in general, is influenced by our experience, language, culture, and many other sociocultural aspects, such as our religion, age, education, upbringing, exposure to media and technology, and many other factors that molded our life experience, and thus linguistic experience. Therefore, “no universal concept exists” (Underhill 2012, 36).


How we perceive and conceptualize things ultimately leads to us categorizing them. By using our mind, we model the world through segmentation (i.e. mentally setting boundaries) and

“the classification of the segments into categories on the basis of shared properties” (Lamb 2000, 177). Since every item in the world is beyond complex, these segments do not need to share all of the properties (which would be impossible) in order to be put in the same category (ibid.). To simplify, “categorization is about organizing the world” (Ji et al. 2004, 57) in a way that makes it easy for us to comprehend reality.

Categorization and Culture

What is relevant to this thesis is that “cognition and reasoning styles differ across culture” (Ji et al. 2004, 57). For example, North Americans tend to categorize taxonomically, while East Asians are more prone to thematic organization, making them more context-sensitive (ibid.).

The hypothesis proposing that categorization is culture-dependent has been supported by numerous linguistic studies, one of them mentioned in a 2004 article by Ji et al., who pointed out how regardless of the testing language, culture highly influenced participants' categorization patterns and approaches (ibid.).




When it comes to categorization, there are two extreme approaches in the semantic-cognitive- functional area within the Western tradition and these are the Platonic and the Wittgensteinian point of view (see also Givon 1986, 77). Plato argued that the membership in categories is defined by the possession or non-possession of criterial properties (necessary and sufficient properties), while Wittgenstein argued that categories have blurry edges and are subject to change, rather than being absolute (ibid.). Considering just one of these two extreme views as the right one is not possible nor accurate; appropriately describing categories requires finding a compromise between these two views or, in other words, a hybrid solution (see also Givon 1986, 78).

While Givon differentiates between the Platonic and the Wittgensteinian view, Goddard makes a slightly different distinction. On one side of the spectrum is the Aristotelian view, i.e. the classical view, which proposes that nominal categories are based on a fixed set of features, which implies that category membership is fixed (see also Goddard and Wierzbicka 2014, 39). On the other end of the spectrum lies the prototype approach, which proposes that category membership has different degrees and fuzzy boundaries (see also Goddard and Wierzbicka 2014, 40). We can thus conclude that the classical view can be referred to as Platonic or Aristotelian, while the opposing view in question can be referred to as the Wittgensteinian view, which created the basis for the prototype theory.

2.2.1. Challenging the Classical View

The classical theory of categories holds that an entity can be named by a word if it contains all the features that define the meaning of that word (see also Taylor 2008, 39). In other words, word meaning can be defined by a set of features (ibid.). This theory also states that all members of a category have equal status and that a category has a clear, defined membership, i.e. boundaries (ibid.). However, many linguists, such as Eleanor Rosch,



believed that such an approach to words and their referents, and also the meaning it entailed, was not sufficient (see also Taylor 2008, 39). Rosch challenged the classical view on category membership by claiming that not all members of a category have equal status; some members 'better' represent their category (i.e. are more prototypical) than others (ibid.).

Besides Rosch, who is considered one of the greatest contributors to the field of categorization, other cognitive psychologists, such as Lloyd, Posner and Keele, also presented non-extremist solutions that combine features of both the Platonic and the Wittgensteinean views (see also Givon 1986, 78). Such a hybrid solution was later on accepted and supported by linguists (e.g. Lakoff, Johnson, Givon), who presented this solution as the Prototype Theory (see also Givon 1986, 78-79). Just like Wittgenstein, the prototype theory suggests that categories are not always defined by a few criteria properties (see also Givon 1986, 79). The prototype theory also supports the Wittgensteinian view by suggesting that members of different categories might share some properties (ibid.).

2.2.2. What is a Prototype?

The term prototype can be used to designate category exemplars or to designate mental representations (see also Vandeloise 2003, 401). In other words, the prototype of a category is the most typical member of a certain category (see also Givon 1986, 79). This member possesses the biggest number of crucial characteristic properties (ibid.). Another way to describe a prototype would be to characterize it as an entity that is most likely to be referred to by a word (see also Taylor 2008, 48). Put differently, the prototype serves as a suitable overall summarizer of the category, especially if the category in question is basic (see also Posner 1986, 59). A more straightforward definition was offered by Kronenfeld, according to whom focal referents (or in other words prototypes) are typical or average exemplars (2000, 206).


10 2.2.3. Gradation

Internal structuring of categories is expressed through category membership, vagueness at the edges of categories, and other factors that are the result of the prototypical organization of categories (see also Eynde 2003, 428). This is where gradation takes place. The notion of gradation in the prototype theory was presented by Rosch and her colleagues who described categories as having a prototype with unclear boundaries and with more dominant and less dominant members of a category; the dominant, i.e. superior forms and words being placed the closest to the prototype (see also Posner 1986, 55). All properties are weighed in terms of their importance and all members of a category are ranked in terms of how many of these properties they possess, which indicates their degree of prototypicality (see also Givon 1986, 79). In other words, what determines the category membership degree of a category member is its degree of similarity to the prototype of that category (see also Lakoff 1999, 391).

The gradation aspect of the prototype theory leads us to the radial network theory, according to which there are more and less central members of a category which suggests that the central members are more prominent in an individual's mind. However, several studies show that some people learn many terms by giving advantage to the more peripheral members.

According to Rice, one such study shows that children learn the use of prepositions by initially acquiring uses that are somewhat peripheral (qtd. in Cuyckens et al. 2003, 22).

The Flexibility of the Prototype Theory

As mentioned previously, the prototype theory states that not all members of the same category need to share all of the features of that category in order to be its members. This characteristic often creates blurry edges; it is sometimes difficult to determine the boundaries of a category, i.e. if some peripheral members even belong to a certain category. However, category membership is flexible, rather than fixed, and is usually impacted by context, i.e.

linguistic and sociocultural factors. What an English-speaking person might consider a prototype of a certain category, a Slovenian-speaking person might not. For example, if asked



to provide a prototype for the category 'pastry', an English person would probably list the Victoria sponge cake, the English trifle, or the lemon drizzle cake, while someone from Slovenia would probably think of traditional Slovenian pastries, such as potica, gibanica or štrudel.

The flexibility feature is crucial for the prototype theory since we cannot create a new category for every new context because, in principle, the potential number of different contexts is infinite (see also Givon 1986, 98-99). These differences in category membership, i.e. internal structuring of prototypes provide evidence that different individuals organize lexical categories differently, which confirms a link between psycholinguistics and the prototypical organization of categories. (Taylor 1989 qtd. in Eynde 2003, 428). This, however, comes as no surprise since prototypes are often considered to have a direct link to the nature of human categorization (see also Lakoff 1999, 391). In other words, the prototypical representation of categories “fits with general properties of the human mind”

(Posner 1986, 59).


By prototypically structuring lexical categories, lexical cognitive semantics challenged the

“classical” description of word meaning. (see also Cuyckens et al. 2003, 1). What is more, cognitive linguistics opened the door to new linguistic discoveries; linguists started studying language as inseparable from cognition, which led to new ways of 'dissecting' language, one of them being the linguistic relativity approach.

Wilhelm von Humboldt, a 19th-century German linguist, is considered to be the originator of the linguistic relativity theory, which was later analyzed in more detail by Sapir and Whorf, resulting in the well-known Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (see also Koerner 2000, 3). Humboldt's work often focused on the relationship between language structure and cultural and social



organization (see also Koerner 2000, 8). He believed that how we use language says a lot about how we look at things (see also Koerner 2000, 11).

Linguistic areas that deal with language and cognition, such as linguistic relativity (and usage-based cognitive linguistic research), suggest that linguistic forms, along with their meanings, affect our non-linguistic behavior and cognition (see also Günther 2016, 6). This is why the main question posed by relativity linguists is: can language affect non-linguistic behavior and cognition and if so, to what degree? (see also Günther 2016, 2) While cognitive linguistics explores how cognition affects language, linguistic relativity puts more emphasis on how language influences cognition (see also Günther 2016, 6).

However, there are some linguists who do not agree with theories that propose that language determines thought. For example, the American linguist Pinker rejects the theory that different linguistic communities think differently and with different conceptual means (see also Underhill 2012, 26). He believes that “language cannot dictate thought” (ibid.). Even though there might be linguists, such as Pinker, who deny the idea that language influences our thoughts, there is far more research supporting the existence of language-cognition mutual influence. For example, with her research, books, articles, and other work, Wierzbicka has provided one of the most significant individual contributions to the field of linguistic relativity (see also Enfield 2000, 141). Besides Wierzbicka, one of the biggest contributions to this field of linguistics is associated with Whorf's theories on language and thought (see also Günther 2016, 6), which were later combined with Sapir's research and were then accordingly termed 'the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis'. The hypothesis states that the structure of human language influences the manner in which we understand reality (see also Robins 1976, 99-100) and that “speakers of different languages think and perceive reality in different ways” (Hussesin 2012, 642). This hypothesis served as a basis for many linguists' work on linguistic relativity, such as Wierzbicka's.




Linguistic relativity, as the name suggests, analyzes language from a relativist point of view, therefore rejecting universalism. Looking at languages universally, i.e. striving to connect all languages by highlighting their universal traits and common origins (see also Underhill 2012, 27) often creates an obstacle in linguistic research because it fails to take into consideration linguistic differences created by a plethora of factors, such as sociocultural factors. Therefore, there are numerous linguists studying language while also taking into account different cultural factors and their effects on language.

It was already in the 17th century that many philosophers began discussing the connection between language and culture; philosophers Locke and Leibniz wrote about how languages carve out different concepts (see also Underhill 2012, 23). However, in the mid-twentieth century, linguistics took a universalist turn with Noah Chomsky as the main advocate for linguistic universalism (see also Bromhead 2018, 3). There were, however, linguists such as George Lakoff, Paul Friedrich, and many others, who continued putting a strong emphasis on culture in their linguistic work (ibid.), thus supporting the relativist approach to language studies.

Besides Lakoff and Friedrich, there have been many other relativism-supporting linguists emphasizing the influence of cultural factors on language, their claims thus being of great importance for research on sociocultural effects on the perception of prototypes. According to such linguists, language and culture are inseparable; as Whorf put it, they are “embedded in each other“ (qtd. in Ji et al. 2004, 58). Similarly, Keesing (1979) sees linguistic knowledge as part of cultural knowledge (qtd. in Enfield 2000, 143), which is why he believes that “a theory of language must incorporate culture, and vice versa” (qtd. in Enfield 2000, 126).

Some of the main sociocultural factors that impact one's understanding, perception and, production of language are language itself, culture, education, religion, lifestyle, attitudes,



beliefs, and much more. The following chapters will focus on analyzing some of these factors in terms of their influence on language and ultimately their role in the prototype theory.

3.1. Language and Culture

There have been many linguists claiming that language and culture are closely connected and influence each other. For example, according to Ji et al. (2004, 58), language transmits and internalizes culture. In other words, “language is a social and cultural reality” (Geeraerts 2003, 25 qtd. in Günther 2016, 139). As Harré and Krausz put it, “the main features of world- as-experience are determined by culture“ and “meanings are symbolic functions of culture”

(qtd. in Lee 62). However, one of the first linguist to highlight the link between language and sociocultural factors was Wittgenstein (1953), who viewed languages as comprising of

“forms of life” situated within sociocultural practices, which supports the cognitive semantic notion of embodiment (qtd. in Zlatev 2003, 454).

According to Koerner, there are two points of view, one that states that language is a product of culture and the other one that states that culture is structured around language (2000, 2), but many researchers suggest that the two form a closed circle instead. Similarly to the 'which came first, the chicken or the egg?' question, we could ask ourselves, what happened first, language of culture? Regardless of what the answer might be, it is undeniable that they both influence and depend on each other, creating a continuous cycle of mutual interaction. Lee described this mutual influence between language and culture as 'reciprocal engagement' (qtd.

in Enfield 2000, 144).

Regardless of the numerous studies confirming the reciprocal influence between language and culture, some areas of linguistics still fail to take this mutual engagement into account.

Linguists focusing on the Whorfian hypothesis within the area of cognitive psychology mainly focus only on parts of language, such as perception and categorization, but often do not consider how language influences a person's “broader cultural value system” (see also



Imai et al. 2016, 70). Some definitions of language, however, immediately take into account its role in culture. For example, as stated in Imai et al. (2016, 70), language is “an inseparable collection of elements consisting of words, grammar, pragmatics, and narrative styles, together functioning as a medium through which cultural views and culture specific epistemologies are reflected”.

3.2. Language and Community

According to Saussure, “language reflects the psychological character of a nation” (qtd. in Underhill 2012, 25). In other words, every language is unique and with it its culture as well.

Even if two languages are extremely similar, they do not represent the same social reality;

different cultures, i.e. different societies live in different worlds and not just differently labeled worlds (see also Sapir 1929, 209). As Sapir put it, “the real world is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group” (qtd. in House 2000, 72).

Therefore, as Keesing suggests, “a culture is [...] a system of knowledge, a composite of the cognitive systems more or less shared by members of a society” (qtd. in Enfield 2000, 143).

Furthermore, Wierzbicka explains how differences in cultural priorities and values can be ascribed to differences in communicative styles (qtd. in Enfield 2000, 138). This goes both ways. As Trabant (2000, 40) put it, “languages are the particular product of thought of particular nations”; they determine 'the spirit of people' (ibid.). That is why language does not only play a big role in individual socialization, but it also shapes society in general (see also Cipolla 1976, 304). Even though ethnolinguistics, i.e. the area that studies this relationship between community and language, is often ignored in mainstream linguistics, it is very helpful when it comes to analyzing the relationship between language, culture, and thought (see also Underhill 2012, 17).

Since language has a key role when it comes to conveying cultural ideas (see also Enfield 2000, 131), we can learn a lot about people and their culture by analyzing their use of



language. As Wierzbicka put it, “every society has a shared set of cultural norms”, which can often be an indicator of that society's common knowledge (qtd. in Enfield 2000, 139). Even though individuals might deviate from their society's set of norms, they are aware of the fact that these norms are the default norms, i.e. the most representative and common norms in that society (see also Enfield 2000, 139). This is why the prototype theory has the potential of revealing a lot about individuals' and societies' norms, perception, experience, and worldview, which, according to many linguists, differs from language to language (see also Underhill 2012, 36).

All the statements mentioned above suggest potential differences in the creation of prototypes, which vary from society to society, individual to individual. This can thus also be applicable to the concept of family. How different nations create the prototype for the concept 'family' depends on their culture, tradition, historical background, and various other sociocultural factors, such as language. Different lexical structures and differences in language use in terms of words connected to the concept of family influence community's (and also individuals') creation of a prototype for this concept. The way a community uses kinship terms affects its perception of family, and thus the prototype as well. For example, some languages have more kinship terms than other languages. Such instances are analyzed in more depth in Chapter 4.3., but to give an example, we can think of the words 'aunt' and 'uncle'. While the English language provides only these two terms for mothers'/fathers' brothers and sisters, the Croatian language offers four words: when talking about the mother's side of the family, the uncle and aunt are called ujak and ujna, but when talking about the father's side of the family, the two are called stric and strina. This allows interlocutors to distinguish between family members without additional explanation. Furthermore, such differences between languages, i.e. the lack of additional expressions, can lead to differences in the perception of familial structures and prototype creation. This is why ethnolinguistics



might come in handy when analyzing kinship terminology and prototype creation between different communities and languages.

3.2.1. Worldviews

The way Underhill described it, we use our language culture to interpret the world (2012, 38).

In other words, every language has a different approach to the world and reality (see also Trabant 2000, 35), or as Humboldt put it, every language has its own worldview (1999, 60).

In order to analyze this connection between a language of an ethnic group and its worldview, linguists also need to take into account how individuals play a role in the creation of their group's language and culture (see also Underhill 2012, 27).

3.2.2. The Community and the Individual

Different speech communities usually develop different conventionalization patterns, which as a result make them differ from one another (see also Günther 2016, 140). Such variations in patterns are one of the factors that make different speech communities unique. These community patterns are usually transferred to the community's individuals, whose reality is largely built upon their group's habits, both consciously and unconsciously (see also Sapir 1929, 209). In other words, “we see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices for interpretation”

(Sapir 1929, 210). However, regardless of the imposed linguistic and cultural patterns, speech communities are not heterogeneous and their members do not use language equally (see also Günther 2016, 143), which creates individual differences within the same community.

Individual Differences

Individuals that belong to the same speech community often experience conventionalization in their language use (see also Günther 2016, 139-140). However, in spite of reflecting the worldview of their group to a certain extent, individuals are not equivalent to their group (see also Underhill 2012, 21). Members of the same language-culture system do not have the same



thought systems (see also Lamb 2000, 174). Therefore, it is not possible for two different people who speak the same language to have the same linguistic knowledge (see also Günther 2016, 1). This is because “language is learned from experience” (Günther 2016, 113) and each person's experience is different. Our experience with and in our environment influences our linguistic knowledge (see also Günther 2016, 106), making language a product “of individual knowledge and a conventional, socio-cultural construct” (Günther 2016, 2).

When analyzing individuals' language systems, we should look at smaller, more limited groups, rather than the whole speech community (to which they belong to) (see also Günther 2016, 143). This would mean sectioning the community into smaller groups based on age, gender, education, religion, and other sociocultural factors. When looking at smaller groups, we talk about micro-conventionalization, while macro-conventionalization refers to a bigger picture, i.e. to speech communities (ibid.).

Adapting for Successful Communication

Stating that every individual thinks and uses language differently potentially leads us to the question “how do people understand each other if their conceptualization is different?”. What happens in communication is the so-called alignment, i.e. a phenomenon which occurs when speakers adapt to each other (see also Günther 2016, 144). Some linguists prefer calling this phenomenon accommodation, co-adaptation, syntactic/structural priming, syntactic/structural persistence, entrainment, syntactic adaptation, or the establishment of conceptual pacts (ibid.). Some theories that are focused on the social aspect of communication state that interlocutors take into account the partner's individual and social identity in order to have successful communication (see also Günther 2016, 146). Adapting to the conversation and its interlocutors can sometimes result in imitation. When interlocutors try to imitate each other in order to make sense of the communication, they can be subject to routinization and, as a



result, to implicit learning (see also Günther 2016, 145). This also results in the micro- conventionalization of construal meanings (see also Günther 2016, 149).

When it comes to culture, the most successful way of approaching different culture-specific modes of thinking is the so-called ‘ethnography of communication’, which states that individuals communicate successfully if they “know how to speak in culturally appropriate ways” (Goddard and Wierzbicka 2014, 243). Such an approach raises individuals’ awareness of the potential differences in perception, conceptualization, categorization, and thus the creation of prototypes between them and their interlocutors.

3.2.3. Perception

Speaking of individuality, language and perception should be approached from a more individual point of view, rather than relying so much on whole speech communities (see also Günther 2016, 3). How people perceive is based on the previous state of their brain; both the mental state and the external stimulus influence one's perception (see also Hays 2000, 166- 167), which is why perception should be studied and observed on an individual level as well.

3.2.4. Context

We are all bound to our cultural and socio-historical context in which we think and breathe (see also Underhill 2012, 12). Therefore, how we use language is molded by social and situational (external) contexts and cognitive (internal) contexts (see also Günther 2016, 106).

As Cuyckens put it, words do not acquire meaning out of context (2003, 21), i.e. meaning is produced by context (see also Allwood 2003, 29). The context in which language is used, such as cultural, personal, social, or biological context, requires language to be adaptable, which would not be possible without the flexibility of language (see also Givon 1986, 98).

This leads us to the prototype theory, whose category rules allow for linguistic flexibility.


20 3.2.5. Concepts and Prototypes

When talking about language, culture, and thought, Enfield explains how “language is the primary mode of transmitting culture and facilitating conceptual thought” (2000, 145). Along these lines, Wierzbicka explains how language does not offer direct access to the world, but it provides us with concepts which then create our reality along culturally specific lines (qtd. in Underhill 2012, 37). She contrasts how concepts emerge differently in different language systems (qtd. in Underhill 2012, 36). According to her, “concepts may show a certain degree of compatibility in different languages, but each one is specific to the culture in which it circulates” (ibid.). Thus, concepts cannot be successfully analyzed without taking into consideration culture (see also Enfield 2000, 145). “A theory of language must therefore incorporate a theory of culture” (ibid.). That is why cultural psychologists have been analyzing the impact of culture on thought (see also Imai et al. 2016, 72).

In connection to that, many linguists, such as Rosch (1978), promote the view that claims that categories and their attributed members are influenced by the culture of a language community (qtd. in Taylor 2008, 47). This view has been supported by numerous linguistic studies, which indicate that culture plays a big part when it comes to semantic diversity in vocabulary connected to the social world of the speaker, such as for example kinship, which is analyzed in chapter 4. (see also Bromhead 2018, 2).

Since culture impacts conceptualization, it consequently influences the perception of prototypes as well. Furthermore, people can identify a prototype of a category they have learned, even without being directly exposed to that prototype (see also Taylor 2008, 45).

One study confirming this claim was conducted by Taylor, in which Americans, when asked to assume what a Chinese individual would list as the prototype of the category 'bird', listed a peacock and a swan, but when asked to think from an American perspective, they listed an eagle and a robin (2008, 47). This goes to show that different cultures and regions have



different experiences which leads them to have different perceptions of the same category.

However, this does not necessarily mean that Chinese subjects would list a peacock and a swan as the prototypes, but it does, however, show that background knowledge, in this case background assumptions, do influence how we would rank members of a category (ibid.).

However, just like it has a unique 'external form', every language has a unique 'inner form' as well (see also House 2000, 70), which is why besides conceptual differences between different languages, variations in conceptualization also occur within the same language due to various sociocultural differences, different knowledge, experience, context, and many other factors.

3.3. Stereotypes

Speaking of concepts, there have been numerous ways of defining them. It used to be considered that a concept equals an icon, i.e. a mental image, but a more recent view suggests that a concept is a definition (see also Connolly et al. 2007, 2). The third view, being the most recent one, suggests that a concept is a stereotype (ibid.). Andrew et al., however, disagree with these three definitions and explain how some concepts may have stereotypes, but do not equal stereotypes (ibid.). What triggers stereotypes is not conceptualization itself, but categorization and generalization. Even though these two linguistic processes are linked to the mastering of language (see also Burghgraeve 1976, 183), they can also generate negative connotations, thus potentially leading to stereotyping.

What is a stereotype?

According to Hinton, “stereotypes are generalizations” (2000, 8) and “a feature of prejudice”

(2000, 14). They tend not to be subject to change (see also Hinton 2000, 9) and are maintained regardless of new information (see also Hinton 2000, 12). Many linguists identify a stereotype as an (over)generalization that ignores individual differences (see also Hinton 2000, 11-12). One of the main characteristics of stereotyping is assuming that all members of



a category are the same (see also Hinton 2000, 4). In other words, “stereotyping ignores the variability within a group of people” (ibid.). Therefore, as Hinton concluded, stereotypes are a form of inaccurate judgement (2000, 11), or as Lipmann simply put it, they are incorrect (qtd. in Hinton 2000, 9).

Lippmann (1922) was the first to introduce stereotyping within the frame of social sciences (qtd. in Hinton 2000, 8). He described stereotypes as “simplified pictures in our head of people and events in the world” (ibid.). He explained how we form these pictures in our head because the reality of the world is too massive and fleeting for us to grasp (ibid.). According to him, these pictures are often molded by our culture (ibid.) (analyzed in more detail in 3.1.2.). Because of its simplifying aspect, stereotyping is often identified with simple- mindedness (see also Hinton 2000, 19). Oftentimes, we are not even aware to what extent language and culture mold our thinking, which elicits the question: “Are we blind to our own limits?” (Underhill 2012, 19).

3.3.1. Language and Stereotypes

Many linguists, such as van Dijk, argue that prejudice, and thus stereotyping, are acquired and transmitted through communication (qtd. in Maass and Arcuri 1996, 195). As Maass and Arcuri put it, “although stereotypes may take very different – verbal and nonverbal – forms, language is probably the dominant means by which they are defined, communicated and assessed” (1996, 193). Language helps transfer and maintain the existing stereotypes, often in such a subtle way that neither the speaker nor the listener are completely aware of its effect (see also Maass and Arcuri 1996, 220). Even though the way we use language does not alter reality, it does, however, alter our perception of reality (see also Hays 2000, 159). It helps us to take the world into our own consciousness (see also Underhill 2012, 22).

Furthermore, we use language as a means of social interaction (see also Günther 2016, 111) and words as social tools (see also Lupyan 2019, 154). When we are conveying cultural



ideas, language has a key role (see also Enfield 2000, 131), which is why we should always be aware that “words are not innocent” (Underhill 2012, 9). What and how we say something reflects our thinking, attitudes, and beliefs. Furthermore, as individuals, we are part of our community and our beliefs create our community's beliefs; our stereotypes feed our community's stereotypes. Therefore, we should be aware of the power words have when it comes to molding our perception and, ultimately, our community's perception.

3.3.2. Culture and Stereotypes

According to Hinton (2000, 9), stereotypes are oftentimes incorrect. What makes stereotyping inaccurate is its ethnocentrism or cultural absolutism which promotes that our view of the world is the correct view and that the norms imposed by our culture are accurate (Brown 1965, qtd. in Hinton 2000, 13). Along these lines, Hinton pointed out that stereotypes are the result of our limited cognitive activity and our culture-imposed knowledge and perception of the world (2000, 9). We often accept the normative influence imposed by our environment, i.e. by our social group made up of our family, friends, teachers, colleagues, media, and more (see also Hinton 2000, 19), and we consequently absorb ways of thinking we see among the members of our community.

Media and Stereotypes

Not rarely are subtly implanted stereotypes, oftentimes imposed by mass media, used as a tool for manipulating society. The source of prejudice often originates from textbooks, media, news reports, and even common talk (see also Maass and Arcuri 1996, 195). One example of socially imposed stereotyping is connected to discrimination based on gender, i.e. media's tendency to portray men and women in traditional and stereotypical ways. For example, in 1988, Kruse, Weimer, and Wagner analyzed the differences in the representation of women and men in German magazines (see also Maass and Arcuri 1996, 195). The conclusion was that the perception of gender roles in media still follows the traditional stereotypes; while men are presented as more logical and active, women are portrayed as more emotional and



passive (ibid.). Furthermore, Kirchler noticed the presence of stereotypical language in German, Swiss, and Austrian obituaries, which prevalently characterized male managers as intelligent and knowledgeable, while women were described as likable, adorable, and committed (ibid.) Moreover, data analyzing phraseology confirmed that in English, the phrase ‘(a) real man’ is used more often than ‘(a) real woman’ (see also Goddard and Wierzbicka 2014, 41). However, the phrase ‘(a) typical woman’ is more commonly used than

‘(a) typical man’ (ibid.). Besides these phrases, words such as womanly, motherly, childlike indicate that these roles are assigned certain gender-based stereotypes (ibid.).

Upbringing and Stereotypes

While mass media are linked to mass communication, the influence of language on stereotyping can occur on an interpersonal level as well, such as parent-child or teacher- student communication (see also Maass and Arcuri 1996, 195). Research conducted by Fagot and Leinbach, which focused on gender stereotypes, revealed that children with more traditional parents were more prone to gender stereotypes than their peers with less traditional parents (see also Maass and Arcuri 1996, 196). Gender stereotyping may also influence one's perception of family roles, which can ultimately affect how one perceives the category 'family'.

3.3.3. Stereotypes and Prototypes

What we choose as prototypical members of a category reflects our psychological processes of deciding if an item belongs to a category or not (see also Taylor 2008, 41), which can be a good indicator of our beliefs and ways of thinking. As mentioned in 3.2.6., a person can identify a prototype of a category they have learned, without directly being exposed to the prototype in question (see also Taylor 2008, 45). This is where stereotypes often come into play. We sometimes tend to have prejudices towards certain entities without ever being exposed to them. We build our beliefs based on the beliefs of our community; both consciously and subconsciously. We do not question the meaning and the power our words



have because we are part of a community that has imposed the meaning in question as a general truth. Blinded by our culture's perception of reality, we tend to forget that we are ultimately in charge of molding our thoughts.

3.3.4. Breaking Free From Imposed Thinking

Metalinguistic awareness is a linguistic category that enables an individual to reflect upon structural linguistic features (see also Zhou 2000, 346). “Metalinguistic awareness frees speakers from the conventional thinking and behavior dictated by their native languages”

(Zhou 2000, 360). Even though people find comfort in the linguistic rules imposed by their speech community, people themselves are, after all, the ultimate rulers of language (see also Trabant 2000, 41). Even though one might feel constrained by the community's implanted norms, “there is always an escape from the trap of one's language” (House 2000, 79).




The following chapters will deal with the concept of 'family' and how sociocultural factors influence people's perception of this concept. One of the explanations provided for the term 'family' is offered by Maynes and Waltner, according to whom “families are small groups of people linked by culturally recognized ties of marriage or similar forms of partnership, descent, and/or adoption, who typically share a household for some period of time” (2012, x).

However, the meaning of 'family' has significantly altered throughout history; it constantly changes with time and in different cultures (see also Maynes and Waltner 2012, ix).

Therefore, different cultures have different views on who is part of the family and they have different approaches to organizing family life (see also Maynes and Waltner 2012, ix-xi). For example, in different cultures and in different times in history “men have had more than one wife at a time [...], married partners have been selected by the parents of the marrying couple” and so forth (ibid.). If we take a look at how different cultures perceive different ways of organizing family as normal, we can notice how 'family' is not a natural term, but rather a historically, socially, and culturally determined one (ibid.). For instance, in terms of historical factors and their influence on a culture's approach to kinship, colonialism had a significant impact on the indigenous organization of kin (see also Kockelman 2010, 36).

There are many more examples that indicate the susceptibility of the term 'family' to cultural, social, and political practices and processes (see also Maynes and Waltner 2012, ix). For example, family metaphors such as 'our founding fathers' and 'the brotherhood of men' have a big impact on political thought (see also Maynes and Waltner 2012, x). Besides creating the male dominance effect in terms of 'family', the dominance of men in political and historical vocabulary manipulates the human mind into ignoring the role of women in the field of politics and history, leading to a much broader basis for gender-based discrimination.



4.1. Language – the Mirror of the Mind

When it comes to language and the mind, Cuyckens et al. wrote that “one of the most intangible, yet ever-present aspects of our life is the phenomenon of language itself, and its role in our mental life and in our interpersonal relations” (2003, 8). To put it simply, language affects our perception of the world. For example, if one's concept for the term 'parents' is narrow, it is highly likely that their opinion and thoughts on the subject of 'parents' will be narrow as well, especially in contrast to someone who has a broader conceptualization of the term 'parents'. What we experience linguistically, we transmit to our future linguistic experience and behavior (see also Günther 2016, 102). In Leibniz's words, “languages are the best mirror of the human mind” (qtd. in Wierzbicka 2016, 409). Similarly, Wierzbicka stated that “languages are the best mirror of human cultures” (qtd. in Enfield 2000, 135).

Along these lines, Underhill wrote that “words create concepts” (2012, 42); they are fundamental for the creation of social reality, a large part of it being social roles (e.g.

teachers, judges...) (see also Hays 2000, 162). The influence happening between language and conceptualization is not prompt, but “it is the influence of languaging during childhood that is affecting thinking and perceiving throughout later life” (see also Lamb 2000, 195).

One of the most powerful roles in one's childhood are parents; they can use vocabulary and grammar to mold their children's perceptual categorization (see also Hays 2000, 159). This might, however, be seen as ethically problematic (see also Hays 2000, 169) since parents can imprint unethical ways of thinking onto their children. Consciously or unconsciously, parents transmit their own personal beliefs to their children and these beliefs oftentimes contain discriminatory and stereotypical traits, which are later on difficult to eradicate from one's mind.



4.2. Language and Social Reality

Since language is the instrument for creating reality, we could say that language, therefore, is reality (see also Hays 2000, 163). While a 'which came first?' question might arise from such a statement, Hays suggests that the two develop and arise together (2000, 164).

We create social reality with our thoughts, which are language-dependent (see also Hays 2000, 162). In other words, reality is the result of common human experience. This process between 'common human experience' and 'social reality' was labeled by Lakoff as 'functional embodiment' (qtd. in Hays 2000, 163). Even though the connection between social reality and linguistic relativity is omnipresent, the connection between the two is very difficult to analyze and observe (see also Hays 2000, 164) since many of its aspects are abstract and difficult to convert into data and numbers.

4.3. Kinship

When it comes to “the categorization of social concepts, relationships and functions”, language is essential (see also Hays 2000, 163). According to Dunbar, “social relationships are the driving force behind the origins of language” (qtd. in Hays 2000, 162). Therefore, social relationships are one of the focal points of linguistic research, making kinship one of the most important areas for the field of social relationships and anthropology in general.

According to Tratumann and Whiteley (2012), “anthropology began with kinship” (qtd. in Wierzbicka 2016, 412), making it undoubtedly a crucial area for anthropological research and studies. However, the concept of kinship and its unquestionable aspect of ethnocentrism are

“one of the most controversial issues in cultural anthropology” (Wierzbicka 2016, 408). The issue of kinship has been through many stages; from being considered irrelevant to being regarded as central to human studies (ibid.) and finding its firm role within the field of linguistic relativity.


29 Examples of Kinship in Different Languages

Different cultures do not only differ in languages but in concepts as well. Therefore, when trying to find a universal understanding of the concept 'kinship', it is important to take into consideration different kinship systems in different languages and cultures (see also Wierzbicka 2016, 408).

For example, the English term 'sibling' completely disregards age and gender (see also Wierzbicka 2013, 304). Furthermore, no European language has an equivalent for the word 'sibling' (ibid.). Another example is Fanti (spoken in Ghana) in which 'father' is used both for the father and his brother (see also Kronenfeld 2000, 201). While Wierzbicka discusses whether a concept exists if a word for it does not, it is no wonder that different cultures have different perception, and thus a different categorial vision of the term 'family' since they do not even have the same conceptual representation of 'family'. Even though a lack of words for certain concepts does not necessarily mean the lack of these concepts in one's mind, it does however indicate the absence of these concepts in one's daily communication (see also Wierzbicka 2016, 411).

According to Wierzbicka, the words used for kinship concepts are of high importance for cultural anthropology since they are a valid indicator of how people conceptualize social relationships (2016, 409). Examples from above are a good indicator of how not all humans have the same understanding of familial connections and roles (see also Wierzbicka 2016, 408), leading thus to socioculturally-provoked differences in the perception of the prototype of the concept 'family'.


30 4.3.1. Prototype Theory and Kinship

Wierzbicka believes that prototype semantics could be of help when it comes to cross- linguistic comparison of meanings and “the incommensurability of different conceptual traditions” (2013, 318). However, she believes this is possible only if we have some shared invariants, such as the universal concepts 'mother' and 'father' (ibid.). According to her, “if we don’t try to study the diversity and universals in kinship terminologies at the same time and to use the apparent universals (or near-universals) as our tools for describing the diversity we will always be in danger of looking at kinship terms in languages of the world through the prism of our own culturally-shaped concepts— such as, for example, ‘brother’, ‘sister’ and

‘sibling’.” (ibid.).

Kinship Universals

In most studies, English is taken as the starting point for kinship terms, which results in the negligence of other cultures' kinship structures (see also Wierzbicka 2016, 415). Therefore, there have been many linguistic attempts that aimed to find a common ground, i.e. the most optimal basis for the study of kinship terminology. For example, according to anthropologist Nicholas Allen, the simplest kinship system would be comprised of four classes: parents, siblings, children, and spouses (qtd. in Wierzbicka 2013, 305). 'Parents' would be marked as P, 'siblings' as G, 'children' as C and 'spouses' as E (ibid.). This division would then be subdivided according to gender: mother (M), sister (Z), daughter (D), wife (W), father (F), brother (B), son (S), and husband (H) (ibid.).

However, kinship categories that appear in all human societies are 'mother', 'father', 'wife' and 'husband' (see also Wierzbicka 2013, 306). Since 'mother' and 'father' are lexical universals, they can be used as the basis for kinship terms in all cultures and languages (see also Wierzbicka 2016, 409). This goes to show that even though kinship terms are different in different cultures and languages, they do indicate a certain level of shared human concepts, especially when taking into consideration the mentioned universals.



4.4. Who is Family? – Different Prototypes of the Term 'Family'

The concept of 'family' has undergone numerous changes; it has been affected by historical, political, linguistic, cultural, and numerous other factors. Moreover, it is a scientific concept that often reveals a lot about the culture in question (ibid.). Therefore, it is a concept of special interest to many researchers. For examples, variations in the conceptual understanding of families have often been analyzed and researched by demographers (see also Seltzer 2019, 418). For instance, in his article “Family Change and Changing Family Demography”, Seltzer describes how demographers think of 'family' as a broad concept; they take into account all siblings, cousins and all the parents (potentially) connected to each child –

“biological parents, stepparents, and the cohabiting partners of a biological parent” (2019, 408-409). Seltzer supports this broader understanding of the concept of 'family' and goes on to say that “family is a social institution with roles defined by long-term rights and responsibilities” (ibid.). Even though family roles are law-governed, they are much more than that; they are agreed upon socially and they vary from culture to culture, family to family (see also Seltzer 2019, 409). As Levine put it, “for some purposes self-definition is more important than legal ties” (1990, 37); who one defines as their family oftentimes carries more meaning than merely blood and marriage-related ties.

Seltzer also mentions how there are some points to be taken into account when determining what, i.e. who is family. The three points he mentions are: “(1) family members may live apart; (2) even when people live together (as cohabiting couples do), they may not be a family; and (3) weak family links mean that some family members come and go in individuals’ lives” (see also Seltzer 2019, 414). When it comes to cohabiting partners, people have different opinions on the matter which potentially leads to differences in the conceptualization of 'family'; while some might include a cohabiting partner into their familial structure, others might not (see also Seltzer 2019, 416). One of the reasons why some



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