Loan and inheritance patterns in hunter-gatherer ethnobiological systems

Claire Bowern, Hannah Haynie, Catherine Sheard, Barry Alpher, Patience Epps, Jane Hill, Patrick Mcconvell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


We compare the etymologies of ethnobiological nomenclature in 130 hunter-gatherer and agriculturist languages in Australia, North America, and Amazonia. Previous work has identified correlations between systems of ethnobiological terminology and dominant means of community subsistence, relating stability of terminology to the “salience” of the items. However, the relevance of subsistence patterns to the development of ethnobiological nomenclature requires further investigation, as does the notion of “salience” and how it might relate to etymological stability. The current study probes the relationship between salience and stability and the variability within this relationship. We refine the notion of stability by studying both inheritance and loan rates. We refine the notion of “salience” by separately testing retention and loan rates in flora and fauna vocabulary that might be considered salient for different reasons. Results indicate that the most etymologically stable items are core foodstuffs (whether cultivated or wild). Psychotropic items were more likely to be loaned. There were no significant patterns for cultivar status or trade, though we note that the most frequently loaned items in the sample are also traded.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-227
JournalJournal of Ethnobiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014


  • Historical linguistics
  • Ethnobiological nomenclature
  • Subsistence patterns
  • Hunter-gatherers


Dive into the research topics of 'Loan and inheritance patterns in hunter-gatherer ethnobiological systems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this