Sunday, February 23, 2020

Why Gurung marries soltini but Brahmin does not?

Different people have a different lifestyle. How we choose life is shaped by our culture. Some people can choose a particular girl as his couple but the same norm may not work for others. Gurungs can choose their soltini(mother's brother's daughter) as a couple but for Brahmins, it is strictly prohibited. In Gurung language, soltini is termed as Ngolsyo. Why Gurungs have culture to marry soltini while Brahmins not? There are various reasons for the evolution of this culture. But in this article, I am going to analyze from an anthropological linguistic perspective, how their language is shaping their own's marriage rule. 

Purpose of language

To know about the marriage culture of Brahmins and Gurungs, one should aware about the language deeply. What is the purpose of language? Is it only for communication? No. Language is not only a means of communication but also an ingredient of culture. It is the carrier of culture. Culture is transformed from one generation to another by the language. When we learn language, we automatically learn the culture. They are interlinked with each other. So, the loss of language leads to loss of culture. Culture is shaped by the language. No culture can be imagined without language. 

How language reflects the social structure?

Language is created by the culture of a community. For example, in the Nepali language chief of the Army is called "Senapati". This word Senapati denotes to a male-only. What does it mean?  It reveals the traditional belief that males can only be the chief of the army. Male is only fitted for army chief. Just this single word depicts how the belief of society is embedded in language. How it was structured in the past? Never in Nepali history has a woman been an army chief. This shows language is not the only word, it reflects social structure. Language and culture are intertwined.
Marriage between Solti and Soltini

Relationship between language and the human mind

According to Levis-Strauss, both language and culture are visible manifestations of the same underlying mental process(human mind). Therefore, language can be used as a tool to analyze culture. How does the mind work?  Our mind works in binary opposition. e.g raw/cooked, up/down, right/left etc. He argues that this basic structure or universal rule of mind applies to all the cultures, but each structure varies from culture to culture. This implies that whether in Brahmin or Gurung culture, there is a structure of binary oppositions but the structure may vary from each other

In the Gurung community, there is a kinship terminology of ngolsyo(soltini) to the mother's brother's daughter and terminology sister to father's brother's daughter. But in the Brahmin community, they use the same kinship terminology sister to both mother's brother's daughter and father's brother's daughter. Gurungs use soltini for one side while Brahmins use sister for both sides. The maternal and paternal sides of kin terms are different for Gurungs but they are the same for Brahmins.

What is the effect of different kinship terminology?

Since language shapes the culture, this different language simply represents different cultures. In other words, Brahmins and Gurungs have different structures. It implies they have different binary opposition in their mind resulting in the notion of the incest taboo. What is incest taboo? Incest means sexual intercourse and taboo means prohibition in intercourse. An incest taboo simply means a cultural rule that prohibits sexual relations or marriage between intimately related persons. Due to Gurungs have different kinship terms to maternal and paternal side, language is playing a vital role to create dichotomy or opposition unconsciously in their mental process between two sides. What is its result in marriage? We know that marriage is done between two different groups. People should perceive a dichotomy between the two groups. Due to dichotomy, there is no incest taboo between two sides which ultimately allows them to marry.

But in the case of  Brahmins, due to the same kinship term used for both maternal and paternal sides, language is not playing a role as in Gurungs to create a dichotomy in the mental process. There is no dichotomy between the two sides. No dichotomy simply implies they perceive both sides as the same group which helps to create incest taboo, so they do not marry each other.

Linguistic differences lead to structural differences. Structural differences lead to cultural differences. The above analysis shows how the marriage rule of Brahmin and Gurung are shaped by their language in their unconscious mental process.

How language, thought and culture are interrelated? 

Benjamin Lee Whorf argues that language shapes the way we think and determines what we can think. According to Sapir, "Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression of for their society. It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality without the use of language. The fact of the matter is that the 'real world' is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group."

There is a close relationship between language, thought, and culture. How we use the language influences our thought, and accordingly culture. The word soltini in the Gurung community carries hidden meaning or thought that marriage is eligible. But in the Brahmin community, instead of soltini, they use word sister which carries the thought that marriage is not eligible. These different languages are creating a different culture. This is another reason why Gurungs marry soltini while Brahmin not.

   "To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture."

                     -Frantz Fanon 

Nowadays, due to diffusion, Gurungs are also using the word sister instead of soltini. There is evidence that the cross-cousin marriage rate is decreasing in the Gurung community. One of the reasons is a replacement in the kinship term soltini. This replacement is not only the replacement of word. It also replaces thought and feeling. When they do not use word soltini, what the thought and feeling embedded disappears, which ultimately drives them into the culture of not marrying.


The above analyses are only traced through linguistic perspectives. How we use language shapes our world around us. Language is not only for communication, but it is also a carrier of culture. The marriage rule of Brahmin and Gurung is also shaped by their languages.


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