Covert Categories

There are six culturally appropriate levels of hierarchical distinction identified in figure 17.7: (1) First, there is the unique beginner, a single label that identifies the cultural domain. (2) Next comes a relatively small set of life forms (animals, fish, insects, etc.). (3) Then there is an intermediate level, which includes covert categories, if any exist in a particular taxonomy. Folk genera (level 4), folk species (level 5), and folk varieties (level 6) round out the picture.

There is a covert, unnamed category in figure 17.7 comprising wolves, foxes, dogs, coyotes, and some other things (the dashed line extending down from coyote, indicates that the covert category contains more than what’s listed in the figure). In a scientific taxonomy, foxes are not in the same genus with dogs and wolves. The latter are in the genus Canis, while foxes are in the genus Vulpes. Many speakers of English, however, classify foxes and wolves in the category of ‘‘things in the dog family,’’ or ‘‘canines,’’ and a folk taxonomy of English animal terms respects that.

The intermediate category of‘‘cat’’ is not covert. How can you tell? As D’Andrade says, you can say ‘‘Look at that cat!’’ if you’re talking about a tiger, but it’s weird to say ‘‘Look at that dog’’ if you’re pointing to a fox, so ‘‘cat’’ is a named intermediate category and ‘‘dog’’ isn’t.

Two more things about figure 17.7. Note how we use words for generic animals in English that would be at the species level in a scientific taxonomy (wolf, coyote, and dog are all members of the genus Canis, species lupus, latrans, and familiaris, respectively), and how the species level in the folk taxonomy comprises names for subspecies in a scientific taxonomy.

Also, look at how D’Andrade has placed octopus and snake and snake in figure 17.7. The horizontal lines show that D’Andrade has classified these creatures as nonaffiliated generics. They might be classified as life forms, but, as D’Andrade points out, there are many nonaffiliated generics in the ocean, including clams, lobsters, seahorses, jellyfish, and octopi.

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