Dictionary of Human Evolution and Biology

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Folk Taxonomy (or Classification)

Any provincial classification scheme for grouping local plants and animals (including people) into intuitively meaningful categories that are assigned names usually based either on anthropocentric utility (e.g., things that are poisonous), function (things that fly), or on obvious phenotypic keys (blue birds). Such classifications are most often phenetic, utilize perceptions of analogous rather than homologous characteristics, and as such seldom reflect true genealogical or evolutionary relationships. When compared to scientific classification, folk schemes also lack sufficient collective grouping names (higher taxa), with only four or five levels of general to specific hierarchical depth. These levels are sometimes termed the covert beginner, life form, folk generic, folk specific, and folk varietal; e.g., the terms animal, mammal, dog, wild dog, and dingo could correspond to these levels. Folk schemes also tend to overdifferentiate the local ecosystem (e.g., Arctic peoples discriminate among many varieties of snow) and to under differentiate the unfamiliar. In anthropology, work as early as 1863 by Durkheim and Mause compared such classifications of plants and animals cross-culturally.

See ethnobiology and racial character.

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