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Folk taxonomies are generated from social knowledge and are used in everyday speech. They are distinguished from scientific taxonomies that claim to be disembedded from social relations and thus objective and universal.
Anthropologists have observed that taxonomies are generally embedded in local cultural and social systems, and serve various social functions. Perhaps the most well-known and influential study of folk taxonomies is Émile Durkheim's The Elementary Forms of Religious Life.
Folk taxonomies exist to allow popular identification of classes of objects, and apply to all areas of human activity. All parts of the world have their own systems of naming local plants and animals. These naming systems are a vital aid to survival and include information such as the fruiting patterns of trees and the habits of large mammals. These localised naming systems are folk taxonomies. Theophrastus recorded evidence of a Greek folk taxonomy for plants, but later formalized botanical taxonomies were laid out in the 18th century by Carolus Linnaeus.
Folk biological classification is the way rural or indigenous peoples make sense of and organize their natural surroundings/the world around them.
- Berlin, Brent (1972) 'Speculations on the growth of ethnobotanical nomenclature', Language in Society, 1, 51-86.
- Berlin, Brent & Dennis E. Breedlove & Peter H. Raven (1966) 'Folk taxonomies and biological classification', Science, 154, 273-275.
- Berlin, Brent & Dennis E. Breedlove & Peter H. Raven (1973) 'General principles of classification and nomenclature in folk biology', American Anthropologist, 75, 214-242.
- Brown, Cecil H. (1974) 'Unique beginners and covert categories in folk biological taxonomies', American Anthropologist, 76, 325-327.
- Brown, Cecil H. & John Kolar & Barbara J. Torrey & Tipawan Truoong-Quang & Phillip Volkman. (1976) ‘Some general principles of biological and non-biological folk classification’, American Ethnologist, 3, 1, 73-85.
- Brown, Cecil H. (1986) ‘The growth of ethnobiological nomenclature’, Current Anthropology, 27, 1, 1-19.