Kenneth Lee Pike - Work

Work

Pike is best known for his distinction between the emic and the etic. "Emic" (as in "phonemics") refers to the subjective understanding and account of meaning in the sounds of languages, while "etic" (as in phonetics") refers to the objective study of those sounds. Pike argued that only native speakers are competent judges of emic descriptions, and are thus crucial in providing data for linguistic research, while investigators from outside the linguistic group apply scientific methods in the analysis of language, producing etic descriptions which are verifiable and reproducible. Pike himself carried out studies of indigenous languages in Australia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Ghana, Java, Mexico, Nepal, New Guinea, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Peru.

Pike developed his theory of tagmemics to help with the analysis of languages from Central and South America, by identifying (using both semantic and syntactic elements) strings of linguistic elements capable of playing a number of different roles.

Pike's approach to the study of language put him outside the circle of the "generative" movement begun by Noam Chomsky, a dominant linguist, since Pike believed that the structure of language should be studied in context, not just single sentences, as seen in the title of his magnum opus "Language in relation to a unified theory of the structure of human behavior" (1967).

He became well known for his "monolingual demonstrations". He would stand before an audience, with a large number of chalkboards. A speaker of a language unknown to him would be brought in to work with Pike. Using gestures and objects, not asking questions in a language that the person might know, Pike would begin to analyze the language before the audience.

Pike also developed the constructed language Kalaba-X for use in teaching the theory and practice of translation.

When asked whether he was a missionary or a linguist, he replied "I am a mule." He explained that a mule is part horse, part donkey, combining traits of each. He pointed out that sometimes he did more of the work of a horse, other times he did more of the work of a donkey, but he was always both (Headland 2001:508).

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