Kenneth L. Pike (1912–2000)

Ken Pike's Growing Contributions

Ken Pike has had a significant impact not only on the linguistic organization which he led for most of his professional life, but also in the disciplines of linguistics and anthropology and philosophy and poetics. His academic contributions are reviewed in more than 20 dictionaries and encyclopedias under the entries 'Pike', 'Tagmemics', or 'emic/etic'. His personal mentoring of students and colleagues cannot be measured.

His influence and contributions are part of a unified whole which kept growing. He often referred to his "ten days of phonetics" out of which eventually came his dissertation in which he attempted to describe every sound which he had read about "plus all of those which I could imagine by mental experiments with my mouth and tongue and throat." Out of his study of the Mixtec language came his book on Tone languages. And from his own monolingual approach to learning the Mixtec language in 1935, came the first monolingual demonstration given to his students in 1936. The monolingual demonstrations were given each subsequent summer to SIL students and eventually to varied audiences around the world. Fifty years after that first monolingual demonstration, Adam Makkai wrote an article in which he summarized what happens in a monolingual demonstration. (Makkai was the informant in the demonstration he describes.)

Pike says of his largest single publication (762 p.), Language in relation to a unified theory of the structure of human behavior , that "the total work arose from a struggle to describe empirical data, especially the Mixtec and Mazatec languages of Mexico". In this work (1954, 1967) he coined the terms "emic" and "etic" to explain different approaches to language and culture. Since then the terms have been used in works on psychology, education, folklore, management, archeology, ethnography....

Pike was one of the pioneers in the field of English as a Second Language through his work with the English Language Institute at the University of Michigan in the 1940s. (See excerpt from the January/February 1999 issue of ESL magazine.)

In a 1987 article, "The Relation of Language to the World", Pike wrote: "I am searching for an integrative philosophy, growing out of my linguistic experience. ... I want a philosophy which I can live by, as well as think by. I do not find it currently available in a form that I can recognize." And then in 1993, Pike completed Talk, thought and thing: The emic road toward conscious knowledge, his attempt at that integrative philosophy growing out of his experience as a descriptive linguist and with the help of several philosophers.

Throughout his life Pike wrote poetry. In 1997 his collected poems were published in a five volume set: Seasons of Life . The integration of his faith and life flows in his poetry. Ken's sister, Eunice Pike, expressed this in the title of her 1981 biography: Ken Pike: Scholar and Christian.

Near the end of his life Pike wrote: "Instead of starting this autobiographical report with statements about the beginning of my life, I am starting with some suggestions as to what I hope may be the academic result, some years from now, of my most recent publications."