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Kenneth L. Pike (1912–2000)

My Pilgrimage in Mission*

Kenneth L. Pike


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A Holistic Approach

But my linguistic theorizing was not finished with my phonetics. In 1948 I was brought on to the faculty at Michigan to pass on to students the things I have mentioned above. And I wanted to write more. But I had become bored with phonetics and wanted something different. So I moved into grammar and began seeking likenesses of theory to build from phonemics to sentence structure to text and ultimately to language in society as a whole. I used the idea of contrast in hierarchy from word to sentence and to social interaction with language, as before I had studied hierarchy from sound to syllable to poem. This led to my theoretical grammar-social decade, paralleling my phonetic one. It resulted in my largest work, Language in Relation to a Unified Theory of the Structure of Human Behavior (1954-60). Meaning had to be included, to link grammar to sound, and both as related to socially relevant behavior. I needed and developed a holistic approach to language and behavior and thought and knowledge, to help Bible-translating colleagues in the places where I worked with them. I eventually served as a consultant analyst in more than a hundred languages, for colleagues in over forty countries.

For me, language theory needed to be tied holistically to practical language analysis, rather than being split into modules supposedly treatable by themselves. This led in 1954 to the creation of the words "etic" and "emic." These terms describe two perspectives in analyzing language or any other social system—that of a scientific outsider who takes no account of the structural significance of units in the system vs. that of an insider who is aware of how the units are structured. These terms derived from the common words "phonetic" (concerning the "raw" sounds of a language) and "phonemic" (concerning the structural units in the sound system of a language), have allowed the contrast to be generalized from phonology to all of human behavior.

Soon afterward, a different view began to capture the attention of many scholars: Noam Chomsky's so called transformational grammar. In his Syntactic Structures (1957), Chomsky emphasized a mathematically formal approach to the structure of the sentence. I chose not to "buy into it," since (at least in that early work of Chomsky) it did not include meaning nor did it go up the hierarchy to discourses and texts, all of which were needed for my colleagues to understand some of the problems of Bible translation. During the sixties, my "mathematical decade," I tried to understand some of the problems of mathematics and in fact used a mathematical approach to help study the patterned changes of languages across dialects over time.

In the 1970s, my wife, Evelyn, and I focused on the development of pedagogical techniques to teach grammatical analysis to students. This resulted in our book Grammatical Analysis (1977). Then in the early 1980s, we published Text and Tagmeme (1983), with some of our most detailed analysis. She gave an extensive description of a short historical text. I gave my most extensive analysis to date of the pitch and voice quality (hierarchically analyzed) of a poem.

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*International Bulletin of Missionary Research, October 1997, used by permission.