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Kenneth L. Pike (1912–2000)

Talk, Thought, and Thing
The Emic Road Toward Conscious Knowledge

by Kenneth L. Pike

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Chapter 3

The person may react to three kinds of hierarchical structures—phonological, grammatical, and referential—each with its features of slot, class, role, and cohesion.

Cultural categories involve different kinds of hierarchies. One of these is the part-whole hierarchy. (The nose is part of the face. The face is part of the body.) On the other hand, a taxonomic hierarchy identifies an item as a member of a class of classes of items. (A dog is a whole animal. An animal is a whole kind of thing. But a nose is not a whole human body.)

Conviction 3.1. In language, there are three different kinds of interlocking, part-whole hierarchies: grammatical, phonological, and referential.

The grammatical hierarchy deals with conversational structure, with monologues broken into paragraphs, with sentences broken into clauses, with phrases broken into words, and with sequences of morphemes broken into single morphemes. The word boys, for example, is broken into the two morphemes boy and s. Grammatical structuring involves such units, in some kind of sequence. The sequence may be called THE ORDER OF TELLING of a narrative (or of the presenting of another kind of nonnarrative discourse). Phonological structure deals with the physical components of sound as speakers and hearers respond to them emically. This hierarchy can include, for example, the phonological structure of a poem with its rhyme and other factors, the grouping of material in a sentence or part of a sentence by intonation, the rhythmic grouping of syllables surrounding a stressed syllable, the individual syllable, or the sounds making up a syllable.[9] Referential structure involves the order and social or physical structuring of a HAPPENING. In John went to the movies, after he came home and had eaten supper, for example, the happening sequence is that John first came home, then ate supper, then went to the movies; and the referential structure also includes the unstated structuring of his home in geographic relation to the movie theater. Referential also includes the taxonomic structure, for example, of a kinship system.

Source: A linguistic reason for assuming three part-whole hierarchies, in tagmemic theory, is that units of the three are sometimes nonisomorphic. Since units from the three hierarchies are present in some way in every utterance, only one hierarchy would be needed if units from each of the three always began and ended at the same points. But the opposite is the case. In I'm going, for example, I'm is a single syllable but includes part of two grammatical units, the pronoun I, and the verb phrase am going. Nonisomorphism between grammar and reference is seen in the illustration of reference above, where the referential sequence is John first coming home, then eating supper, then going to the movies; but the event is presented grammatically with the first clause as John went to the movies, followed by after he came home.

Conviction 3.2. Tagmemic units at any level of any of the hierarchies have features of CLASS (set membership) and SLOT (position in the structure) which in part are reciprocally definable.

Source: To know what a noun phrase is in English, for example, we need to know that it is one of a set of items which could fill a position of subject, or of object, in a normal clause such as The boy saw the tiger. Other noun phrases could fill those positions, as in Several persons located the appropriate house. The total class (set) of such elements in those positions helps define noun phrase. On the other hand, the concept of object in those clauses (the slot or position) is in part determined, in analysis, by the fact that those classes can occupy that position. These two characteristics of slot and class help define the tagmemic unit of object which can be filled, for example, by a noun phrase. A subject slot may likewise be so filled.

Conviction 3.3. A tagmemic unit, as part of a stream of speech, also has a third feature in communication, a feature of role (or relevance, or purpose, or cause).

Source: This conviction grows out of the 'obvious' experience of seeing that the function of a subject in English is not the same as that of an object in a clause such as those quoted. Note, further, that there is nonisomorphism between role and position, and that this forces the latter to be treated as emically distinct. For example, the subject in John shot the tiger and the subject in The tiger was shot by John are quite different, as ACTOR versus UNDERGOER of that action. This role difference of the two contrastive subject types helps to define the difference between an active and a passive clause.

Note further that slot, class, and role are also relevant to nonverbal behavior. On a football team, the quarterback plays in a limited physical position (slot) behind the linesmen and has a distinct function (role) among the offensive players of throwing the ball or calling the signals; and there is just one member of the quarterback class of that team on the field at any given time (whereas there are several other members of the team who are linesmen). Such features help to define all kinds of relevant (emic) human behavior in all kinds of environments.

Note that in discussing physical events within a society, the role of an actor could be his intention or purpose. In an American court of law, for example, a verdict may depend upon the jury's decision as to whether or not a person intended to kill someone else, or whether it was an accident which he tried to avoid. Our interpretation of such events cannot be autonomous in relation to our beliefs or judgments or guesses about the purposes of the people acting. Similarly, we must be able to guess at physical causes for certain kinds of events—we may guess that a thunderstorm caused the electricity to be interrupted in our house—and take appropriate action.

Intentions or wishes can be made explicit in a sentence like I wish you would close the door. Or they can be made implicit in a statement like The door is open, and I am shivering, where the hearer knows (by deduction or experience) that the speaker wants him to close the door. Nonverbal actions can also express such intentions. The actor above, for example, could pretend to shiver strongly, and then gesture toward the door. In some instances, a speaker may lie about his intentions or be confused. Nevertheless, the importance of implicit as well as explicit intent, purpose, and cause must be taken into account.

Further Implications: Note, for example, comments from Searle (1984:26): "On my view the mind and the body interact, but they are not two different things, since mental phenomena are just features of the brain." And (27) "There really are mental states; some of them are conscious; many have intentionality; they all have subjectivity; and many of them function causally in determining physical events in the world... Naive mentalism and naive physicalism are perfectly consistent with each other. Indeed, as far as we know anything about how the world works, they are not only consistent, they are both true."

Conviction 3.4. Every tagmemic unit has a fourth feature—either an implicit or, occasionally, an explicit relation to the background social, physical, and mental structure against which it occurs, which controls it, or which determines part of the potential, legitimate interpretation of the event under discussion. In tagmemics we call this COHESION; others might refer to it as FRAME OF REFERENCE; or, as in phenomenology, HORIZON.[10]

Source: The relevance of the sentence John died today, is not known unless we also know that 'John' is father, or brother, or son of the speaker, or that he is a member of the same championship football team. And, as for the earlier mention of judgment in a court of law (Conviction 2.4), we need to know background material affecting the event: was the car defective, with poor brakes (which the driver knew or did not know about)? If we hear the phrase Congratulations, John!, we need to know whether John has just been elected to an important position, has just received a prize, or has just gotten married.

In grammar, cohesion may control agreement—as when a plural noun subject requires a plural verb in The boys are singing. In phonology, a poem of a certain structure may require a particular pattern of rhyming, as in the last two lines of a limerick. In discussing family relations, we may normally assume that parents will be exerting a considerable amount of control over the activities of a three-year-old boy, and that they will be doing so generally—beyond any one particular instance.

The four features of slot, class, role, and cohesion may put people into a single graph structure, as in (2). A four-cell tagmeme includes four kinds of contexts—occurrence in a particular structural position, occurrence in a particular replaceable set of items, occurrence in relation to intent or cause, and occurrence in relation to a background system (or frame of reference, or horizon). In a grammatical or phonological slot, occurrence is in terms of syntagmatic arrangement or sequence of the moment. In class, it is one item replaceable by others (paradigmatically). For role, there is pragmatic relevance to human behavior. For cohesion, there is systematic relation to n-dimensional behavioral, physical, or social space. Such a graph shows a human being interacting with the language or the event or the situation being described. And for cohesion, the system is shown as an n-dimensional space.

Conviction 3.5. Human nature requires that something from slot, class, role, and cohesion always be available in all speech. Hence, if one of the cells of slot, role, or cohesion has something moved from it and placed into the class cell as a grammatical topic of discussion, something else must then take the place of the item removed from that other cell.

Analogy: Consider a kaleidoscope as a tube containing three mirrors along its sides, plus an end compartment with small bits of colored glass. When the tube is turned, the bits and pieces of glass in sight are not always the same, others come into sight at the turn of the tube, and the pattern of bits of glass seen through the tube varies. In speech, the analog to the bits of glass are the bits of knowledge available in the cohesion background. The new topic, chosen to fill the cell for grammatical class, may be taken, for example, from some hitherto unstated part of the background cohesion cell or the purpose of the event may be chosen as the focus—especially, if the speaker chooses to discuss for example, lying or puns.

Source: For some years I have been trying experiments with syntax, to see how rearrangement of material in a text could be handled, and how it affected the grammar. Eventually (Pike 1988) I took a short poem of mine, and retold it in a number of different ways, changing attention from the event, to the time, or to its place, or to the purpose, or to a higher level in the structure of the background event. To my astonishment, whenever I took something from the slot or role cells and placed it under grammatical focus in the class cell, some other kind of slot, position, or role immediately filled the cell from which the focused element was taken.

In (3) I present a different poem of mine discussing the sadness of a person in a society which has no alphabet, but where the result is social ostracism and a feeling of being noncivilized. Emphasis is on the fact that the lack of an alphabet makes a person feel isolated and damaged in a larger literate society of the world of which he is a part.

Another poem in (4) focuses on the pain implicit in the first poem, and hence I put the pain in the cell for class. It then changes the role from maiming, as such, to the damage to the soul—by way of shame. The background (referential) social situation remains unchanged, as the (referential) controlling source of the social problem.

Further Implications: Knowledge, from this emic point of view, is known in relation to the three hierarchies of phonology, grammar, and reference, and in relation to the features of the tagmemic units at each level, via contexts of slot, class, role, and cohesion. The phonological structure in hierarchical detail is also easily illustrated by the analysis of poems. For a detailed example, see Pike and Pike 1983:74–103, where a poem by Langston Hughes is analyzed in terms of the syllable, the phonological phrase structure, and the phonological structure of the poem as a whole. The analysis is related to the phonological characteristics of the poem as read by Ossie Davis (not merely to the written form of the poem). At each level, the units are described in terms of slot, class, role, and cohesion. One can see there that its phonological structure is made up of sounds and syllables, which group into larger rhythmic patterns. In addition, there is a simultaneous structuring of rhyming lines built into structured stanzas. There is also the further structuring of voice quality and of the general speed which affect stanzas as wholes. Beyond that, superimposed upon it, is the important, meaningful intonational form of the pitch of the voice.


[9] Not under discussion here is the fact that it can include important changes of voice quality and the features which emically differentiate one sound from another.

[10] For the latter, the philosopher Ricoeur states (in Bien 1978:125): "By context we mean not only the linguistic environment of the actual words, but the speaker's and the hearer's behavior, the situation common to both and finally the horizon of reality surrounding the speech situation." The ability to focus on differing aspects of an event are part of the philosophy adopted by Husserl, as explained by Reeder (1986:11), where the meaning as a whole may have a very different texture or gestalt, and the focus may differ from the horizon.

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