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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 4

A person chooses temporary perspectives via particle, wave, and field, as a crucial part of the ability of the self.

Conviction 4.1. To serve numerous human purposes, a person needs a self, beyond muscle and physical brain, to choose the direction of his or her internal rudder.

Analogy: A ship needs a pilot. Without the pilot, the ship cannot serve numerous ports.

Source: I hold this conviction unproven, as a presupposition including a nonphysical self in addition to the physical brain. Thus I have chosen to start with postulates which begin with the validity of person, including the person as having genuine choice in some areas, at some times, to some degree. I include the ability to make choices as part of my own epistemological component; without it, I would find it difficult to explain why I have chosen to write this book.

Conviction 4.2. If we must put person in a context along with logic, I would put the value of person above that of logic. Our basic, unproven presuppositions do not come from logic itself, but from persons living in society and in the physical world.

Source: Logic, by itself, can never determine that anything is ultimately true, since logic requires starting presuppositions which are accepted as true by persons—and eventually some of those propositions are unprovable by that person. He starts by believing them. I accepted this assumption many years ago, based on discussions with the philosopher Sinclair.[11]

Conviction 4.3. Poetry is a linguistic device which sometimes goes BEHIND or BEYOND logic to personal feelings which grapple with or accept these unproven presuppositions. Poetry—and other linguistic components of speech—relies heavily on metaphor (or parable, or folk tale) chosen to illustrate, or to support, or in part to develop further an understanding of the internal nature of such presuppositions.

Source: Poetry, folk tales, and metaphor seem to me to have been used for such purposes at least as long as humans have used a more formal logic. These linguistic devices are not irrelevant. They help to capture the way human nature operates.

Analogy: Two of my own poems discussing this problem are presented as (5) and (6).

My assumption, therefore, is that these convictions grow from the relationship of person to society and to the physical world, not from logic alone.

Conviction 4.4. The self can choose to focus attention on emic things or events, or on situations, or even on persons, AS IF they were semi-isolable chunks—that is, as static particles.

Source: Perhaps our most normal or frequent way of looking at things or events is to see them as if they begin and end—almost, as it were, as if they were isolated from their context for that moment. We may look at a child as if AT THIS MOMENT it is in some sense a totality, a thing; we do this even though we know from internal knowledge that the child is growing. If we were to fail to do this, we would be unable to speak to the child as if he or she is something that we could now talk to, think about, plan with, or give orders or encouragement to. Similarly, it would be impossible to conduct ordinary affairs if we could not, for example, buy a house as if it were not something there which could be looked at, walked into, and treated as some kind of totality in semi-autonomy from the past and future. Even ideas, also, can be treated as if tentatively FIXED at some point, in so far as discussion is concerned. If this were not true, we could not argue easily about who is right about some concept under discussion. And in a physical sense, a person may choose to look one moment in one direction, and in another moment in another direction, to fix focus on one or another object. In using language, also, we may think that particular sentences in fact may begin or end, or that particular words are accessible to us, or—under a special kind of attention—that a word like jump is made up of separable bits of sounds written as j, u, m, p. Without this concept of language for at least part of the time, we could not either begin—or end—a conversation.

Conviction 4.5. A person can choose to focus attention on the same emic things, or events, or situations, or persons, as if they were in a sequence with indeterminate borders—as sequential DYNAMIC WAVES—but with attention often placed on their central, or most important, components, their nuclei. Or the waves may be circular, intersecting in (regular or irregular) Venn diagrams.[12]

Source: A person may temporarily operate under a perspective of treating all events or items as processes of activities—waves—which emerge from their environment gradually and merge back into it gradually, with smearing from one point to the other as the activities of various things overlap in time. A house, when being looked at for purchase, may be of interest to the potential purchaser because it is just getting finished or may be rejected because it is tumbling down. And in terms of the sounds of language, I said years ago (1943:107) that "a SEGMENT is a sound...having indefinite borders but with a center that is produced by a crest or trough of stricture during the even motion or pressure of an initiator." There are not sharp breaks between the sounds of speech. There is overlap from one to the other in the sequence: in the word June the lips are more rounded for the n than they are for the n in Jan because the rounding formation of the lips for the vowel of the first carries over to its final consonant. If we fail to grant validity to a wave view for certain purposes, even though balanced by a particle view, we would be unable to operate under certain normal human circumstances. We would be unable to recognize a woman, after she had waved her hair.

In some instances, however, the overlap would seem to be like a pond in which someone has tossed, at the same moment, several different pebbles—and the ripples come together in an irregular pattern. In semantics, a complex illustration might show the overlapping contexts and meanings of the verb run, in various contexts, as in the boy ran fast, he ran the business into the ground, there was a run in my stocking, he was run ragged.

Conviction 4.6. The self can also choose to focus attention on these same events, or emic items, or situations, or persons, as if they were points in an emic system, that is, in a RELATIONAL FIELD.

Source: Life is not merely a sensing of a sequence of bits and pieces, or of things under change, but includes the perception of those items as points in a larger structured context, a FIELD. The points in such a field have RELATIONSHIP one to another, and those relationships help define the units themselves, which are made up of CONTRASTIVE FEATURES which help to identify one unit from another. In themselves, the relationships form a pattern of contrastive features. A phonetic chart represents one such system of units classified by features. Columns may indicate respectively lips, tongue tip, or back of tongue (as for [p], [t], [k]). The rows may reflect complete interruption of voice (as STOPS), or continuing friction, or air escaping from the nose (as [p] versus [f] versus [m]). A house, in turn, may be studied by a purchaser in reference to its floor plan—its field structure. The purchaser may wish to get into the kitchen without going with muddy feet through the living room; she wants to know the floor plan, its field structure. And in order to understand a person's philosophical viewpoint, one appreciates knowing how he or she fits in an academic discipline—as mechanist or idealist—so that the person can be seen in relation to the structure of the discipline. In politics, we cannot understand the action of the government under stress unless we know something of the economic structure of that government. For such purposes, we need to have clearly in mind the intersection of the contrastive features which help determine the relevance of possible actions and persons under those circumstances, and to understand their purposes, or that of their colleagues, or neighbors, or enemies.

The handling of the contrastive features of the sounds of a language, as seen in a phonetic chart, however, is a development of generations of prior scholars. Thus, the idea of static, dynamic, and relational ways of looking at data is not new. It represents experience over historical time, as the experience of a child grows to be that of an adult, or as an adult becomes an analytical scholar. A different statement, however, must be made about the specific source of my use of the terms particle, wave, and field. In the 1950s, out of a general interest in science, I was reading a book by Einstein and Infeld (1938). I was astonished to find that many of their problems, which they treated in relation to physics, seemed to me to have analogies in my own focus on linguistic structure. So, when I was requested to write an article about linguistics for the general academic community, I chose to use them as a metaphor, in an article (1959) entitled "Language as Particle, Wave, and Field." The terms proved to be so useful there that I later adopted them for much of my normal linguistic, anthropological, and sociolinguistic discussion.

The use of the terms to link my personal focus not only on language structure, but also on society and on the physical universe, seemed a bit strange for a while. It became astonishingly appropriate, however, when I read in the work of Bruner (1974:24) that Niels Bohr, physicist, had developed the principles of complementarity—which he labeled particle, wave, and field—in relation to his own personal family situation. Bohr had to punish his son, but he asked himself, "could he, constrained both by his duty as father and by his fondness for his son, know his son simultaneously both in the light of love and in the light of justice?" And I, then, told myself that if the complementarity of particle, wave, and field grew out of Bohr's social family problem, it was also appropriate that I should use those terms to cover my linguistic needs, social needs, and relation to components of the physical world. (This may prove to have been one of the most important decisions of my academic struggle.)


[11] See also Sinclair 1951.

[12] The term VENN DIAGRAM, as stated in a dictionary of philosophy by Flew (1979:340), grows out of work in 1880 by the English logician John Venn, discussing logic diagrams for syllogisms.

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