Kenneth L. Pike (1912–2000)

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

by Kenneth L. Pike

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This booklet is written for a small number of people unknown to me, who are disillusioned in a changing world. Until recently, mechanistic science as the explanatory source of all social situations and events could seem a sensible position to many young scholars yearning to understand the world of persons as it is. But changing times, changing governments, changing belief systems, make that more difficult now than twenty-five years ago. Somehow, 'people'—irrationally, inconsistently, fighting with guns and minds—seem now to have made choices which add fire to the straw of human plans, programs, and even pleasures.

Where, now, can they turn? Looking in directions dictated by their training, they may see no hope. But where else can they look and not reject their commitment to the validity of science and research? One suggestion, here, is for them to start their research by looking into the nature of language—into language which serves as the 'telephone exchange' of all society and science and which cannot be dropped if one wishes to grow in the knowledge of truth. This, as truth, is not proven in this book. On the contrary, it is taken as a given, visible to any who wish to look in that direction without demanding a demonstration based upon a proven logical starting point.

'We' cannot start with logic, unless we first have 'ourselves'. A child is before it is grown. A child trusts its mother—a person must trust in unproven convictions about life before using them to argue about other things. Here we come full circle—from person, to language-in-society, to knowlege, to arguments for validity, and back to the person so arguing. So here I begin with person—but person as interacting through language with other persons, along with interaction with things and events in that environment.

Why should I be a person who begins with language? In part because of the inescapableness of language (or, for the mute, with gestures replacing spoken language) and in part for reasons of science. I am a linguist by training and experience—especially with experience in analyzing languages having no alphabet and, therefore, no written documentation of human experience. Yet in these languages we find some of the basic components necessary to a foundation of knowledge based upon experience and a readiness to develop broader concepts built on linguistic metaphor and social analogies appropriate to the highly intellectual competence of, albeit preliterate, peoples.

I have been helped with starting presuppositions, however, by several philosophers—for example, Willard V. Quine, George Mavrodes, and Harry Reeder--which seem to me to range from mechanistic ones, to phenomenological commitment, to theological beliefs. I needed that help, since such logical thinking is not my norm as a descriptive linguist. In addition, I am grateful for editorial or bibliographical help from others—for example from Professor Ruth Brend (linguist) and Dr. Joost Pikkert.

In Chapter one, I discuss the importance of the fact that a language can be learned without the use of an interpreter, and show its relation to the importance of names in categorizing our environment. In Chapter two, sameness, from an insider's point of view, leads to EMIC units (my term invented from PHONEMIC, 1954) with form and meaning tied together. Chapter three suggests three part-whole hierarchies of physical-phonological form, grammatical-sequential presentation of oral material, and background-referential structuring of people and their environments—with each unit of each hierarchy shown as containing elements of position (slot) in context, membership in a substitutable set of items (class), relevance to personal behavior (role), and control in relation to a background network system (cohesion). These four components are always present in such (tagmemic) units, with kaleidoscopically replaced elements under some conditions. Chapter four shows alternative views of the observer, who may choose to perceive units as static (as particles), as dynamic (as waves), or as systemic (as units placed in a field structure). Chapter five emphasizes the continual presence of a holistic context of pattern within patterns. Chapter six suggests that bad actions are distortions of good types, whether intellectual, aesthetic, physical, social, moral or religious, or in relation to linguistic linking of form to meaning. The final chapter, in summary, emphasizes again that person is more basic than formal logic in language, in life, and in philosophy.

The bibliography is kept relatively small. The book is not an attempt to summarize language research or philosophy as a whole, but refers, in general, only to works which are particularly related to some of the points made here or which can be helpful in understanding them either from supportive or from contrastive points of view.

Kenneth L. Pike
Dallas, Texas, 1992

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