Dr. Kenneth Lee Pike was born in Woodstock, CT, in 1912. He earned his B.A. in theology from Gordon College in 1933. After being denied missionary work in China, he joined the Summer Institute of Languages to study Amerindian languages in Mexico in 1935. There he learned to speak Mixtec directly from Mixtec speakers without the aid of an interpreter. In 1937, Pike began his doctoral study of linguistics at the University of Michigan where he studied under Edward Sapir in the Boasian cultural relativism tradition. While engaging in his doctoral research, Pike, and his wife Evelyn, lived among the Mixtec. Together they developed an alphabet for the purpose of translating Mixtec language into literary forms. In 1942, Pike earned a Ph.D. in linguistics and became president of the Summer Institute of Languages. He published the Mixtec New Testament Bible in 1951.
Pike divided his time between the Summer Institute for Languages at the University of Oklahoma, where he was its director, and the University of Michigan where he served on the faculty for 30 years in various capacities including professor of linguistics, chairman of the department of linguistics, and the director of the English Language Institute. Pike was also a pioneer in the field of English as a second language, more commonly known by its ESL acronym.
In 1954, Pike introduced the theoretical orientation of emic and etic contrasts in understanding linguistics and culture. The terms are used by the social and behavioral sciences to examine two kinds of data concerning human behavior. Linguistically, emic is analogous with phonemics and etic is analogous with phonetics. Phonemics is the subjective study of the meaning in linguistic sounds. Phonetics is the objective scientific study of linguistic sounds. According to Pike, native members of a culture are the exclusive judges of the precision of an emic description. They can identify psychologically distinct units of sound not recognized by outsiders. Only insiders can provide the data for examination of language at the level of meaning.
Conversely, phonetics is the objective point of view of language. It is the view of the outsider or investigator, who controls the legitimacy of an etic explanation through empirical investigation and the production of generalizations. Etic methods can be verified and replicated. They provide understanding that is meaningful from a scientific perspective. Pike was known for his studies of aboriginal languages in Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Java, New Guinea, Ghana, Nigeria, Australia, Nepal, and the Philippines.
The etic and emic cognitive framework is also useful when applied to cognitive anthropological field research. It views culture as mental processes. In participant-observation, anthropologists obtain the etic view by remaining objective and detached. The emic perspective is learned by involvement. Emic models of culture reveal how natives understand their society. Pike argued that seeing the emic perspective challenged ethnocentrism and promoted cross-cultural understanding and respect.
Pike was internationally respected for his linguistic theories, research into language development, contributions to poetics, and creation of tagmemics. The theory of tagmemics makes the distinction between phone and phoneme in phonetics and phonology at higher levels of linguistic analysis. Pike developed this concept to aid in the analysis of Central and South American languages. It identifies strings of language units that can fulfill several functions. Both semantic and the syntactic functions are used to identify tag-memes. He also applied the concept to field theory.
Pike incorporated his strong Christian faith into the Summer Institute of Languages (SIL). SIL was a non-profit organization that focused on the translation of the Bible into preliterate languages. Pike was the President of SIL International from 1942-1979, and President Emeritus from 1979-2000. At the time of his death, Pike was involved in many professional organizations including the National Academy of Science, the Linguistic Society of America, and the American Anthropological Association. He was also President Emeritus of the University of Michigan. Because of Kenneth Pike’s large impact in the field of linguistics, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the 15 consecutive year, ending in 1966. He died on December 31,2000.
- Pike, K. L. (1943). Phonetics, a critical analysis of phonetic theory and a technique for the practical description of sounds. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
- Pike, K. L. (1967). Language in relation to a unified theory of the structure of human behavior. The Hague: Mouton.
- Young, R. E., Becker, A. L., & Pike, K. L. (1970). Rhetoric: discovery and change.New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.