Kenneth Lee Pike

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Kenneth Lee Pike
File:Kenneth Lee Pike.jpg
Born June 9, 1912 (1912-06-09)
Woodstock, Connecticut
Died December 31, 2000(2000-12-31) (aged 88)
Dallas, Texas
Nationality American
Fields Linguistics
Alma mater Gordon College and University of Michigan
Doctoral advisor Charles C. Fries
Known for Tagmemics

Kenneth Lee Pike (June 9, 1912 – December 31, 2000) was an American linguist and anthropologist. He was the originator of the theory of tagmemics, the coiner of the terms "emic" and "etic" and the developer of the constructed language Kalaba-X for use in teaching the theory and practice of translation.

In addition, he was the First President of the Bible-translating organization Summer Institute in Linguistics (SIL), with which he was associated from 1942 until his death.[1]


Pike was born in Woodstock, Connecticut, and studied theology at Gordon College, graduating with a B.A. in 1933. He initially wanted to do missionary work in China; when this was denied him, went on in 1935 to study linguistics with Summer Institute of Linguistics (S.I.L.). He went to Mexico with SIL, learning Mixtec from native speakers there.

In 1937 Pike went to the University of Michigan, where he worked for his doctorate in linguistics under Charles C. Fries. His research involved living among the Mixtecs, and he and his wife Evelyn developed a written system for the Mixtec language. After gaining his Ph. D. In 1942, Pike became the First President of the Summer Institute in Linguistics (SIL). The Institute's main function was to produce translations of the Bible into unwritten languages, and in 1951 Pike published the Mixtec New Testament. He was the President of SIL International from 1942 to 1979.

As well as and in parallel with his role at SIL, Pike spent thirty years at the University of Michigan, during which time he served as chairman of its linguistics department, professor of linguistics, and director of its English Language Institute (he did pioneering work in the field of English language learning and teaching) and was later Professor Emeritus of the university.


Pike is best known for his distinction between the emic and the etic. "Emic" (as in "phonemics") refers to the subjective understanding and account of meaning in the sounds of languages, while "etic" (as in phonetics") refers to the objective study of those sounds. Pike argued that only native speakers are competent judges of emic descriptions, and are thus crucial in providing data for linguistic research, while investigators from outside the linguistic group apply scientific methods in the analysis of language, producing etic descriptions which are verifiable and reproducible. Pike himself carried out studies of indigenous languages in Australia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Ghana, Java, Mexico, Nepal, New Guinea, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Peru.

Pike developed his theory of tagmemics to help with the analysis of languages from Central and South America, by identifying (using both semantic and syntactic elements) strings of linguistic elements capable of playing a number of different roles.

Pike's approach to the study of language put him outside the circle of the "generative" movement begun by Noam Chomsky, a dominant linguist, since Pike believed that the structure of language should be studied in context, not just single sentences, as seen in the title of his magnum opus "Language in relation to a unified theory of the structure of human behavior" (1967).

He became well known for his "monolingual demonstrations". He would stand before an audience, with a large number of chalkboards. A speaker of a language unknown to him would be brought in to work with Pike. Using gestures and objects, not asking questions in a language that the person might know, Pike would begin to analyze the language before the audience.


He was a member of National Academy of Sciences, the Linguistic Society of America (LSA), the Linguistic Association of Canada and the United States (LACUS), and the American Anthropological Association. He served as president of LSA and LACUS and later was nominated for the Templeton Prize three years in a row.[2]

When he was named to the Charles Carpenter Fries Professorship of Linguistics at the University of Michigan in 1974, the Dean's citation noted that "his lifelong originality and energetic activity verge on the legendary".[3] Pike was awarded honorary degrees by a number of institutions, including Huntington College, University of Chicago, Georgetown University, L'Université Réné Descartes (Sorbonne), and Albert-Ludwig Universität. Though the Nobel Prize committee did not publicize nominations, in 1983 US Senator Alan J. Dixon and US Congressman Paul Simon announced that they had nominated Pike for the Nobel Peace Prize. Academic sponsors for his nomination included Charles F. Hockett, Sydney Lamb (Rice University), Gordon J. van Wylen (Hope College), Frank H. T. Rhodes (Cornell University), André Martinet (Sorbonne), David C.C. Li (National Taiwan Normal University), and Ming Liu (Chinese University of Hong Kong).[4][5]

See also


  1. David Crystal (2011). Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics. Volume 30 of The Language Library. Edition 6. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9781444356755
  2. Headland, Thomas N. (2001). "Kenneth Lee Pike (1912–2000)". American Anthropologist. 103 (2). pp. 505–509.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. p. xiii. Jankowsky, Kurt R., ed. 1996. The Mystery of Culture Contacts, Historical Reconstruction, and Text Analysis: An Emic Approach. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
  4. p. xiv,xv. Jankowsky, Kurt R., ed. 1996. The Mystery of Culture Contacts, Historical Reconstruction, and Text Analysis: An Emic Approach. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
  5. p. 9-15. Adam Makai, ed., 1984. Languages for Peace. Lake Bluff, IL: Jupiter Press.


Primary texts

  • See Complete list of Pike's publications (over 250)
  • 1943: Phonetics, a Critical Analysis of Phonetic Theory and a Technique for the Practical Description of Sounds (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press)
  • 1967: Language in Relation to a Unified Theory of the Structure of Human Behaviour (The Hague: Mouton)
  • 1970: Rhetoric: Discovery and Change, with Richard E. Young and Alton L. Becker (New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World)

Secondary texts

  • Brend, Ruth M. 1987. Kenneth Lee Pike Bibliography. Bloomington, IN: Eurasian Linguistics Association.
  • Emily A. Denning, "Kenneth L. Pike", in Encyclopedia of Anthropology ed. H. James Birx (2006, SAGE Publications; ISBN 0-7619-3029-9)
  • Headland, Thomas N. 2001. "Kenneth Lee Pike (1912-2000)." American Anthropologist 103(2): 505-509.
  • Pike, Eunice V. 1981. Ken Pike: Scholar and Christian. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • Languages for Peace: Tribute to Kenneth L. Pike. 1985. Lake Bluff, IL: Jupiter Press.

External links