Etic and Emic 

  1. Probably the most enduring contribution by Pike
  2. A bit of history, especially with Marvin Harris and Pike’s distinctions
    1. Two contrastive and different kinds of information
    2. Always tied to the observer (Pike)
    3. Pike’s tagmeme is a unit is context with interlocking features:
      1. Slot—position of part in whole (nucleus and margin)
      2. Class—set of substitutable items for the slot (paradigmatic)
      3. Role—relevance or function of the set (pragmatic; behavioral meanings)
      4. Cohesion—relationship to other units in a hierarchy or system
      5. We can think of a story in the same way:
        1. Where does the story occur in the culture? (men’s house, ritual, celebration)
        2. Are there genres that the story contrasts with? (legend, fable, parable)
        3. Why is the story told? (entertainment, instruction, remembrance)
        4. How does the story fit within the language system? (discourse style, cultural script)
        5. Intention and purpose are always emic—as outsiders we attempt to discover these.  In the Jack tales Hicks introduces aspects of his culture to the “original” stories
        6. Can there be emic understanding without cultural adaptations and without cultural inside interpretation? [Example of Wopa’s story of hunting dog].


  1. Read “Etic and Emic Stories” (on-line at
  2. Kenneth L. Pike (see derived the forms etic and emic from the linguistic terms phonetic and phonemic.  In phonology, what is distinction between the forms?
  3. What are some of the ways that we can utilize the concepts of etic and emic in thinking about stories?
  4. Why does Pike describe etic as basically cross cultural and emic as mono-cultural?
  5. What, according to Harris, is “scientific” about etic classifications?
  6. Think about variation in respect to the four Gospel accounts of the Feeding of the 5000 (read each one).  What are the variations, both etic and emic?
  7. Comment on the chart that contrasts the etic and emic approaches

[Karl Franklin, November, 2010]