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May 26, 2007

Etic and Emic

Learned something new today. . .

The terms and ideas connected to etic and emic were developed by SIL linguist Kenneth Pike. While I'm learning these terms in the context of anthropology, it is interesting to see how the ideas developed from a linguist whose chief interest was understanding languages and people, for the purposes of the Gospel.

"But culture had to be viewed in relation to the people who utilized their units within that culture. What was crucial to them? What kind of ‘native reaction’ made one item relevant and another one not noticed? These items forced us to look at the analogue of ‘phonemics’ in anthropology, and we needed to build on our experience with phonemic analysis. So I took the word phonemic, crossed out the phon- part meaning “sound”, and generalized my use of the new emic term to represent any unit of culture, at any level, of any kind, which was reacted to as a relevant unit by the native actors in that behavior. In the same way, I created the word etic from phonetic. . ."
--Kenneth Pike


This is the second time recently that I've been in a situation in which the idea of understanding people's ideas from their points of view (emic), and trying to communicate to them on their terms has been presented as a. . . novel. . . idea. While I haven't had the terms etic and emic before, the concepts are not new to me.

Perhaps having been involved in missions and cross-cultural communications is part of my "why, of course" assumption. But I don't think that is it, because the idea of understanding another's cultural context isn't limited to just the missionaries I've known, but has been a common idea among the Christians I'm around in general.

Are health care providers, drug counselors, students and those in academia really as new to the idea of valuing the understanding culture from the other person's perspective? Isn't it obvious that sort of cultural understanding is needed when trying to communicate or provide care?

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Comments

Well, as a counselor, I can say that it is not a new idea. This can only happen through selfless listening & a healthy curisiosty, wanting to serve others. However, since I counseling program days I am increasingly aware of how incredibly ignorant people are & unwilling to truly listen to another's cultural background. I rarely see people seeking to understand, rather than be understood. It is something I have to constantly discipline myself to as well.
However, it is nice to be in a Christian community where some people try.
Yes, it seems "obvious", but it is very rare.

Posted by: Jenny Fox Shain at May 29, 2007 02:04 PM

Good to see you, Jenny! How's married live treating you?

Since so much of my experience has been amongst Christians, it's interesting to see some things being discussed from a decidedly secular viewpoint with very different motivations.

How much more unity we would have (in the Body of Christ, in the world in general) if we did seek to first understand before being understood.

It's interesting to observe certain verbal/ideological gymnastics of those who are trying to observe and not judge, when faced with things that are really harmful--even when culturally acceptable. Like alcohol-enhanced domestic violence--I will never find that acceptable, even if I understand the cultural context of it occurring.

Anyway. . . Good to see you, Jenny! And I need a mailing address for you.

Posted by: TulipGirl at June 2, 2007 07:03 PM


 
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