Friday, February 1, 2008

Pike's Pickles

I’m not a black woman, and neither is Kenneth L. Pike. (We’re Euro-American men). His theory (as methodology) is not WOWOLFOL either, although it really is afrafeminism dressed up a little bit differently. (WOWOLFOL is Pike’s little joke that he ends one of the prefaces of one of his books with, and what I’ll end this post with. But now I’ll explain afrafeminism and Pike’s methods and then get to a few of Pike's pickles).

To translate Aristotle’s Rhetoric into English, I’m using afrafeminist methods. Specifically, I’m using Patricia Bizzell’s conception of research “methodology” that she (although not black herself either) finds in the “four-part ‘afrafeminist ideology’” of Jacqueline Jones Royster (who is African American). Royster’s four emphases (and Pike’s) are as follows:

1) “careful analysis” (from page 279ff of Royster’s Traces of a Stream, which in Chapter 1 on page 9 of Pike’s Linguistic Concepts sounds like this: “While working with data, all scholars from time to time utilize parts of various underlying theories, not just one. . . In publication, on the other hand, a scholar often, but not always, presents all of [the] conclusions from just one viewpoint. Logical consistency may appear . . . to be desirable in the presentation of results, even if it is impossible during the stages in which the data are being found and analyzed.”)

2) “acknowledgment of passionate attachment” (from Royster’s page 280, which in Pike’s Chapter 2 on page 10 goes this way: “No statement can be made seriously unless preceding it there is in the speaker’s thoughts an underlying set of beliefs which [s]he holds firmly, but cannot prove. Ordinary statements and theoretical [and methodological] statements share this restriction. In some sense, [wo]man cannot begin with known facts; [s]he has to begin with some kind of commitment, such as the commitment to believe in the existence of facts or the possibility of obtaining knowledge at all.”)

3) “attention to ethical action” requiring us researchers to be “accountable to our various publics” (from Royster’s pages 280 and 281, which in Pike’s Chapter 14 on page 127 is put similarly as so: “So we are at a very high level of coherence of . . . human being[s] in [our] joking, or lying, [our] fears and [our] hates, [our] biograph[ies] or [our] social immersion[s], [our] explicit assumptions or [our] unstated but controlling beliefs. Beyond the pure mathematician in [her or] his abstractions lies person in commitment to the sheer joy of the pattern chase. We too can have fun together, searching for evidence that the [woman or] man in the street—not just the professional of some kind—is tacitly aware of, and exploits for pleasure, such ‘universes’ accessible to [her or to] him.”)

4) “commitment to social responsibility” (from Royster’s page 281, which is stated on Pike’s page 131 this way: All people in “all cultures must talk about many items which are related to their survival. In all cultures people must eat to live. All cultures must recruit new members. All must have role differentiation, communication, shared cognitive orientations and goals, and regulation of disruptive behavior, as well as means of socialization—that is, the induction of an individual into the roles and subsystems of the society [see Aberle et al. 1950]. It is reliance on these factors which makes it practical for . . . person[s] to assume, when [they visit] a culture which has a language which has never been written . . ., to assume that it will be a normal or ordinary language . . ., and to assume that [they] can find shared bridges of behavior over which [they] can pass to learn it. And it is these facts which have allowed me for many years to be willing to try in an hour, in public, to start learning a language by gesture only [that is, in monolingual demonstration, without using English or any other language shared by the other party to the demonstration].”)

Note how Pike, in 4 above, learns from others their language in their language (not his). Now, note something similar Bizzell says about Royster (on page 16 of her article):

“As Royster notes, her techniques are “quite recognizably interdisciplinary and feminist (257); she also characterizes them as a sort of ethnographic research in which she was unable to interview her subject, because most of them were already dead (see 282). These techniques enabled her, as she says, to explore how “knowledge, experience, and language merge” in the lives of her research subjects (259). The point I wish to emphasize is that she thus generates scholarly knowledge that clearly could be developed no other way. . . [Royster has] had to adopt radically new methods as well [as using traditional ones, although the new are] methods which violate some of the most cherished conventions of academic research, most particularly in bringing the person of the researcher, [his or] her body, [his or] her emotions, and dare one say, [his or] her soul into the work.”

Sounds like Pike (again as he opens his Preface and the Introduction on page xi and page 3): “In this volume person (and relation between persons) is given theoretical priority above formalism, above pure mathematics, above idealized abstractions. A person, as observer, has choice.” And “The theory [of any person] is part of the observer; a different theory makes a different observer; a different observer sees different things, or sees the same things as structured differently; and the structure of the observer must, in some sense or degree, be part of the data of an adequate theory of language. A particular language, of a particular culture, in relation to a particular person with [her or] his particular history constitutes an implicit theory for that person. . . [T]he observer universally affects the data and becomes part of the data.”

Let’s be clear about another similarly between Pike and Royster in their methodologies. They both write against inadequate methodologies (traditional methods that, by insisting on cold objectivity which resists subjectivity, are reductionistic and inadequate and, I’ll add, are elitist and exclusionary as a consequence).

Pike’s Pickles

But now I want to get to some of Pike’s pickles. (Pickles as in “that put him in a pickle.”) When I was in his seminar on “Tagmemics” (which is his name for his theory), and when he had some of us over to his house for dinner, and when I hear about him from those who knew him better than I (including one of his former bosses who, of all things, now works for me which puts me in the very weird position of being Pike’s boss’s boss), then sometimes he’d express a few things that bothered him. He expressed concern that these things were problems for tagmemics.

Some of them are these:

Pike’s Pickle A)
There was the disagreement Pike had with anthropologist Marvin Harris, who used “emic and etic all wrong.” A bit later, Pike agreed to the now famous public debate with Harris on the issue. (I never told Pike, but I always thought the more interesting disagreement was the one of Claude Levi-Strauss, who thought that Pike should have used “etic” for “emic” and vice versa, and then Gudrun and Lars H. Ekstrand came along and substantiated the Levi-Straussian claim with ancient Greek uses of the suffixes that Pike derives his terms from. Anyway, I never told Pike that I actually kind of liked Harris’s uses of “emic” and “etic”; so I’ll tell you now that I really love that the words have been found in scores of disciplines in a plethora of languages by various researchers, practitioners, and teachers.) The difficult thing for Pike here is that he wants subjectivity but is tempted to pure objectivity. (Some reading this may be tempted to think that Pike gave in, to pure abstraction for his meaning and not to Harris. But you may want to read more of what Pike says in all of this before making a final judgment. Pike never, as far as I can tell, ever backed off from his conviction that person is above logic, and that the observing person changes both the person himself or herself and the observed by their observation).

Pike’s Pickle B)
There was the disagreement Pike had with postmodernists and particularly their deconstructionism. Some poetry he authored rightly fought for author’s rights. And he defended his friends whose work was the victim of deconstruction. The difficult thing for Pike is that he wants to put person above the logic on which modernism is based, and his method would look very much like postmodernism if it weren’t, like afrafeminism, based on the subjective perspectives of humans who live in a body. In other words, postmodernism and especially deconstruction for Pike descended into pure abstraction (which may be where someone like Jacques Derrida says we must live, so thank God for Helene Cixous).

Pike’s Pickle C)
There was the question Pike often asked some of us about whether we thought IPA (the International Phon-etic Alphabet) was a kind of “emics,” a sort of insider language if used etically to be outside while going in. This is quite technical, I know, and the technicalities and the technical-ness will bring us to Pike’s next pickle; but first this. Pike would do the “monolingual demonstrations” mentioned in 4) above; and he would try to use the language of the other person only. He would actually agree that he was using the other languageS of the other person, because with the actual words spoken, the two—Pike and the one whose language he was learning—would also gesture and assume friendliness between the two (the friendliness an explicit “set up” arranged by a mutual friend so that there’d be no meanness, no sarcasm, no intentional resistance, and so forth). And yet, Pike also used IPA to record all he heard, and he’d use an English gloss, and he’d map out sounds on a grid mirroring the points of articulation within the mouth, and he’d map out morphophonemic contrasts, and he’d map out grammar contrasts, and he’d map out syntax. Then the two language speakers would debrief in English for the sake of the larger audience. So Pike used his various languages. And because he did, he could not completely—purely—move from his own “outsider” (or etic) position towards the other’s own “insider” (or emic) position. Rather, and this was his pickle, his etics were often (or perhaps always? he would ask us) just more emics. For anyone who has yet to learn IPA, for instance, is really in the etic position for that “etic alphabet” but becomes an insider using an “emic alphabet” once IPA was learned. So Pike mused, rightly, about intermediary stages of insiderness and outsiderness, and whether the whole notion of emic and etic really turns, again, on where one stands.

Pike’s Pickle D)
There was the question about whether tagmemics would be adopted across disciplines and live on. Pike really wanted the theory to be understood and used as a meta-theory (or as Joe Kissell calls it “the linguistic theory of everything”). He did not want it to be deconstructed or deconstructable as a metanarrative must be (although he seems to allow for that when writing on page 7 of Linguistic Concepts: “All theories eventually are doomed to be outmoded.”) The “Tagmemics” seminar I was in with him only had two of us who were linguists; the others, all hand picked, were experts or professionals in different disciplines and were women and men of various races. And much earlier, Pike had already been writing for publication in the fields of rhetoric and composition. Within linguistics, his wife, his sister, and some of his friends had begun to apply tagmemics in various directions. Thus, this was not just a theory for linguistics, for translation, and particularly for Bible translation. But unfortunately, I hear that in the Bible translation organizations in which Pike worked, tagmemics in not in vogue. Moreover, it’s all but abandoned in composition and rhetoric (and I’ve written some about this as I started into comp/rhet as an outsider).

So to summarize pickles A, B, C, and D: They are the logical objectification of A) meanings of words and of B) an author’s rights and of C) an observer’s position and of D) tagmemics itself. Every time logic rises above person, there’s a problem (and the formal complexities of tagmemics, even its technical name, has led to its abandonment in places where it once had promise). I do think Pike would be pleased to see that, despite its disappearance from Bible translation work and from rhetoric and composition, tagmemics is alive and well for Allison Randal, Larry Wall, and other Perl people. The reason they are so successful is that they keep person above logic in a field where logic usually reigns supreme (namely “computer science” and “computer language”). So I’m arguing here that afrafeminists like Jacqueline Jones Royster is keeping person above logic. And that we scholars will do well in our 1) “careful analysis” of anything and particularly of anyone else, to acknowledge our 2) “passionate attachment” while 3) we pay close “attention to ethical action” that might require us to be “accountable to our various publics” as we make our “commitment to social responsibility.” Now, I understand that may be beginning to sound a bit technical all over again. So let’s end with the end of Pike’s Preface and that joke:

“With that behind us [namely the scholarly developments of Pike and Pike in tagmemics], I then return to the present book, seeking once more to try to write for an audience which might be interested in the general principles involved. I wish them enjoyment as they try to read it. They may have to struggle with some of the data and claims, of course, since the view presented may seem to be buried in some irrelevant way. But this may often be the price of pleasure. Suppose, for example, that one wants to know the analysis of


It may take a bit of study to see that it hides a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”


Richard A. Rhodes said...

I would have responded sooner but I've been a mite busy. (In fact, I'm still pretty busy, so this will be shorter than I'd like -- in an ideal world.)

I don't see Pike as being in the pickle(s) you see him in. I agree with Pike in the priority of social context over formalism. I, with Pike, do NOT see that such a position entails the rejection of formalism. Pike wanted desperately to find a formalism that would allow him the precision that won such a following for generative grammar. Ask Ivan Lowe. (To bad that formalism only came in the last 15 years or so, too late for Pike to recognize and take advantage of it.)

My beef with you is that you seem to have rejected ALL objectification. (BTW that's an objectivist position in itself.) There are places where objectification is exactly the right thing. It gives us cars and refrigerators, houses and medicine, and -- well, you get the picture. Objectification is only really bad when you get into dealing with people and art.

And, I'll continue to maintain, the vast, vast, vast majority of uses of language are unambiguous, even in literature. Looking for ambiguities where they aren't intended is deeply problematic for me.

This is not to deny that there are layers of meaning. More so in literature than in most everyday uses of language, but that's a different matter.

Remember, at the root, Pike was (as I am) a pragmatist in the philosophical sense. That's why he and I are against postmodernism.

J. K. Gayle said...

I know you're very busy. More than ever, I appreciate when you take the time to read and to comment.

Did you ignore the connections of tagmemics and afrafeminism discussed here because the ostensible pickles are more sour? A sweeter discussion when you've got to eat and run?

A group of us in the ESL teaching programs over here watched Pike on video today. It's amazing how he frames the monolingual demonstration with editorial comments: in the intro, he says there's the possibility of failure; (in the middle, he actually makes a mistake which he acknowledges towards the end); and in the conclusion, he gives us a poem because, he says, logical prose statements fail to communicate profoundly enough all he hopes we get. Pike isn't looking for ambiguities where they aren't intended. No, Rich. But he certainly allows that language is N-dimensional, that others experience ambiguities in ways he has yet to experience them; and very very very humbly he allows (at first at least) that the one he's listening to ever so carefully may not share all of his own intentions. Why does Pike seem so amazed that some people speaking some languages don't have numbers, or not nearly as many as we English speakers do? Why does Pike leave us with his literature, with his poetry? Why does Jesus tell parables? Are all ambiguities intended? Pike's a genius, I'm convinced.

Now, I must apologize that I only "seem to have rejected ALL objectification." I'm afraid I'm so steeped in Western education (so pickled in dominant classical Greek influence) that I can hardly get around it. Of course I want my medical doctor to be a scientist, an objectivist. But, believe me, there have been critical times in the health of my family members when I've been so glad the objectivists were real human beings with real subjectivities. I'll never ever forget, for instance, when one of the world's leading surgeons took time with my wife to weep with her as she (the physician) sympathized with her (my wife) over a decision that only they could make (as two mothers about one of our daughters). Likewise, other physicians our family has had the good fortune of submitting to for health have been artists as much as scientists. They have even listened to us and to alternatives proposed by others, not always by the double blind "proven" research. Very personal stuff, different from cars, refrigerators, and houses. Although . . .

Subjectivists are willing to be objectivists (if only having to go with it every once in a while). But would-be pure objectivists avoid subjectivity: they're afraid of change, afraid to give up power or even to look at the fact that they're afraid to lose power. They're stuck in the suckers choice: either we'll have absolute relativism (and all will be "wrong") or we'll get it right (and my way is the objective "right"). But even postmodernism is not the end of pragmatism. Derrida also put his pants on one leg at a time. And Audre Lorde most practically used certain tools if for a different end from her master. The feminist binary handles the pure patriarchal binary just fine, but good feminists just won't allow people to be mishandled.

Rich, if and when you have more time, I sincerely do appreciate the dialog! I really can't talk about tagmemics with too many people, and I haven't yet met Ivan Lowe.

Richard A. Rhodes said...

I'll leave two comments because the points are quite distinct. This one is about Pike and afrafeminism.

I think you have a very good point (or actually series of points) about the touchstones between Pike's modernist, but highly contextualized approach to knowledge, and the postmodernist afrafeminists. I had never thought of that, but then I don't think much of feminism, let alone think about it or read it.

Maybe I shouldn't say that so strongly. I fully support equal pay for equal work. I'm thoroughly egalitarian doctrinally in the church. I wince at the numerous ways that our society treats women as inferior to men, BUT ...

I have enormous troubles with feminism. Maybe it's because the feminists that I have had to rub shoulders with are just too caustic, or maybe it's because the feminists in the church stole the poetry of so many hymns*, or maybe it's just because they were such terrible linguists that I now have to say "waitperson" or face the scorn heaped on the politically incorrect.

They've wronged me in a way parallel to that that they charge me with wronging them with. I was never given the chance to dialogue. This was just foisted on me. I woke up one day in 1968, or was it 1972? and I was no longer allowed to say "fireman". (Ignoring the linguistic history that man meant 'person' long before it also took on the meaning 'adult male human'.)

I've never recovered.

*For example, "Dear Father of All Humankind" for "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind" (Gag!) (John Greenleaf Whittier is rolling over in his grave.)

Richard A. Rhodes said...

OK, here's my second, less grumpy, comment.

Language, even in the most straightforward uses, ones that I would call unambiguous, is multidimensional. There are the meanings that I talked about in my comment on this topic over at BBB on this topic: reference, framing, and pragmatics. There are two that I left out, because they're much harder. One is syntax. (There are interminable arguments among linguists about whether there is syntactic meaning. But we construction grammarians will argue at length that there is.) The other is allusion. What makes allusion hard is that it has a use in literature which is close to but not exactly what I intend. (There is no such thing in my world as "mere allusion".) Allusion is, in effect, the memory of all the other times you've heard the word used, but especially recent ones. (Cognitive scientists can tell you all about activation networks in the brain to explain this neurologically.)

Then there is the matter of the implications of the kinds of first order meanings that I've just laid out. (Here's where I think postmodernism goes wrong. They don't see any principled difference between meanings of different orders. I wince in horror.)

J. K. Gayle said...

Again I'm impressed and grateful. Thanks for continuing the dialog, for working through (taking time with) what I've written.

On your response to connections between tagmemics and afrafeminism, I'm thrilled. On the abuse you've suffered from (bad) feminists, I say I'm sorry about that!

On allusion, I'm tracking with you and don't much disagree. On ambiguities, I do have to say I think we the people using words and making meanings supply them. And I'll add this: the reason subjectivity in our attempts at objectivity is so important is because our souls are wrapped around by our bodies. There's something awfully humbling about that kind of incarnation. We just babysat my 4.5 month old niece the last couple of days, and I must say, little human beings are just...miraculous. Flesh and wide-eyed soul wrapped together. So, Rich, you've done it again: you've inspired me to blog another post.