Edward Sapir sur la distinction Emic–Etic

13 septembre 2012

Les néologismes que sont dans le jargon des sciences sociales les adjectifs emic et etic furent inventés par Kenneth L. Pike (1912–2000) en 1954 sur le modèle de la distinction phonémique–phonétique en linguistique. Etic (adj.) s'applique à des «traits de comportement (behavioral characteristics) considérés indépendamment de leur signification structurale». Emic (adj.) s'applique à des «traits significatifs de la structure d'une langue ou d'un système de comportement (behavioral system)».

Lawrence E. Fisher and Oswald Werner, Explaining Explanation: Tension in American Anthropology, Journal of Anthropological Research, Vol. 34, No. 2 (Summer, 1978), pp. 194-218. Controverse avec Marvin Harris.

(199) As originally conceived by Pike within the tradition of descriptive linguistics, etics and emics are in fact two perspectives on the same thing; the etic perspective is the view from outside the system, while the emic perspective is the view from within (Pike 1967: 37). Pike explicitly cautions against the dichotomization of etics from emics:

Kenneth L. Pike, Language in Relation to a Unified Theory of the Structure of Human Behavior, The Hague: Mouton, 1967, p. 41: “Etic and emic data do not constitute a rigid dichotomy of bits of data, but often represent the same data from two points of view. Specifically, for example, the emic units of a language, once discovered by emic procedures, may be listed for comparative purposes with similar emic units from other languages so studied. The moment this has been done, however, the emic units have changed into etic units, since they are divorced from the context of the structure of the language from which they have come.”

Edward Sapir jouait déjà sur la distinction entre phonologie et phonétique pour formuler les mêmes règles de méthode comme le montrent Fisher et Werner par une précieuse citation.

(Fisher and Werner, 200) Sapir's classic definition of the phoneme — "a functionally significant unit in the rigidly defined pattern or configuration of sounds peculiar to a language" [1949:46] — does not require the native speaker to be able to point to the units, or to define the parameters of the system. In fact, the following methodological comment by Sapir suggests the opposite; i.e., that phonemic analysis can proceed despite native "inarticulateness" on the topic:

(Sapir 1949: 47) If the phonemic attitude is more basic, psychologically speaking, than the more strictly phonetic one, it should be possible to detect it in the unguarded speech judgements of naive speakers who have a complete control of their language in a practical sense but have no rationalized or consciously systematic knowledge of it. [Edward Sapir, The Psychological Reality of Phonemes, in Selected Writings of Edward Sapir, ed. by D. Mandelbaum, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1949.]

Thus Sapir and Pike lay the foundation for a program of analysis which builds on, not around, emic analysis in pursuit of the etic.