Language and Life Part II: Slots and Classes in the Hierarchical Structure of Behavior -- By: Kenneth L. Pike

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 114:455 (Jul 1957)
Article: Language and Life Part II: Slots and Classes in the Hierarchical Structure of Behavior
Author: Kenneth L. Pike


Language and Life
Part II:
Slots and Classes in the Hierarchical Structure of Behavior

Kenneth L. Pike

[Kenneth L. Pike is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and is closely associated with the Wycliffe Bible Translators and their Summer Institute of Linguistics as a board member, director, and linguistic trouble-shooter.]

Language! Prime symbolic device for creation of conceptual structures building the heart of living! What would a man be without his language—stripped of his verbalized thoughts, plans, dreams, conversations, morals, or sins, even?

What are the underlying characteristics of a particular language which allow it to serve as the carrier of so much of a man’s personality? What grammatical facts are part of every language as a reflex of the innate nature of man? How are these features related to other characteristics of human behavior of a nonlanguage kind? The existence of an emic system in man’s speech and action we, for our part, are ready to grant—but what are some of the principles of this system applicable universally, and how are the details for a particular language to be determined?

Slot and Class

We will find in every language, we believe, (1) small, minimal units of sound, i.e., phonemes, (2) minimal units of vocabulary, i.e., morphemes, and (3) minimal units of grammatical function comprised of a class of morphemes (or of morphemes and morpheme sequences)in a particular functional slot in a grammatical structure, i.e., gramemes. The first two of these units have been handled by descriptive

linguists for some decades; the third I have recently introduced to bring together in unitary form a number of well-known phenomena.

The procedure for identifying gramemes requires the prior or simultaneous identification of some lexical units or their borders. In order to locate lexical units, to identify their borders, to separate one from another, it is necessary to find two or more expressions (1) whose general meaning is known through gesture or through translation, and (2) which have some part (a) of their meaning and some part (b) of their sound sequences in common. The part of sound and meaning held in common is roughly seen to be a (simple or complex) lexical element. Compare: YesterdayJohncametothehouse with Isawtheboyasherantothehouse; here, if the over-all meaning of the sentences were known to a foreign speaker, the part tothehouse could be identified by him. Yet this part is complex. Before its separate morphemes—the smallest lexical parts—could be determined, other contrastive expressions would have to be found...

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