Language and Life Part IV: Tristructural Units of Human Behavior -- By: Kenneth L. Pike

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 115:457 (Jan 1958)
Article: Language and Life Part IV: Tristructural Units of Human Behavior
Author: Kenneth L. Pike


Language and Life
Part IV:
Tristructural Units of Human Behavior

Kenneth L. Pike

In this, the fourth lecture of the series, we return to theoretical matters in the investigation of language. In the first lecture we indicated that each language comprised a structural grid, a system, through which communication was molded and channeled. In the second, we gave some detail universally present in all language systems, showing that basic to them was a series of structures comprised of sequences of functional slots filled by classes of words or morphemes or phrases. We now wish to make explicit one characteristic of these structures which we drew on earlier in the discussion but did not make prominent in or crucial to the argument.

The added theoretical point is one which I have recently been proposing. Although it has already proved very fruitful in my linguistic endeavors, implying solutions to a number of old and new problems, the reader must be warned that it is still too early to know well how the point of view will stand up to the next decade of testing in the field and in theoretical proving grounds.

Tristructural Versus Tripartite or Triaspectural Views

Every significant unit of speech, according to this proposed view, is comprised simultaneously of three structures, in such a way that each of the structures includes all the substance of the unit, but each structure is formally distinct from the other two. Each emic unit of speech is tristructurally formed.

This tristructural theory is sharply distinct from a tripartite view. In the latter, the tripartite one, a unit would be conceived as having sections like an orange, or parts; the substance of the unit could be analytically split, divided, parcelled out into these sections or parts, and then the parts added together would make up the whole. If one part of a tripartite unit were removed, two parts would be left. A chain with three links might symbolize the tripartite view. In the tristructural view none of these things are are true. If only one of its three structures is removed from a tristructural unit the entire unit has disappeared, since each structure includes within it all the overt substance of that unit. A tristructural unit is not comprised of three parts, but of one whole, with the whole structured in three different ways at once.

A tristructural analysis is crucially different, also from a triaspectual or tridimensional view of a unit. A triaspectual approach may look at a single unit from three different angles, see it from three different vantage points, study it in relation to three different functions, even through the unit,is treated as having a single set of structural pa...

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