Emic And Etic Perspectives: What They Are, And 6 Differences Between Them

Emic and etic

The emic and etic perspectives applied in scientific knowledge have allowed us to acquire different perspectives on social phenomena. Its antecedents are found in structuralist linguistics, however they have been transferred in an important way to sociology and anthropology, since they allow different responses and explanations of social behavior to be developed.

In an introductory way we will see below what it is and where the etic and emic perspectives come from as well as some of their main differences.

From linguistics to social behavior

The concepts of “etic” and “emic” are neologisms first introduced by the American linguist Kenneth Pike, to refer to how social behavior occurs and is understood. Etic corresponds to the suffix of the word “phonetic” (which means phonetic, in English), and “emic” corresponds to the word “phonemic” (which means phonemic, also in English).

Phonetics is a branch of linguistics which studies the sounds we produce to communicate. As a concept, it refers to the sounds of language that are based on a taxonomy active in speech, as well as their environmental effects understood as acoustic waves.

Phonemics, for its part, is another branch of linguistics and refers to the ability of listeners to not only listen but to identify and manipulate phonemes (the minimum phonological units that belong to each language). It refers to the sounds that are in implicit consciousness, or in non-consciousness, and that help speakers identify different expressions of their own language.

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Pike takes these terms to develop two epistemological perspectives that allow us to understand social behavior as an analogy of the main linguistic structures That is, it tries to apply the principles by which linguists discovered phonemes, morphemes and other units of language, to discover emic units of social behavior.

6 differences between emic and etic perspectives

The etic and emic perspectives in the social sciences have been useful to offer different explanations of what motivates social behavior. In other words, they have arisen with the intention of answering, for example, why certain human groups behave in a specific way, why they interact as they do or how they have been organized in a certain way.

Broadly speaking, the answers to these questions have taken two paths. On the one hand, there are those who say that the motives of social behavior can only be understood by the explanation that the actors themselves make about said reasons This would be an emic stance.

And on the other hand, there are those who say that social behaviors, and their motives, can be explained through direct observation of someone outside This would be an etic position. According to Pike, the use of an etic and emic perspective can have important ethical consequences and undertones, especially when the descriptions are translated into instrumental measurements.

Below we will briefly look at five differences that are related to how we investigate and understand our societies and behaviors.

1. Observer-participant relationship

An emic perspective seeks to exist an interaction context in which the observer and the informant meet and carry out a discussion on a particular topic.

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For its part, an etic perspective defines and describes social behavior considering mainly the logic of the observing actor. The structure that exists beyond the minds of the actors is prioritized.

2. The motive of social behavior

When asked what events, entities, or relationships are like, an emic perspective would say that The answer is in the heads of the people who lead these events entities or relationships.

On the other hand, when faced with the same question, an etic perspective would say that the answer lies in the observable behavior of the people who participate in said events, entities or relationships.

3. Validity of explanatory knowledge

Emic is a perspective that works from the actors’ point of view. The events of daily life, customs, habits, rituals, etc., are not defined by those who perform them, and this is considered the valid definition.

As understood in relation to non-conscious meanings or structures, emic is considered a difficult perspective to defend in terms of scientific rigor

Etic is a perspective that is approached from the point of view of the observer. Here cultural events, customs, habits, daily life, etc., are explained based on the description made by the person who watches (not the person who acts on those events), and that is the explanation that is considered valid.

4. Similar perspectives

An emic perspective is closer to a subjectivist perspective of knowledge, while an etic perspective is closer to the objectivist paradigm of knowledge

5. Related methodologies

The emic perspective is interested in the social construction of meaning, in questioning and exploring the emic purposes of behavior. Therefore, an example of methodology are the descriptions made based on interviews with social actors.

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For its part, the etic perspective, which is more interested in the descriptions of the external agent, can carry out, for example, Comparative research between what is observed in different cultures

6. They are not always so different

The emic and etic perspectives are approaches that may not coincide, and what is more: they are frequently understood and used as completely exclusive descriptions.

Kenneth Pike and Marvin Harris (an American anthropologist who took up and developed Pike’s theories) have problematized this and have managed to exemplify in which moments the etic and emic views coincide, and in which moments they distance themselves from each other, as well as the consequences of said views. coincidences and distances.

One of the things that people interested in the emic and etic perspectives have had to ask themselves has been How mental belief systems, language, and behavior itself are connected In other words, it has also been necessary to question whether what we say about what we do gives a true idea of ​​the motives for the behavior; or if what we see ourselves doing is actually what gives a closer idea of ​​the motives for the same behavior.

Sometimes what we do matches what we say about what we do, sometimes it doesn’t. And it is largely for this reason that the emic and etic perspectives cannot be separated sharply, but must be understood in relation. Is about approaches that can be useful and complementary to understand our social behavior