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Emic vs Etic Research

Thomas R. Lindlof

Subject Linguistics
Communication and Media Studies » Communication Studies

Key-Topics research methods

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


Derived from anthropological research, emic and etic describe two broad approaches to analyzing language and culture. The emic–etic duality has influenced the ways in which fields as diverse as personality psychology, consumer behavior, organizational science, and intercultural communication study cultural systems. The terms also refer to distinctive research strategies, particularly in the context of ethnographic fieldwork (→  Field Research ). Emic and etic were coined by the linguistic anthropologist Kenneth L. Pike (1954) . Pike's intent was to apply the principles of structural →  Linguistics to the problem of how and why language usage varies within and across cultures. The term emics – adapted from phonemics – conveys the idea that only members of a culture possess valid knowledge of their own language usage. As Pike defined it, an emic unit is any physical or mental item regarded as meaningful, real, accurate, appropriate, coherent, or relevant by the culture members themselves. Thus, the emic approach to research always starts from the “inside” of a culture. By studying the accounts, explanations, and social action that are meaningful to a group of people, researchers can better understand how symbolic communication varies from one situation to the next. A valid emic account is one that matches the consensus view of native informants. Emic accounts often require ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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