Emic and etic

Emic and etic are terms used by some in the social sciences and the behavioral sciences to refer to two different kinds of data concerning human behavior.

  • An "emic" account is a description of behavior or a belief in terms meaningful (consciously or unconsciously) to the actor; that is, an emic account is culture-specific.
  • An "etic" account is a description of a behavior or belief by an observer, in terms that can be applied to other cultures; that is, an etic account is '"culturally neutral".

Scientists interested in the local construction of meaning, and local rules for behavior, will rely on emic accounts; scientists interested in facilitating comparative research and making universal claims will rely on etic accounts.

The terms were first introduced by linguist Kenneth Pike, who argued that the tools developed for describing linguistic behaviors could be adapted to the description of any human social behavior. Emic and etic are derived from the linguistic terms phonemic and phonetic respectively. The possibility of a true culturally neutral etic perspective is debated, and was even discounted by Pike himself in his original work.

The terms were also championed by anthropologists Ward Goodenough and Marvin Harris with slightly different definitions (Goodenough was primarily interested in understanding the culturally specific meaning of specific beliefs and practices; Harris was primarily interested in explaining human behavior). In political theory an act viewed etically has been called an "operation," but when viewed emically, it has been called a "practice."


  • Cresswell, J. W. (1998) Qualitative Enquiry and Research Design: Choosing among five traditions. London. Sage
  • Goodenough, Ward (1970) “Describing a Culture” in Description and Comparison in Cultural Anthropology Cambridge: Cambridge University Press pp 104-119. ISBN 978-0-202-30861-6
  • Harris, Marvin (1980) “Chapter Two: The Epistemology of Cultural Materialism,” in Cultural Materialism: The Struggle for a Science of Culture. New York: Random House. pp. 29-45 ISBN 978-0-7591-0134-0
  • Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1987). Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music (Musicologie générale et sémiologue, 1987). Translated by Carolyn Abbate (1990). ISBN 978-0-691-02714-2.
  • Pike, Kenneth Lee (1967). Language in relation to a unified theory of structure of human behavior 2nd ed. The Hague: Mouton

Search another word or see Emic_and_eticon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature