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Ethnomusicology: Personal Statement


Emic and Etic are expressions widely used in the field of social sciences. Researchers continue to show disagreement when it comes to the use and definition of the two terms. The two terms were first used by Kenneth Pike in 1954. (James Lett 2008). He relates the cultural study of society to the study of a Language sound system. In the Linguistic study of the sound system of a language, we have Phonemes and phonetics. He further tries to give the distinction between the two using the language of the sound system. He coins the expression etic from phonetic that depends on the external characteristics to analyze a sound system of a language. The etic outlook, therefore, depends on the external characteristics that are significant to the researchers. Emic on the other hand comes from phonemic that entails a difference in the sounds of a language internally. As a result emic is that which gives the cultural differences internally; that are consequential to the members of a culture. (James Lett 2008).

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It is not only Pike who has attempted to define and give distinction between the two expressions, other researchers like Marvin Harris a cultural Anthropologist have attempted to do the same. He disagrees with Pike’s definition of the two expressions for he differentiates the two terms given pattern of cultural materialism. For Pike ethics are a means of getting at mics. Etic systems as viewed by Pike are tools created by a researcher to be applied to the data that is later viewed as foreign. Harris’s view is different for he thinks that the etic is important in making purposeful verification of facts. Ethics claims to information are superior to emic claims of knowledge. Simply put the etic part is a foreign view that is from an outsider. While the emic view is domestic that is the view of the inside members who are part of the system. (Kenneth L. Pike 2008.)

To Pike, the etic is derived by comparing and contrasting many systems and by theoretically getting from them the units that are created into one format. This single scheme is then evaluated as one. The emic can be viewed and analyzed as monocultural. The units in the emic are derived from the internal practical relations of only one single culture at a time.

Main body

Ethnomusicology can be defined in simple terms as the scientific study of music from different cultures or subcultures. This study entails research of sounds and performance practices distinct to a particular culture in contrast to other cultures (Encyclopedia Britannica 2008) knowledge of emic and ethics can be widely applied in Ethnomusicology. The objective of Ethnomusicology research therefore should be to acquire both the etic and the emic facts or understanding.

From the background of the mics and ethics, it follows that Ethnomusicology is the scientific study of music in different cultures. Therefore, it should entail studying music from the outside in and from the inside out. When looking at music as part of the culture it should be noted that music should be researched and studied from one culture to another and across time or in comparison to how the music impacts the social lives of the people involved. It should also look at how the culture itself affects music. The first step is for the researcher to endeavor to understand how people make music and why they make certain musical choices within their cultural organization. Research and study of music structure and subject matter related to it entail learning music from the inside out. Music sometimes is responsible for the change in peoples’ feelings, thoughts, attitudes, and behavior. For instance, you can analyze particular occasions in which particular songs are performed, for what purpose or reason. This analysis is what makes music a study from the outside in.

The wonderful wealth of exotic music has been brought about as a result of the hard work of ethnomusicologists. To begin with, ethnomusicologists are involved in a comprehensive study of music in different cultures. By living around different people of different cultures they expose music which was not heard before. Besides exposing music of different cultures to the people of the world ethnomusicologists are themselves, music makers and composers, because of their exposure to the musical tradition.

Bruno Nettl (The study of Ethnomusicology), views music as a universal phenomenon. He insists that world music is a collection of distinguishable musical systems. He further states that it can be viewed as a large number of phenomena that can be understood only by comparing the groups of music with each other. Globalization has been said to be responsible for the internationalization of world music. Bruno Nettl goes further to claim that music is part of the world phenomenon. Through globalization, indigenous music representing the different cultures of the world has been introduced to new audiences all over the world. This in turn increases the popularity of the same music in their respective place of origin. The so-called indigenous music from specific cultures has diffused into each other further to merge with Western music to come up with world music.

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Even though people like Bruno Nettl have viewed music as universal others do not share the same opinion with him. Susanne Langer a philosopher, for example, has visualized music as an individual experience and they have ignored any interpretation of the music about social conditions. Another person who shares the same opinion with Bruno Nettl is Mark Levy who believes that music is a universal phenomenon but not necessarily a universal language.

Ethnomusicology, therefore, attempts to preserve the music of indigenous origin as distinct cultural expressions. Some people are arguing that the internationalization of music worldwide is undermining the survival of the indigenous forms of music. This results in the westernization where the indigenous forms are swallowed or replaced by the western forms of music. Even though this internationalization is aimed at creating music that can be listened to by the whole population of the world it should not at the expense of the indigenous pure forms of music.


James Lett. Emic/Etic Distinctions.2008. Web.

Kenneth L. Pike.A Stereoscopic Window On The World. 2008. Web.

Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Some Definitions of Ethnomusicology 2008. Web.

Culture or Noise, Marshall Mc Luhan Nov 2003. Web.

Bruno Nettl. The Study of Ethnomusicology. 2008. Web.

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