Paper presented to Session A on “Philosophical Ideas in Sociology“ at the  37th Congress of The International Institute of Sociology, July 5-9, 2005 in Stockholm. The lion’s share of the text is taken from the manuscript to the author’s forthcoming book The Many-splendored Society.

How Sociology May Cope with Some Findings from Linguistics and Philosophy of Language

Hans L Zetterberg, Bromma, Sweden. Email:


This paper explores some contributions by linguists and philosophers of language to a universal theory of social reality. The linguist Kenneth Pike’s distinction from 1954 between emic and etic language has inspired a discussion in anthropology of the relation between the language in a society and the language of social science. The emic language in a society, i.e. what the inhabitants themselves tell, is not necessarily different from the etic language of scholarship. As Claude Lévi-Strauss repeatedly hinted, society is like a language. Our thesis is that the etic scholarly categories that classify social reality are apparently synonymous with some deep structure of the ordinary emic language in the society. Noam Chomsky demonstrated the existence of deep structures in language, in some measure unconscious for the user, but discoverable by science. His unearthing of the universal forms of language needs to be integrated with the finding of universal usages of language by American pragmatists Charles Morris and Charles Stevenson. Combining the insights of these two philosophers of language, we maintain that any live language tends to become differentiated into descriptive, evaluative, and prescriptive usages, each of which contains executive and emotive components. Furthermore, the language brains of persons tend to differentiate these usages regardless of their Chomsky structure, i.e. grammatical form. Such a language can codify societal orders, represent riches, summarize knowledge, embody beauty, define sacredness, and express virtues. It can be subject to the operations of the (etic) language of science, i.e. logics, mathematics, and statistics. It opens an easy door to structuration. It can also rephrase the dramas of human life, for example, the recurring literary destinies identified by the mid-19th century American critic Kenneth Burke.

Emic and Etic Language

What is the difference between ordinary language in a society and the language used by scientists, scholars, and critics in their study of that society? Anthropologists have contributed to our understanding of this issue by developing a distinction proposed by the linguist Kenneth L. Pike (1954) between emic and etic language. The state of the art was illustrated in 1988 by a four-hour debate before an audience of 600 members of the American Anthropological Association, later published in a book edited by Headland, Pike, and Harris (1990).

Emic sentences are those that tell how the world is seen by a particular people who live in it. These sentences consist of all verbalized beliefs, values, standards, techniques, et cetera. Studies based solely on participation use only emic sentences and result in emic propositions and conclusions.

Etic sentences, by contrast, contain also other information besides the emic language. They are sentences of an observer or analyst rather than of a mere participant. They form the language of science, scholarship, and cultural criticism rather that of mere reporting by a participant.

Etic observation may contradict emic truths. The Aztec religion in pre-Columbian Mexico was a solar religion.  The sun god was the source of life. He concentrated minds of the Aztecs to dominate their region like the sun dominates the sky. This sun god required a daily human sacrifice from the Aztecs to return with its light and warmth each day. Such were their emic truths.

The invading Spaniards with roots in medieval Catholicism might well have known of the sacrificial rites of Abraham and Jesus and others. But he Aztec sacrifices were alien. Moreover, the navigators and officers from the Spanish ships that had crossed the Atlantic with the Spanish invaders of the Aztec region were accustomed to think differently about the movements of the celestial bodies. Their etic conclusion was that the Aztecs were wrong; the sun would rise without a human sacrifice. Their grounded disbelief in Aztec magic gave them a sense of superiority, a common sentiment when Europeans ventured to new worlds in the era of colonialism.

Marvin Harris requires that the analyst with his etic language also to be an observer, not only a participant.

An emic sentence can be proven wrong if it can be shown that it contradicts the participants’ sense that entities and events are similar or different, real, meaningful, significant, or appropriate. – – – Etic statements cannot be proven wrong if they do not conform to the participants’ sense of what is significant, real, meaningful, or appropriate. They can only be proven wrong by the failure of empirical evidence gathered by observers to support the statement in question (Harris 1999, pp 31-32).

Not everyone agrees with Harris. At the time of this writing (in 2005) we can distinguish four positions or research strategies:

All these positions have some merits. The fourth one is a line of reasoning that is least self-evident, and it is the one we will explore as a promising strategy in the social sciences.

The young Lévi-Strauss was a proponent of this research strategy. He often said that society is like language. With enthusiasm he tackled primitive thought – with all its emic sentences – to unearth the structure of societies. He was criticized for looking for the foundations and scaffoldings of society in language. Anthony Giddens (1987 p.195) even declared that "structuralism, and post-structuralism also, are dead traditions of thought." Later in life, Lévi-Strauss tuned down his claim that the key to society was language, but he never abandoned his view.

Giddens' judgment may be premature. Maybe it is true that Lévi-Strauss' (1958, 1963, pp 206-231) insistence to record and analyze most every myth in primitive thought is too long a detour to reach the goals of social science. However, our ambition may still be to find a deep structure in societies, in some measure unconscious for the user, but discoverable by science.

Enter la langue

Our understanding and use of symbols rests not only on what is manifest – the symbol-act and its context – but also on something that is absent from view or hearing. There are hidden semantic and syntactical codes embedded in symbols that are essential to an understanding of them. Ferdinand de Saussure (1916), who inspired Lévi-Strauss, identified a nearly total arbitrariness of signs, but he found little arbitrariness in the way signs combined into sentences. While the number of symbols is virtually indefinite, the number of rules to combine them into sentences is limited. These rules are systemic rather than concrete. They form la langue rather than la parole, to use de Saussure's classical distinction. A system of symbols (la langue) is known only from the study of the actual and concrete use of its symbols (la parole). But the use of symbols (la parole) is efficient communication only if it conforms, however roughly, to the rule-governed system of symbols (la langue). Langue and parole presuppose one another.

The First Chomsky Thesis

When mankind was a single local African tribe – if it ever was – it had a single symbolic environment. Even in those days it is likely that infighting over scarce resources began to separate symbols in the in-group and out-group. As parts of the tribe moved in search of greener pastures – the start of the slow process of spreading mankind over the entire globe – they met formidable obstacles of sheer distance, mountains, and oceans that severed them from their past and its symbolic environment. Gestures, the language of the body, have apparently remained roughly the same during mankind's big journey, but not entirely so. A Japanese delivering a mournful message ("Your father has passed away") may have a smile on his face, a gesture seen by Europeans (and most Americans) as entirely misplaced, since a smile to them is a gesture accompanying a joyful message. Languages, however, are highly differentiated. They produce the babble in Babel's tower. However, linguists in the past century have brought order into this chaos. Out of their controversies and agreements we can distill two essential theses, both credited to Noam Chomsky (1975, pp 20-33) for their definitive formulation.

Languages consist of a limited number of parts: nouns in the form of objects (e.g., books ), or in the form of persons (e.g., students) , adverbs ( slowly ), adjectives ( difficul‏t ), verbs ( read ), auxiliary verbs ( should ), et cetera. However, the number of possible unique combinations of them is very large. Most combinations make no sense: for example, books students slowly difficult read should are six words that can enter into hundreds of different combinations. The exact number is calculated as a multiplication 1x2x3x4x5x6=720, or expressed in factorial mathematics: 6!=720. But at least one combination of 720 makes sense: Students should read difficult books slowly. Why does this particular combination make sense? It happens to follow the rules of langue.

Rules of langue are necessary. Six words gave 720 possible combinations. When a child has learned 60 words, something that usually happens before two years of age, the number of possible combinations is 8 320 987 112 741 390 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000.

The rules of langue may remain hidden or "unconscious.” You may follow them without being aware of them. Millions of people speak in perfectly understandable ways without any conscious knowledge of the rules of any syntax. And even people who have no formal knowledge of the rules may become dismayed (or amused) when someone breaks them in his speech. Intellectuals, particularly journalists, who thrive on their fluency and creativity in the use of language, often underestimate people in politics and business who have a scrambled syntax or other defects in their speech. For example, they have a hard time discovering the political prowess of a Dwight D Eisenhower or a George W Bush.

Inside man there is a set of recipes, or rules of thumb, to cook new sentences, some unheard of, from the words we know. Linguists call this set of rules a "generative grammar." A generative grammar is not a school grammar prescribing traditional and polite writing. It is a program for producing understandable speech from a vocabulary and to understand the same speech when spoken by others.

Children pay attention not only to the images associated with words and to the synonyms of words, but also to the way adults order the common features of their language. Thus children learn not only a vocabulary; they also develop ("grow") a grammatical system to use the vocabulary. The first Chomsky thesis is that the human child is born with the ability to infer the rules from his or her symbolic environment. They come to use this unconscious generative grammar because they have an inherited ability to do so. Here is the explanation why young children may say " I have monies" and " We buyed candy " instead of " I have money" and " We bought candy". They have deduced the rules from their symbolic environment but not yet found out about exceptions to the rules.

There is a parallel here between eyes and ears. The physical environment – matter of different kinds and/or waves of different lengths – seems almost infinite in its variety. It is remarkable but true that the the pre-language brain finds a structure in this environment mediated by the eyes so that we can see contours, shades, colors, movements, and depth. And it is even more remarkable that the language brain of humans finds a structure in the symbolic environment mediated by the ears so we can understand and speak a language. The parallel between sight and sound, picture and word, fascinated Ludwig Wittgenstein as a young man. He hit it on the nail in 1922 when he wrote that our thoughts and representations are best understood as picturing the way things are (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 2.1).

The Second Chomsky Thesis

There are some 6,000 known languages. The various languages, as the old grammarians noted, have common features, i.e. parts of speech such as nouns, adjectives, objects, verbs, prepositions, adverbs, et cetera. The ordering of these features into 6,000 generative grammars differs somewhat between languages, but not very much. In English we do not say "Knows Erland how to sail a boat?" English verbs (except do and be and auxiliary verbs) are put after the subject: "Does Erland know how to sail a boat?" In French you may put the verb before the subject: "Erland sait-il naviguer un bateau?" In German, the verb at times is put last in the sentence: "Weisst Erland wie man einen Boot segeln kann?"

These differences do not change the fact that English, French, and German all have subjects and verbs and other standard features of language, and each has a consistent order that applies to them. The second Chomsky thesis is that the different generic grammars are in fact variations on a single common prototype, a Universal Grammar. Given the huge number of possible combinations of words, the differences between various generative grammars are trivial. The Universal Grammar represents an overwhelming communality between them. It is the rules of any and all human symbolic environments. The proverbial visitor from Mars with his special intelligence knows that the parts of speech in the languages of the universe combine in a huge number of ways and that the rules of combination are legion. But he would immediately hear that all earthlings, in spite of their varied vocabularies, use one and the same set of rules for their combinations, i.e. the same grammar, give or take some minor local differences.

To summarize the two Chomsky Theses:

Although Chomsky did not think so, there are good reasons to believe that the language instinct has evolved through natural selection, as have all other complex organs and hard wirings in the brain (Pinker 1994). So far, we do not have any other scientific explanation to the emergence of organs other than the one Charles Darwin provided. The natural selection may also be an explanation of the Universal Grammar. However, if mankind has a common root in Africa, the Universal Grammar of all human earthlings may also have its beginning there.

The Uses of Symbols as Distinct from the Grammar of Symbols

We learned about the nature of a deep uncurious ability to understand language from the linguists. Chomsky also showed us the existence of a universal structure of sentences in all languages. But no universal theory of society has developed out of his discovery. From the analytical philosophers and pragmatic philosophers we shall now learn about the usage of sentences in human interaction and discourse. Their distinctions may actually guide us more quickly than the Universal Grammar to a general theory of society.

Charles Morris, a philosopher in the American pragmatic tradition, was to my knowledge the first to divide the actual use of language into a universal classification and specify the most general usages of signs and symbols. "These usages may be called in order the informative, the valuative, the incitive, and the systemic uses of signs. These are the most general sign usages; other usages are subdivisions and specializations of these four." (Morris 1946, p 95, italics in original).

Morris thus proposes four universal usages of language. Actually, Morris’ fourth category, the systemic use of language, is not a separate one from the three others. Nothing can be systemic that is not originally informative, valuative, and/or incitive. The systemic is an attribute of the other three basic usages of communication. It is the attribute of rationalism.

Morris obfuscated his big discovery by trying to cross-classify his universal uses of language with the grammatical modes of the language (Morris 1946, p. 125f ). This produced a confusing 16-fold classification that nobody except possibly a few students of rhetoric has appreciated. The French linguist François Bally had already in 1913 showed that this was questionable. When we say "It is raining," we may actually communicate "It is now raining," i.e. a description; or, "The weather is bad," i.e. an evaluation, or, "Shut the window!" i.e. a prescription (Bally 1913, p 23). As we noted earlier, to understand a communication we have to know something about the context in which it occurs. Given such knowledge of the context, it is usually possible to place any communicative act in the appropriate category, and above all, to understand the intention of a communication. 

Another American philosopher of the same period and in the same tradition of pragmatism, Charles Stevenson (1944), clarified another attribute of language by penetrating its emotive component.

These pragmatic philosophers corrected earlier, more simple-minded versions of the philosophy of language that had flourished among the analytical philosophers in Vienna and Uppsala. For example, in Vienna and Prague, Rudolf Carnarp (1935, p 23-24) had argued that the value judgment "Killing is evil" is a misleading expression of the imperative "Do not kill!" In Uppsala Axel Hägerström (1895) had argued that value judgments were expressions of feelings, not of facts. Any student of Morris could counter Canarp by pointing out that the phrase "Killing is evil" is ambiguous if given an imperative form. It may mean "Tell your children not to kill!", "Punish the murderers!", or, "Do not use the death penalty!" And any student of Stevenson could modify Hägerström by arguing that value judgments generally presume some facts. The emotive component attached to these evaluative and factual expressions in moral discourse separates them by degree but not kind from everyday down-to-earth language. For example, when a judge in a court talks about killing it is more factual and less emotive than when a mob shouts about killing.

Executive and Emotive Actions

In common parlance, a Stevenson's duality is reflected by the distinction between head and heart, or between skill and emotion. Let us express this dichotomy in terms of 'executive actions', e.g., issuing instructions, giving a scientific lecture, driving a car, getting dressed for a football game, as opposed to 'emotive actions' e.g., cheering a team's victory in a football game, reading romantic poetry, hand-wringing.

The distinction is, of course, an analytic one: almost every concrete behavior contains both executive and emotive components.

The independent emotive components of opinions, attitudes, and behavior received a first systematic study by Himmelstrand (1960).

In any analysis of rhetoric and art, ideology and religion, the separation of executive and emotive components seems crucial. To take an example from Stevenson (1944, pp. 73-74): When we say with Shakespeare that "All the world's a stage" this emotive description is distinct, Stevenson argues, from an executive descriptions such as "There is a routine in real life, each man going through a prearranged course"; or, "There is a good deal of trivial make-believe in each man's conduct."

Descriptive, Evaluative and Prescriptive Usages of Communication

Let us illustrate Morris' distinctions by the terms we will use. Some symbols, for example words, combine into 'descriptions,' for example: "This is a paper on social science." Others are 'evaluations,' for example: "This is a difficult paper." Still others constitute 'prescriptions,' for example: "Read this paper!" These terms correspond fully to Morris' distinctions between the informative, valuative, and incitive use of language. By adding the executive or emotive distinction we have a full range of usages of human communications: "Ouch, I’ve been hit" (Emotive Descriptive Usage) "Oh, my health is in danger" (Emotive Evaluative Usage) "For goodness sake, please help me!” (Emotive Prescriptive Usage) "He is an MD” (Executive Descriptive Usage) "He is a good, inexpensive doctor" (Executive Evaluative Usage) "See this doctor!" (Executive Prescriptive Usage).

In passing we may note that questions – what? who? how? where? when? and why? – may usually be formulated as circumlocutions of prescriptions such as “Tell the doctor what happened!” In British English interrogations may be used not to get an answer but to gain agreement, as in "The weather is nasty, isn't it?"

We summarize our conclusion about the use of communicative actions as two propositions.

These two tendencies have the same important status as the two Chomsky theses- They are part of the language instinct and as such automatic and not necessarily conscious. Here we may restart our search for a deep structure of society and a theory of social reality based on a language.

The types of actions governed by the language brain and a first hint as to how they are elaborated into modern institutions and life styles are found in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Basic Communications and How They May be Elaborated in Social Reality


Elaboration of Communicative Acts into Modern –

Institutional Realms






Primarily Executive














Primarily Emotive














It seems reasonable to assume that the insights about unconscious language rules with universal properties can be generalized to insights about society. Man’s conscious codification of his existence is only a part of the codes that govern society. Some beliefs and commandments were there before the stone tablets. Some commandments may have been obeyed even before they had been formulated in words; it can then be said that the rule precedes its decree.

A Preview

To briefly preview how a general social theory may look, we choose as building blocks the deep structure of emic language about any society as revealed in the six-fold classification of language usage inspired by the philosophers of language. Communicative actions such as 'descriptions,' 'evaluations,' and 'prescriptions' can in an initial phase of research be established as understood. Then they can be used either by biographers and psychologists with a focus on the individual, or by historians and sociologists-anthropologists with a focus on collectivities. Different logical or mathematical operations common in the well developed etic language of science can the produce precise scholarly vocabularies. For example, statistical procedures may be used:

As a first operation consider any procedure used to find a ‘central tendency.’ Central tendencies of descriptions, evaluations, and prescriptions within one individual thus became defined as his ‘cognitions,’ ‘attitudes,’ and ‘expectations.’ Central tendencies of the same action types among an aggregate of individuals become their ‘social beliefs,’ ‘social valuations,’ and ‘social norms.’ Any other operation can be used to manipulate the primitives; the outcome is other derived terms. For example, if we select the operation of ‘dispersion’ of the action types within one individual we get a definition of his ‘rigidity’; if ‘dispersion’ is applied to actions in the aggregate of individuals we obtain a definition of their ‘consensus.’ We might also apply an operation finding ‘proportions’ to the primitives. An individual with a high proportion of prescriptions among his actions might be defined as ‘dominant.’ As the economic geographer divides the earth into production areas, so the sociologist can divide society into realms according to the proportion of actions of a certain type. The realm of society with a high proportion of prescriptions (laws, ordinances, executive orders, platforms, decisions, programs, commands, etc.) might then be defined as its ‘body politic.’ (Zetterberg 1965, pp 54-55)

By a series of separate logical operations, the units of descriptions, evaluations, and prescriptions thus begin to define units of a society: not only attitudes, valuations, norms, but a host of other terms in the language of social science such as positions, roles, organizations, networks, media, markets and firms, et cetera.

Furthermore, by separating their executive and emotive modes of descriptions, evaluations, and prescriptions we obtain six types of expressions. These building blocks of language help us to divide the major discourses and life areas in modern society (Table 1). Discourse about grounded knowledge (science and scholarship) is full of executive descriptions, for example, accounts of methods, facts and generalizations. Economic and business discourses are loaded with executive evaluations, for example, prices and costs. Politics and administration, as mentioned, are connected with executive prescriptions, for example, laws and regulations. Art in all its forms deals with descriptive visions that are emotive, expressive. Religious discourse is characterized by expressive evaluations, for example, ideas about the fundamental value of mankind and the meaning of life. Moral discourse contains expressive prescriptions, ethical rules of conduct.

Thus, the six communicative acts provide a potential for six fundamental life areas in social reality: economy, polity, science, religion, morality, and art. Together the latter give us a conception of many-splendored societies with varied stratifications and a division of labor between creators, preservers, distributors, and receivers of knowledge, order, riches, beauty, sacredness, and virtue. The allow us to identify central zones of society where the elites from the life areas meet. On a lower level, the same descriptive, evaluative and prescriptive language differentiates positions, roles, organizations, and media (Zetterberg 1962, kap. 2, updated 2001). Such processes are usually called “structuration,” a broad term indeed.

In sociological thinking structuration is associated primarily with Émile Durkheim (1893). The modern usage of the term structuration dates from the work of Anthony Giddens (1984). Prior to Giddens' work it was common to talk about man's voluntary actions running into the resistance of structures. Also good sociologists, Talcott Parsons for one, wrote as if you repeatedly bang your creative head against a wall raised by society. This may, of course, be an actual experience of many a man. However, reality is not so one-sided. If you look closer, social structures are also actions, and the process of structuration is a creative one in which also at least some actions are voluntary. The current state of thinking in this field is shown in Alexander and Colomy (1990).

It is my contention to maintain Giddens' discovery, but focus on the use of language. As language is used in human encounters, some parts of it are frozen into social forms. This approach provides an easier and more parsimonious entry into this field than earlier approaches. For if mankind has the capacity to cook previously unheard-of sentences, it also has the capacity to cook and serve social structures never before seen.

A man who has done much fishing one day shows a young boy in his community how to fish. He tells him and demonstrates the ins and outs of fishing, prescribing ”Do this!” and “Do that!” Another day he shows another boy how to fish, and a third and a fourth. In the course of these events he becomes known and described in the community as “fishing teacher.” And youngsters take on the position of "fishing apprentices." The community now has an established the relation (the 'social role') of teacher-apprentice in fishing. Others  may take on the position of “fishing teacher” along with the original one, or after him. As one teacher proves to be better than another they may be given different ranks: master teacher and regular teacher. It is the language in the community that structures positions, relations, and ranks. Any talk about learning how to fish or any other action showing others how to fish is henceforth both enabled and constrained by this structuration.

Parents in the community say: "The fishing teacher shall bring the children back for dinner." The priest says: "Fishing teachers shall not do their work on religious holidays." The community chief rules: "The catch shall be divided equally among the apprentices, as among the members in our hunting teams." And the chief may also say: "Every tenth fish shall be given to the chief as tax." The community thus establishes rules (prescriptions) for the new position.

The elementary processes of structuration by means of language result in 'positions,' 'relations,' and 'ranks.' The advanced processes of structuration take the latter concepts as building blocks.

The fishing teachers in a community can form a 'network' to stay in touch with one another. They may establish a 'medium' that broadcasts weather and fishing conditions, for example by visible hand signals or flag signals. A part of a network of fishermen may band together in a lasting fishing team with a common leadership and top rank, in short, what we call an 'organization.'  And not to be forgotten, the fishermen discover undoubtedly will discover that they cannot themselves consume all their catch. So they exchange some of it for utensils and firewood, for warm clothing to be able to fish in the cold season, et cetera. So, 'markets,' networks for exchange of properties become parts of their community. 

 The Dramatic Consequences

The American critic Kenneth Burke has penetrated the dramatic use of language in literature and drama. His analysis of language has been smoothly merged by Hugh Daziel Duncan (1962) into the symbolic interaction theory of sociology, i.e. ideas emanating from fellow-Chicagoan philosopher George Herbert Mead. Let us separate the descriptive, evaluative, and prescriptive aspects of his analysis. 

Descriptive Dynamics

Descriptive language is used to satisfy our curiosity about events. The question openers – what? who? how? where? when? and why? – each prompts us to describe an aspect of an event: the acts, the actors, the means, the scene, the time, the motivation. Kenneth Burke discovered that together they provide a full account; none of these six questions can be omitted if the description is to be exhaustive, and to add more questions adds confusion rather than illumination (Burke 1945 p. xvii).

Use of descriptions allows us to know something without personally having experienced it. Memories need not be hardwired into the human brain and passed on to coming generations by heredity. Categories are created with descriptive language. Some of them are mundane and relate to the down-to-earth business of living. Others are pristine and have been woven into fantastic webs about cosmos and earth, about animals, trees, and plants, about our inner world, life and death. These tales are passed to fellowmen and future generations by means of language, sometimes supported by stone settings, sculptures and pictures, sometimes recorded in writing. Their reception may be marked by wonderment and aha-experiences, or by fear and desperations, thus giving an emotive component of some descriptions.

A major descriptive dynamic was formulated already in the 1920s by William I. Thomas, long before we had the distinction between emic and etic language. "If men define situations as real they are real in their consequences" (Thomas 1928, p 572). The cognitions we have of each others' actions need not be scientifically correct to have effects. To take a more recent example, if a government believes that a state prone to hostilities has weapons of mass destruction, this belief has real consequences irrespective of the correctness of the belief. One consequence may be a preventive war. Another consequence might be a practice of torture or humiliation to find out about the weapons of mass destruction from prisoners.

Evaluative Dynamics

Use of evaluations allows us to grade and rank tools, food, housing, hunting grounds, soils, transports and other things, but also humans, their actions, and their states of mind. Kenneth Burke argued forcefully that language as such produces human hierarchies, "inevitable in any social relation" (Burke 1954, p 294). We may specify this by saying that evaluative language produces hierarchies, i.e. divisions into good or bad, beautiful and ugly, right and wrong, rich and poor, well bred and sloppy, competent and incompetent.

In the short term, the effect of belonging to hierarchies on the higher ranks is a feeling of elation. On the lower ranks the effect is a state of humiliation that at best can be relieved but never fully cured. Both elation and humiliation add emotive components to evaluative language.

Prescriptive Dynamics

Use of prescriptions allows us in the first place to define what is "the Negative": all the Don'ts that meet us not only as children but also as adults. "The essential distinction between the verbal and the non-verbal is in the fact that language [– prescriptive language we would say – ] adds the peculiar possibility of the Negative" (Burke 1952, p 252). A non-verbal animal would normally have to use physical restraints to achieve what humans can accomplish by saying "Don't do it!" Man can infuse restrictions on times and places by calling them holidays and holy sites. Tools, houses, land can be called private property to keep others from using them. In the second place, prescriptions set up goals to achieve, actions to perform, standards to meet, ladders to climb. It is obvious that all men cannot obey all negative and positive prescriptions at all times. In time, prescriptive language, therefore, tends to cause guilt in the receiver. The guilt is an emotive companion of prescriptive language.

The negative effects of prescriptive and evaluative language can be relieved by other usages of language. The anguish that language has caused men is thus cured by new forms of language. Kenneth Burke finds ample illustrations in literature and drama.

The humiliation arising from hierarchies can be atoned by mortification, the self-infliction of punishment for one's shortcomings. In comedy, the hero, like a clown, degrades himself so deeply that his fellow men laugh and reintegrate him into their companionship. In tragedy the hero is ultimately forced into exile or death. In all mortifications you, yourself, pay for your sins.

Guilt due to disobedience of prescriptions can be atoned by victimage, by unburdening guilt on to a sacrificial victim. The victim who is to be sacrificed is chosen in two ways: either you find a scapegoat among the most polluted, or you find a sacrificial agent among the least polluted. At Golgotha you have both kinds of victims; Christ as the sacrificial agent surrounded by two scapegoats. In all victimage others pay for your sins.

Burke found support for his views in the classics of world literature, ranging from Genesis and Sophocles' Antigone to Dante's Divine Comedy, Shakespeare's Othello, and Kafka's, The Castle. Being himself a poet in addition to a critic, he could summarize his theory in a poem (Burke 1970, p 4-5):

Here are the steps
In the Iron Law of History
That welds Order and Sacrifice:
Order leads to Guilt
(for who can keep commandments!)
Guilt needs Redemption
(for who would not be cleansed!)
Redemption needs Redeemer
(which is to say, A Victim!)
Through Guilt
To Victimage
(hence: Cult of the Kill)

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