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Chomsky, Noam

Chomsky, Noam 1928-

BIBLIOGRAPHY

In the field of linguistics, Noam Chomsky occupies a position close to that held by Isaac Newton in physics during the eighteenth century. Because language is central to being human, Chomsky has also long occupied a foundational role in the cognitive sciences that have burgeoned since the middle of the twentieth century. While Newton had an equally intense and ambitious career as an alchemist and a doomsday Biblical scholar, the politic Sir Isaac kept these careers, largely successfully, a dark secret. Chomsky, however, has published dozens of books and countless articles throughout his life expressing leftist, egalitarian, anarchist views with almost unimpeachable moral authority and meticulous scholarship. Yet Chomsky has insisted that his scientific work in no way supports or proves his political views, other than his insistence that humans, in having cognitive command of a discrete infinity of linguistic structures, are beyond the comprehension of the empiricist behaviorism dominant in mid-twentieth-century American academic circles.

Born in Philadelphia in 1928, Chomsky pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied with Zellig Harris, a structural linguist who saw linguistics as the compact description of a communitys time-bound finite corpus of utterances (literally, sonic sequences of supposed phonetic atoms). Chomsky completed his graduate work while a Junior Fellow at Harvard University between 1951 and 1954, and he became a professor at MIT in 1955, rapidly advancing to a series of distinguished professorships. His books Syntactic Structures (1957) and Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965), which have made him the most cited living author, soon revolutionized linguistics.

The opening three sentences of Syntactic Structures tersely render his formalized, mentalist, and nativist view:

Syntactical investigation of a given language has as its goal the construction of a device for producing the sentences of the language under investigation. The ultimate outcome of [such] investigations should be a theory of linguistic structures in which the descriptive devices utilized in particular grammars are presented and studied abstractly. One function of this theory is to provide a general method for selecting a grammar for each language, given a corpus of this language. (Chomsky 1957, p. x)

Formally speaking, one cannot describe a human language by listing its sentences, simply because there are an infinite number of them. One must therefore describe a device that would generate these, and only these, sentences. This device would display the knowledge that a competent human speaker of this language has. Language is the device, the internal brain/mind device, not the finite behavioral outputs that this device, coupled with others, produces. Linguistics is thus a branch of psychology.

Behaviorists such as B. F. Skinner thought that knowledge of language consisted of associations between particular words (heard sound sequences). Through repetition, humans learn the sound sequences How are you, I would like a red apple, and I am fine, but not Are you how, Red a like would I apple, Am fine I, and so on. An associative grammar like this is called finite state grammar; it fits well with the empiricist notion that humans learn everything through (sequences of) sensory experience, and it makes no use of dubious abstractions such as noun, pronoun, verb, auxiliary verb, or adjective.

Yet there is massive evidence that people routinely produce new sentences that they have never heard before and that have never been produced in the history of their language. Even if sentences are limited to fifteen words or less, there are literally trillions of different but perfectly grammatical sentences of English. In fact, Chomsky gave a decisive formal proof that no human language could be generated by a finite-state grammar. We simply have to internalize at least a phrase structure grammar that makes use of rules that deal in abstract categories such as noun phrase, verb phrase, noun, pronoun, verb, auxiliary verb, adjective, and so on. Indeed, Chomsky proved that even a phrase-structure grammar is not all that is needed, and that the surface structure of a sentence is not a reliable guide to its deeper features.

Human languages have in common many principles and processes, word forms and structures, and rules and features. What the linguist describes, therefore, belongs to human language as much as to a particular language (abstracting, of course, from the peculiarities of particular idiolects and dialects toward humanly universal cognition). Indeed, every one of the hundreds of human language that has been described makes use of the same phrase-structural concepts of noun phrase, verb phrase, pronoun, verb, adjective, and so on. In the linguistic theory of the last two decades, it appears that a small number of principles and initial parameter settings determine every aspect of grammar that makes a human language and differentiates it from other human languages (a good thing, too, because the human baby seems equally prepared to take on any human language to which it is exposed). Chomsky has speculated that a Martian anthropologist would regard all human languages as essentially the same language.

A general method for selecting a grammar for each language, given a sample corpus, would also be the knowledge a human child brings to the samples of a language to which the child is exposed. A vast body of evidence about child language development has persuaded nearly all linguists and cognitive scientists that the human child is preprogrammed with a language acquisition device. To give an example from personal experience that is familiar to investigators of language learning, the two-year-old daughter of this author, Casey, exploded into using auxiliary verbs and tag negations over the space of two weeks, saying I am going, I cant, Susan isnt here. All of the auxiliary verbs came in at virtually the same time, and Casey tag-negated only those verbs, no others: She never said I eatnt, I gont, Susan walknt, or The cat grabnt the bird. She also said I amnt and I am going, amnt I. No one around Casey ever said amnt, but she went on happily using the construction, and it wasnt until she started school two years later that she realized no one else talked that way. Of course, Casey was doing what comes naturally. In some sense, she (or some part of her brain/mind) knew what auxiliary verbs and regular verbs were, and she knew that you could tag-negate (put nt after) auxiliaries but not after other verbs. She also never said I am going, arent I, because she knew that am is a singular verb, that are is a plural verb, and that I, being a singular pronoun, could not take a plural verb (are).

Now, of course, Casey had never heard the English words noun, verb, auxiliary verb, tag-negate, pronoun, plural, or singular. Nonetheless, she (or some part of her brain) knew perfectly well the word kinds that these English words name, just as a monolingual speaker of Urdu knows what nouns, pronouns, and verbs are, although he may have no idea what spoken label (in Urdu or English) to use for these perfectly familiar word kinds. It is this sense of knowing, of linguistic competence, that linguistics now clearly emphasizes.

But how did Casey know about these things when no one around her ever tried to explain them to her? The linguists answer is that hearing something is an auxiliary verb or a pronoun is just like seeing that something is a red ball or a small animal. So Casey, just like any other human child whether in a literate or tribal community, identified the different word kinds present in her environment, although no one was explicitly coaching her to do this. She recognized that auxiliary verbs, but not other verbs, could be tag-negated, so she said I amnt, just as she said I cant or He isnt, because she saw that am was an auxiliary verb, and so could be tagged with nt. Speaking and hearing a natural language is a competence acquired naturally (in the first several years of life), while reading and writing requiresunfortunatelyyears of effort and explicit instruction. Similarly, our basic visual/motor competencies come to us naturally in our first years. Our recently burgeoning cognitive sciences attend to this central aspect of being human, the characteristic competencies or faculties that make us homo sapiens.

Chomsky maintains that his work in linguistics, and cognitive science generally, have virtually no connection with his political and moral viewsviews for which he claims no expertise, although he has published countless articles, books, interviews, and commentaries on political and moral matters. He claims no professional expertise in such matters because he believes that no one really has such expertise. To Chomsky, political and moral matters can and must be understood by all citizens, not just by elites or would-be professional apologists for elites (or, more particularly, corporate wealth and power). Chomsky rose to public attention (and the Nixon White Houses enemies list) for his opposition to the Vietnam War, although his subsequent opposition to U.S. imperialism more generally, particularly in the Middle East, and his criticism of the U.S. media bias have muted his ability to address the U.S. public. Hence, Chomsky and his political and moral views are better known outside of the United States. It should be said that Chomsky has consistently maintained that U.S. behavior, as a dominant world power, is no worse than previous dominant world powers, such as Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and Imperial Rome.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Barsky, Robert. 1997. Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chomsky, Noam. 1957. Syntactic Structures. The Hague: Mouton.

Chomsky, Noam. 1965. Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Leiber, Justin. 1975. Noam Chomsky: A Philosophic Overview. New York: St. Martins Press.

Justin Leiber

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CHOMSKY, (Avram) Noam

CHOMSKY, (Avram) Noam [b. 1928]. American linguist and political writer, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and introduced to philology by his father, a scholar of Hebrew. At the U. of Pennsylvania he studied under the structural linguist Zellig Harris. After gaining his Ph.D. in 1955 (dissertation: ‘Transformational Analysis’), he taught modern languages and LINGUISTICS at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he became full professor in 1961. He was appointed Ferrari P. Ward Professor of Foreign Languages and Linguistics in 1976. During this period, he became a leading figure in US linguistics, replacing a mechanistic and behaviouristic view of language (based on the work of Bloomfield) with a mentalistic and generative approach. His linguistic publications include: Syntactic Structures (1957), Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965), Cartesian Linguistics (1966), The Sound Pattern of English (with Morris Halle, 1968), Language and Mind (1968, 1972), The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory (1975), Reflections on Language (1975), Lectures on Government and Binding (1981), Barriers (1986). His social, political, and economic works include: American Power and the New Mandarins (1969), The Political Economy of Human Rights (two volumes, 1979). Language and Responsibility (1979) combines his linguistic and social interests by exploring relationships among language, science, ideas, and politics.

Chomsky originated such concepts as TRANSFORMATIONAL-GENERATIVE GRAMMAR (TGG), transformational grammar (TG), and generative grammar. His definition of GRAMMAR differs from both traditional and structuralist theories, in that he is concerned not only with a formal descriptive system but also with the linguistic structures and processes at work in the mind. He sees such structures as universal and arising from a genetic predisposition to language. Features drawn from mathematics include transformation and generation. As proposed in 1957, transformational rules were a means by which one kind of sentence (such as the passive The work was done by local men) could be derived from another kind (such as the active Local men did the work). Any process governed by such rules was a transformation (in the preceding case the passivization transformation) and any sentence resulting from such rules was a transform. In Chomsky's terms, previous grammars had only phrase-structure rules, which specified how sentences are structured out of phrases and phrases out of words, but had no way of relating sentences with different structures (such as active and passive).

Such earlier grammars were also concerned only with actual attested sentences and not with all the potential sentences in a language. An adequate grammar, however, in his view, should generate (that is, explicitly account for) the indefinite set of acceptable sentences of a language, rather than the finite set to be found in a corpus of texts. Aspects (1965) presented what is known as his ‘standard theory’, which added the concepts deep structure and surface structure: deep or underlying forms which by transformation become surface or observable sentences of a particular language. In this theory, a passive was no longer to be derived from an active sentence, but both from a common deep structure which was neither active nor passive. Comparably, sentences with similar surface structures, such as John is easy to please and John is eager to please were shown to have different deep structures. The standard theory distinguishes between a speaker's competence (knowledge of a language) and performance (actual use of a language), Chomskyan grammar being concerned with competence, not performance.

Subsequent work has concentrated less on rules that specify what can be generated and more on constraints that determine what cannot be generated. A definitive statement of his recent views is Lectures on Government and Binding, in which the theory is GB theory. Government is an extension of the traditional term whereby a verb governs its object, but for Chomsky prepositions may govern and subjects may be governed. Binding is concerned with the type of anaphora found with pronouns and reflexives, but the notion is greatly extended. The traditional notion of case is similarly used, though modified in that it need not be morphological. Such devices can be used to rule out ungrammatical sentences that might otherwise be generated. Barriers (1986) extends GB theory.

Chomsky is widely considered to be the most influential figure in linguistics in the later 20c and is probably the linguist bestknown outside the field. His views on language and grammar are controversial and responses to them have ranged from extreme enthusiasm, sometimes verging on fanaticism, through a sober and reflective interest, to fierce rejection by some traditionalist, structuralist, and other critics. See. CHILD LANGUAGE ACQUISITION, COMMUNICATIVE COMPETENCE, LINGUISTIC TYPOLOGY, PSYCHOLINGUISTICS, STRUCTURAL LINGUISTICS.

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Chomsky, Noam

Noam Chomsky

1928-
American linguist whose theory of transformational or generative grammar has had a profound influence on the fields of both linguistics and psychology.

Noam Chomsky was born in Philadelphia and educated at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his B.A. (1949), M.A. (1951), and Ph.D. (1955). In 1955, he was appointed to the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he has served as professor of foreign languages and linguistics. He has also taught courses and lectured at many universities throughout the world, including Oxford University. Besides his work in the field of psycholinguistics, Chomsky is also well-known as a leftist activist and social critic. He was an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War and has remained critical of media coverage of politics. Although Chomsky's work is primarily of interest to linguistics scholars, several of his theories have had popular applications in psychology.

Chomsky was a pioneer in the field of psycholinguistics, which, beginning in the 1950s, helped establish a

new relationship between linguistics and psychology. While Chomsky argued that linguistics should be understood as a part of cognitive psychology , in his first book, Syntactic Structures (1957), he opposed the traditional learning theory basis of language acquisition. In doing so, his expressed a view that differed from the behaviorist view of the mind as a tabula rasa; his theories were also diametrically opposed to the verbal learning theory of B.F. Skinner , the foremost proponent of behaviorism . In Chomsky's view, certain aspects of linguistic knowledge and ability are the product of a universal innate ability, or "language acquisition device" (LAD), that enables each normal child to construct a systematic grammar and generate phrases. This theory claims to account for the fact that children acquire language skills more rapidly than other abilities, usually mastering most of the basic rules by the age of four. As evidence that an inherent ability exists to recognize underlying syntactical relationships within a sentence, Chomsky cites the fact that children readily understand transformations of a given sentence into different formssuch as declarative and interrogativeand can easily transform sentences of their own. Applying this principle to adult mastery of language, Chomsky has devised the now-famous nonsense sentence, "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously." Although the sentence has no coherent meaning, English speakers regard it as still more nonsensical if the syntax, as well as the meaning, is deprived of underlying logic, as in "Ideas furiously green colorless sleep." (The same idea underlies Lewis Carroll's well-known poem "Jabberwocky" from his Alice in Wonderland.) Chomsky's approach is also referred to as "generative" because of the idea that rules generate the seemingly infinite variety of orders and sentences existing in all languages. Chomsky argues that the underlying logic, or deep structure, of all languages is the same and that human mastery of it is genetically determined, not learned. Those aspects of language that humans have to study are termed surface structures.

Chomsky's work has been highly controversial, rekindling the age-old debate over whether language exists in the mind before experience. His theories also distinguish between language competence (knowledge of rules and structure) and performance (how an individual uses language in practice). Besides Syntactic Structures, Chomsky's books include Current Issues in Linguistics Theory (1964), Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965), Topics in the Theory of Generative Grammar (1966), Cartesian Linguistics (1966), Language and Mind (1968), Reflections on Language (1975), Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory (1975), and Knowledge of Language (1986).

Further Reading

D'Agostino, F. Chomsky's System of Ideas. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

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Chomsky, Noam

Noam Chomsky (nōm chŏm´skē), 1928–, educator and linguist, b. Philadelphia. Chomsky, who has taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1955, developed a theory of transformational (sometimes called generative or transformational-generative) grammar that revolutionized the scientific study of language. He first set out his abstract analysis of language in his doctoral dissertation (1955) and Syntactic Structures (1957). Instead of starting with minimal sounds, as the structural linguists had done, Chomsky began with the rudimentary or primitive sentence; from this base he developed his argument that innumerable syntactic combinations can be generated by means of a complex series of rules.

According to transformational grammar, every intelligible sentence conforms not only to grammatical rules peculiar to its particular language, but also to "deep structures," a universal grammar underlying all languages and corresponding to an innate capacity of the human brain. Chomsky and other linguists who built on his work formulated transformational rules, which transform a sentence with a given grammatical structure (e.g., "John saw Mary" ) into a sentence with a different grammatical structure but the same essential meaning ( "Mary was seen by John" ). Transformational linguistics has been influential in psycholinguistics, particularly in the study of language acquisition by children. In the 1990s Chomsky formulated a "Minimalist Program" in an attempt to simplify the symbolic representations of the language facility. Chomsky is a prolific author whose principal linguistic works after Syntactic Structures include Current Issues in Linguistic Theory (1964), The Sound Pattern of English (with Morris Halle, 1968), Language and Mind (1972), Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar (1972), Knowledge of Language (1986), Language and Thought (1993), and Architecture of Language (2000).

Chomsky also has wide-ranging political interests. An early and outspoken critic of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and a vociferous opponent of the Iraq war, he has written extensively on many political issues from a generally left-wing point of view. Among his political writings are American Power and the New Mandarins (1969), Peace in the Middle East? (1974), Manufacturing Consent (with E. S. Herman, 1988), Profit over People (1998), Rogue States (2000), Hegemony or Survival (2003), and Failed States (2006). Chomsky's controversial best seller 9-11 (2002) is an analysis of the World Trade Center attack that, while denouncing the atrocity of the event, traces its origins to the actions and power of the United States.

See interviews with D. Barsamian (1992, 1994, 1996, and 2001); biography by R. F. Barsky (1997); studies by F. D'Agostino (1985), C. P. Otero (1988 and 1998), R. Salkie (1990), M. Achbar, ed. (1994), M. Rai (1995), V. J. Cook (1996), P. Wilkin (1997), J. McGilvray (1999), N. V. Smith (1999), A. Edgley (2000), H. Lasnik (2000), and J. Bricmont and J. Franck, ed. (2009); Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (film by P. Wintonick and M. Achbar, 1992) and Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky in Our Times (film by J. Junkerman, 2002).

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Chomsky, (Avram) Noam

Chomsky, (Avram) Noam (1928– ) US professor of linguistics. In Syntactic Structures (1957), he developed the concept of a transformational grammar, embodying his theories about the relationship between language and mind, and an underlying universal structure of language. Chomsky argued that the human capacity for language is partially innate, unlike supporters of behaviourism. His ideas greatly influenced psychologists concerned with language acquisition. Chomsky is a consistent critic of US imperialism, and his political works include American Power and the New Mandarins (1969).

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