Harris, Zellig Sabbetai
HARRIS, ZELLIG SABBETAI
HARRIS, ZELLIG SABBETAI (1909–1992), U.S. linguist. Harris was born in Russia and was taken to the United States as a child of four. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and joined the faculty there in 1931. In 1946 he founded the first linguistics department in the country and in 1947 was appointed professor of linguistics. One of his best-known students was Noam *Chomsky.
In the late 1930s his interests shifted from Semitics to general linguistics. His early work was devoted primarily to the development of procedures of linguistic analysis. At the time, he wrote Development of the Canaanite Dialects (1939). His purpose was to devise a set of precisely formulated methods which, applied to data of a particular language, would yield a grammatical description of this language. This was completed in the late 1940s, and Harris then turned his attention to the study of connected discourse. He observed that formal operations of a general nature could be applied to the utterances of a discourse, reducing it to a "normalized" form. Procedures analogous to those of structural linguistics could then be applied, finally yielding a structural analysis of the discourse. This work led to an intensive investigation of the properties of the formal operations ("transformations"). Other investigations resulted in the development of computer programs for the analysis of language structure, many studies of the detailed properties of English syntax, and more abstract investigation of the formal properties of linguistic structures.
Harris helped to develop the adult education program for Israeli kibbutzim centered in Givat Ḥavivah.
Harris' major publications on his work are Methods in Structural Linguistics (1951), String Analysis of Sentence Structure (1962), Discourse Analysis Reprints (1963), Mathematical Structures of Language (1968), The Form of Information in Science (1989), and A Theory of Language and Information (1992). His book The Transformation of Capitalist Society was produced posthumously from a completed manuscript prepared for publication by M. Eden, W. Evan, and S. Melman (1997).
B. Nevin and S. Johnson (eds.), The Legacy of Zellig Harris: Language and Information into the 21st Century (2002).
[Noam Chomsky /
Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]