Noam Chomsky is one of the brightest minds of the 20th century who, at 91 years of age, continues to write and give lectures. He has also been one of the most critical voices of American society against governments, politicians and established powers.
Linguist, philosopher and political analyst is considered the father of modern linguistics as the creator of a new model of language description. Chomsky has made great contributions to cognitive science with his theories. The life of this professor emeritus is a journey through history, science and human understanding during the twentieth century. Knowing Noam Chomsky and his work is almost essential to understand the world in which we live today.
A multidisciplinary author, who has been cataloged by the New York Times as “the most important of contemporary thinkers”. An author, despite this, very controversial, because he has not been exempt from criticism for his postulates against empiricism and his criticism of capitalism. We are facing a fundamental character, whose contributions have influenced areas as diverse as science, politics and psychology; although, without a doubt, he has turned out to be a true revolutionary in linguistics and, consequently, indispensable for philology.
His early years
Noam Chomsky was born in Philadelphia, in December 1928. He was born into a family of Jewish immigrants. His father was a respected teacher of Hebrew, who worked in a prestigious school dedicated to the training of teachers of that language.
Chomsky spent his childhood between Philadelphia and New York, and was marked by the great depression in the United States. Despite belonging to a middle class family, he had the opportunity to witness many social injustices around him. However, he is described as a bright and curious child.
At the age of just ten, he witnessed adult conversations about politics and social rights and his vision of the world was forged then. At that time, still a child, he wrote an article for the school about the rise of fascism in Europe after the Spanish Civil War. This article was the basis of a later essay he would present at the University of New York. Chomsky, already then, argued that people can understand politics and economics and make their own decisions. Also that the authority must be proven before considering it legitimate and worthy of power. This type of thoughts, developed in his tender youth, have been reflected throughout his work.
Noam Chomsky was trained in linguistics, philosophy and mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania, under the tutelage of Professor Zellig Harris. This and other professors definitely influenced Chomsky’s political ideas. In addition, it was presented at the Harvard Society of Fellows, a group of scholars recognized for their extraordinary potential, who were given distinctive opportunities for individual growth and intellectual collaboration.
Chomsky was moved by what language could reveal about society. He disagreed drastically with the approaches that considered the human mind as a blank slate. For him the basic concepts of language were innate, were in the minds of all human beings and were only influenced by the syntactic environment of each. His thesis explored several ideas that, finally, in 1957, he would expose in one of his best-known books on linguistics: Syntactic Structures.
To speak of Chomsky is to speak of generativism and universal grammar. The universal grammar consists, in broad strokes, in the idea that there are certain common principles to all the languages of the world; these principles are, therefore, innate. When we speak of natural languages, we must emphasize that we also include sign languages, whose acquisition occurs in the same way as in an oral language.
The universal grammar does not mean that all the languages of the world have the same grammar, but there is a certain innateness in us, a certain predisposition to the acquisition of the mother tongue, whatever it may be. In other words, in nu
In the brain there is a predetermined process that, under normal conditions of development, will receive the external stimulus of the mother tongue and trigger this process for its acquisition.
The syntactic revolution of Noam Chomsky
Chomsky worked as professor emeritus of the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for half a century, before retiring from active teaching in 2005. He has also been a visiting professor at other universities such as Columbia, OCLA, Princeton and Cambridge.
One of his most famous contributions was his hierarchy system. A division of grammar into groups, which move up or down in their expressive abilities. This hierarchy is linked to generative grammar, which seeks to answer why certain syntactic combinations are possible in one language and others give us an ungrammatical result.
Generative grammar, however, is not prescriptive, but descriptive. That is, it does not intend to postulate what is correct and what is not; rather, it seeks to define what rules and principles a speaker follows to determine and produce all the possible sentences in their language. Chomsky observes that, in every language, we can produce and comprehend an infinite number of sentences; as a consequence, we start from an internal, innate grammar, that is, a finite mechanism of knowledge with infinite possibilities.
These theories and the Chomskyan hierarchy, beyond their obvious contributions to linguistics, have had enormous influence on modern psychology and philosophy; they help to understand human nature and how information is processed.
Politics and controversies
In 1967, Noam Chomsky published an essay entitled The Responsibility of Intellectuals, in protest of US intervention in Vietnam. This essay was followed by others of political analysis, published sporadically. His political and social vision of the world has been a constant that has always worked in parallel with his studies in linguistics and cognitive science, which has also generated numerous criticisms of the most extreme political and intellectual factions.
Among his many political analysis books include American Power and the New Mandarines (1969), Peace in the Midwest? (1974) and Consent of manufacture: The Political Economy of the Media (1988). Currently, Noam Chomsky remains a highly respected and controversial thinker who remains active in conference circles. He has accumulated numerous academic and humanitarian awards, including the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association and the Sydney Humanitarian Peace Prize.