Noam Chomsky is cofounder of the Department of Philosophy and Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a seminal figure in 20th-century linguistics, anarchism, and radical politics. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1928 to William, foremost Hebrew grammarian, and Elsie (née Simonofsky), a Hebrew teacher also involved with Zionism, the Hebrew language, and Jewish cultural affairs. Since 1955, he has been with MIT, first as a researcher, then as cofounder of the Department of Philosophy and Linguistics, and now an Emeritus Institute Professor of Philosophy and Linguistics. His work contributes to linguistics, cognitive sciences, politics, history, law, and philosophy, and his approach contributes to the study of human development through his philosophy of the mind and his theories of pedagogy and language acquisition.
Chomsky was influenced early on by anarchists and anti-Bolsheviks, and then at the University of Pennsylvania by mathematicians, logicians, philosophers, and linguists, most notably Zellig S. Harris (1909–1992), with whom he shared interests in radical politics and left Zionism. His PhD thesis with Harris (published as “Syntactic Structures and Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory”) was a study of linguistic forms through the arrangement of words and morphemes in sentences. He subsequently violated the norms of the linguistics field by pursuing the Cartesian idea that language is genetically determined, positing the existence of innate representational structures governed by rules, and then searching for discovery methods to identify the logical structure (“deep structure”) that underlies all natural languages. The central insight of Chomsky’s approach, already present in his graduate work, is that human languages can be formally modeled as the infinite sets of strings generated by computational devices with well-defined limited properties. Chomsky’s work on transformational generative grammar had a seminal impact on our understanding of the development of the human mind, and his ideas of language acquisition contrasted with the behaviorism of B. F. Skinner and with Jean Piaget’s views on the development of intelligence. The core notion of cognitive science is that mental processes can be usefully characterized as a set of interacting, formally described computational mechanisms, and Chomsky’s work demonstrated that mental processes could possibly be formally and precisely modeled as computational processes. Chomsky’s interest in characterizing how language was tied into the process of human thought led to his work on determining how human cognitive abilities are organized into a unity of mind and how the brain supports these abilities.
Outside of the language research, Chomsky is also involved in political work and crusaded against the Vietnam War. As in his seminal work American Power and the New Mandarins, he continues to critique American foreign policy. His analyses of the Middle East and Central America, long-standing local and international activism, and studies of the media combine to make him one of the most cited intellectuals in history.
- Achbar, M. (1994). Manufacturing consent: Noam Chomsky and the media. Montréal, Canada: Black Rose
- Barsky, F. (1997). Noam Chomsky: A life of dissent. Cambridge: MIT Press.
- Chomsky, N. (1957). Syntactic structures. The Hague, Netherlands:
- Chomsky, N. (1959). A review of B. F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior. Language, 35, 26–58.
- Chomsky, (1964). Current issues in linguistic theory. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton.
- Chomsky, N. (1964). Language and information: Selected essays on the theory and application. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
- Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of the theory of syntax. Cambridge: MIT
- Chomsky, (1966). Cartesian linguistics: A chapter in the history of rationalist thought. New York: Harper & Row.
- Chomsky, (1969). American power and the new Mandarins. New York: Pantheon.
- Chomsky, (1970). At war with Asia. New York: Pantheon. Chomsky, N. (1971). Problems of knowledge and freedom: The Russell Lectures. New York: Pantheon.
- Chomsky, (1971, December 30). The case against B. F. Skinner. [Review of the book Beyond freedom and dignity].New York Review of Books, 17(11), 322.
- Chomsky, N. (1972). Language and mind. New York: P
- Chomsky, (1972). Studies on semantics in generative grammar. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton.
- Chomsky, N. (1973). For reasons of state. New York: P
- Chomsky, (1975). Logical structure of linguistic theory. New York: Plenum.
- Chomsky, (1980). The debate between Chomsky and Piaget. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Chomsky, (1980). Rules and representations. New York:Columbia University Press.
- Chomsky, N. (1981). Lectures on government and binding: The Písa Lectures. Dordrecht, Netherlands: F
- Chomsky, (1983). The fateful triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians. Boston: South End Press.
- Chomsky, (1986). Barriers. Cambridge: MIT Press.
- Chomsky, N. (1986). Knowledge of language: Its nature, origin and use. New York: Praeger.
- Chomsky, (1993). Year 501: The conquest continues. Boston: South End Press.
- Chomsky, N. (1995). The minimalist program. Cambridge: MIT
- The MIT (n.d.). Noam Chomsky: A life of dissent [online version]. Available from http://cognet.mit.edu/library/books/chomsky/chomsky/