December 07, 2007

Happy birthday, Noam!

Today is the 79th birthday of linguist Noam Chomsky. Yes, that Noam Chomsky...the one that most people think of as a political analyst. Chomsky, before broadening his intellectual lens to include politics, revolutionized the field of linguistics. Until Chomsky published his paradigm-challenging 1957 text, Syntactic Structures, the study of languages mostly involved classification, not unlike botany or geology. Chomsky, however, rejected the structuralist assumptions of his peers and exposited the concept of generative syntax and transformational grammar. Unsatisfied with limiting his work to "mere" linguistics, Chomsky delineated a broad theory of human development and psychology. As his theories matured, he became increasingly staunch in his support of rationalist philosophers such as Descartes and their belief that humans are born with certain knowledge that determines how we will interpret the world around us. He wrote that children are born "with a perfect knowledge of universal grammar," or the basic rules that govern all language.

In the years since Chomsky deliniated his syntactical theories, many of them have been disproved. Clearly, his belief (echoing that of Descartes) that only humans could create language has been debunked. Additionally, more recent linguists have argued that his basic premises are irrelevant because they overlooked the very reason that language exists in the first place: communication.

Still, whether you agree with his views or not, it is hard to deny his importance in the history of linguistics.

Happy birthday, Noam.


Blogger otilius shared an opinion...

interesting! I've been doing some language work myself recently, regarding the Haida language (Alaska Native).

10:50 pm  
Blogger mad shared an opinion...

I think therefore I are.

Thanks for stopping by a and leaving such a nice comment.

7:51 am  

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