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Noam Chomsky

Institute Professor of Linguistics Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Noam Chomsky was born to William and Elsie (Simonfsky) Chomsky in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 7 December 1928. William, a Hebrew scholar of some reputation, had emigrated from Russia to the United States. In 1945, Noam Chomsky entered the University of Pennsylvania, from which he received a B.A. degree in 1949 an M.A. degree in 1951 and a Ph.D. in 1955. In 1949 Chomsky married the linguist Carol Schatz. They have three children.

While at the University of Pennsylvania, Noam Chomsky met the noted linguist Zellig Harris, who founded at Penn the first department of linguistics at a U.S. university. From 1951 to 1955, Chomsky was a Fellow of the Harvard University Society of Fellows. It was during this time that he developed a theory of transformational (sometimes referred to as generative or transformational-generative) grammar that transformed the scientific study of language. With this theory he argues that a deep structure is the same for all language and that human mastery of language is genetically determined not learned. Humans learn the surface structures of language. Chomsky’s Ph.D. dissertation Transformational Analysis (1955) was later published as part of The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory (1975). Professor Chomsky’s work has influenced not only the study of language but of psychology as well.

Professor Chomsky has taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1955. While teaching at MIT, Dr. Chomsky has held a variety of visiting professorships at Columbia UCLA University of California at Berkeley and Syracuse University. In addition he has held numerous distinguished lectureships including: the John Locke Lecture (Oxford), the Bertrand Russell Memorial Lecture (Cambridge), the Nehru Memorial Lecture (University of New Delhi), the Huizinga Lecture (University of Leiden), the Woodbridge Lecture (Columbia University), the Kant Lecture (Stanford University), and the Gifford Lecture (University of Edinburgh). He holds honorary degrees from over twenty universities. Professor Chomsky was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Award and the Orwell Award.

Although he is known as a linguist and teacher Professor Chomsky may be equally well known as a political activist and social critic. He was an early critic of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Among his many political writings are American Power and the New Mandarins (1969), Peace and the Middle East? (1974), Rogue States (2000), 9-11 (2002), and Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (2006).

A partial listing of Dr. Chomsky’s more than thirty publications include: Syntactic Structures (1957), Current Issues in Linguistic Theory (1964), Language and Mind (1972), Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar (1972), Knowledge of Language (1986), On Power and Ideology (1987), Language and Problems of Knowledge (1987), Language and Thought (1993), and New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind (2000).

  • Larry Pullen