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Noam Chomsky

Today, we will continue our charming series about the most popular linguists. Let’s have a closer look at “Noam Chomsky” who is famous for his pioneering theories of transformational and universal grammar. He is currently a 90-year-old professor at the University of Arizona. Besides being one of the world’s top intellectuals and has written more than 100 books on linguistics. He is the author of more than 100 books on topics such as linguistics, war, politics and mass media. He also is known as “the father of modern linguistics.”

In 1945, when he was 16 years old, Chomsky started a general program of study at the University of Pennsylvania, where he paid great attention to philosophy, logic and languages, and developed a primary interest in learning Arabic.

Before Chomsky, there was an assumption between scientists that languages were in some way connected to each other. But through Chomsky’s theory, he clarifies that language is a manner of thought itself, not just a communication method. He theorizes that humans are already genetically pre-programmed to obtain language and that linguistics have to study the humans as much as the words themselves.

Moreover, his linguistic research in the 1950s aimed to understand tools and means through which children acquire language. He proposed a system of principles that suggested a child's innate understanding of syntax and semantics. Chomsky is best known for his influence on linguistics, specifically, the development of transformational grammar. Chomsky believed that formal grammar was directly responsible for a person’s ability to understand and interpret mere utterances. Although Chomsky did not believe that language was innate, he did theorize that animals and humans were both capable of similar types of comprehension when exposed to specific linguistic information, but only humans could continue to develop those abilities through a process he called a “language acquisition device” (LAD).

Chomsky thought that if the LAD for all human languages could be discovered, it could result in features that would be universal to all tongues, known as “universal grammar.” In this regard, Chomsky argues that some fundamental structures of every language are innate and universal to all human tongues. He points to the fact that children develop a competent use of language even though they are often exposed to incomplete or inaccurate grammar, and they may not receive much direct teaching about how to speak.

Chomsky further developed his linguistic theories in a series of lectures that were published under the name of Lectures on Government and Binding: The Pisa Lectures. The lectures covered the Principles and Parameters (P&P) technique that Chomsky formed based on the assumption that every language had similar parameters that could be manipulated and modified. By doing so, learning a language would only require the acquisition of a core set of linguistic principles. Chomsky also contributed to the field of phonology and influenced the works of other experts, including Michael Tomasello and Elizabeth Bates. He explored language hierarchy, a method of classification that has impacted the computer science field dramatically. Chomsky’s linguistic discoveries have benefited the field of psychology in many ways as well. Linguistics itself is a discipline of cognitive psychology and strives to understand how language is learned and used by children.

Additionally, he has a wide range of linguistics’ books such as: Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory, Syntactic Structures and Language and Mind among others. After reading this article…Do you think that Chomsky is actually one of linguistics’ pioneers? Share your opinion with us J


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