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May 6, 2008

Wikipedia: Noam Chomsky

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Western Philosophy
20th / 21st-century philosophy
Noam Chomsky
Birth December 7, 1928 (1928-12-07) (age 79)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
School/tradition Linguistics, Analytic
Main interests Linguistics · Psychology
Philosophy of language
Politics · Ethics
Notable ideas Generative grammar, universal grammar, transformational grammar, government and binding, Chomsky hierarchy, context-free grammar, principles and parameters, linguistic minimalism, language acquisition device, Chomsky Normal Form, propaganda model[1]
Influenced by Pāṇini, Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, Mikhail Bakunin, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Adam Smith, Rudolf Rocker, Zellig Harris, Immanuel Kant, René Descartes, George Orwell, Karl Marx, C. West Churchman, W.V.O. Quine, Alan Turing.
Influenced Colin McGinn, Edward Said, Steven Pinker, Tanya Reinhart, Daniel Everett, Morris Halle, Gilbert Harman, Jerry Fodor, Howard Lasnik, Robert Fisk, Neil Smith, Ray Jackendoff, Norbert Hornstein, Jean Bricmont, Marc Hauser, Norman Finkelstein, Robert Lees, Mark Baker, Julian Boyd, Bill Hicks, Ray C. Dougherty, Derek Bickerton, Thom Yorke, Michael Albert.

Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist, philosopher, political activist, author, and lecturer. He is an Institute Professor and professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Chomsky is credited with the creation of the theory of generative grammar, considered to be one of the most significant contributions to the field of linguistics made in the 20th century. He also helped spark the cognitive revolution in psychology through his review of B. F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior, in which he challenged the behaviorist approach to the study of behavior and language dominant in the 1950s. His naturalistic approach to the study of language has affected the philosophy of language and mind. He is also credited with the establishment of the Chomsky hierarchy, a classification of formal languages in terms of their generative power. Beginning with his critique of the Vietnam War in the 1960s, Chomsky has become more widely known for his media criticism and political activism, and for his criticism of the foreign policy of the United States and other governments.

According to the Arts and Humanities Citation Index in 1992, Chomsky was cited as a source more often than any other living scholar during the 1980–1992 time period, and was the eighth most-cited scholar in any time period.[2][3][4]



Chomsky as a child

Chomsky as a child

Chomsky was born to Jewish parents in the East Oak Lane neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Hebrew scholar and IWW member William Chomsky (1896–1977), who was from a town in Ukraine. His mother, Elsie Chomsky (born Simonofsky), came from what is now Belarus, but unlike her husband she grew up in the United States and spoke “ordinary New York English”. Their first language was Yiddish, but Chomsky says it was “taboo” in his family to speak it. He describes his family as living in a sort of “Jewish ghetto”, split into a “Yiddish side” and “Hebrew side”, with his family aligning with the latter and bringing him up “immersed in Hebrew culture and literature”. Chomsky also describes tensions he personally experienced with Irish Catholics and anti-semitism in the mid-1930s, stating, “I don’t like to say it but I grew up with a kind of visceral fear of Catholics. I knew it was irrational and got over it but it was just the street experience.”[5]

Chomsky remembers the first article he wrote was at the age of ten while a student at Oak Lane Country Day School about the threat of the spread of fascism, following the fall of Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War. From the age of twelve or thirteen, he identified more fully with anarchist politics.[6]

A graduate of Central High School of Philadelphia, in 1945 Chomsky began studying philosophy and linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, learning from philosophers C. West Churchman and Nelson Goodman and linguist Zellig Harris. Harris’s teaching included his discovery of transformations as a mathematical analysis of language structure (mappings from one subset to another in the set of sentences). Chomsky subsequently reinterpreted these as operations on the productions of a context-free grammar (derived from Post production systems). Harris’s political views were instrumental in shaping those of Chomsky.

In 1949, Chomsky married linguist Carol Schatz. They have two daughters, Aviva (b. 1957) and Diane (b. 1960), and a son, Harry (b. 1967).

Chomsky received his PhD in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1955. He conducted part of his doctoral research during four years at Harvard University as a Harvard Junior Fellow. In his doctoral thesis, he began to develop some of his linguistic ideas, elaborating on them in his 1957 book Syntactic Structures, his best-known work in linguistics.

Young Chomsky with parents

Young Chomsky with parents

Chomsky joined the staff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1955 and in 1961 was appointed full professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics (now the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy). From 1966 to 1976 he held the Ferrari P. Ward Professorship of Modern Languages and Linguistics, and in 1976 he was appointed Institute Professor. As of 2008, Chomsky has taught at MIT continuously for 53 years.

In February 1967, Chomsky became one of the leading opponents of the Vietnam War with the publication of his essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals”,[7] in The New York Review of Books. This was followed by his 1969 book, American Power and the New Mandarins, a collection of essays which established him at the forefront of American dissent. His far-reaching criticisms of US foreign policy and the legitimacy of US power have made him a controversial figure: largely shunned by the mainstream media in the United States,[8][9][10][11] he is frequently sought out for his views by publications and news outlets worldwide.

Chomsky has in the past received death threats because of his criticisms of U.S foreign policy.[12] In addition, he was on a list of planned targets created by Theodore Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber; during the period that Kaczynski was at large, Chomsky had all of his mail checked for explosives.[13] Chomsky states that he frequently receives undercover police protection, in particular while on the MIT campus, although he does not agree with the police protection.[14]

Chomsky resides in Lexington, Massachusetts and travels frequently, giving lectures on politics.

Contributions to linguistics

Chomskyan linguistics, beginning with his Syntactic Structures, a distillation of his Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory (1955, 75), challenges structural linguistics and introduces transformational grammar. This theory takes utterances (sequences of words) to have a syntax which can be characterized by a formal grammar; in particular, a context-free grammar extended with transformational rules.

Children are hypothesized to have an innate knowledge of the basic grammatical structure common to all human languages (i.e. they assume that any language which they encounter is of a certain restricted kind). This innate knowledge is often referred to as universal grammar. It is argued that modeling knowledge of language using a formal grammar accounts for the “productivity” of language: with a limited set of grammar rules and a finite set of terms, humans are able to produce an infinite number of sentences, including sentences no one has previously said. He has always acknowledged his debt to Pāṇini for his modern notion of an explicit generative grammar. This is related to Rationalist ideas of a priori knowledge, in that it is not due to experience.

The Principles and Parameters approach (P&P)—developed in his Pisa 1979 Lectures, later published as Lectures on Government and Binding (LGB)—make strong claims regarding universal grammar: that the grammatical principles underlying languages are innate and fixed, and the differences among the world’s languages can be characterized in terms of parameter settings in the brain (such as the pro-drop parameter, which indicates whether an explicit subject is always required, as in English, or can be optionally dropped, as in Spanish), which are often likened to switches. (Hence the term principles and parameters, often given to this approach.) In this view, a child learning a language need only acquire the necessary lexical items (words, grammatical morphemes, and idioms), and determine the appropriate parameter settings, which can be done based on a few key examples.

Proponents of this view argue that the pace at which children learn languages is inexplicably rapid, unless children have an innate ability to learn languages. The similar steps followed by children all across the world when learning languages, and the fact that children make certain characteristic errors as they learn their first language, whereas other seemingly logical kinds of errors never occur (and, according to Chomsky, should be attested if a purely general, rather than language-specific, learning mechanism were being employed), are also pointed to as motivation for innateness.

More recently, in his Minimalist Program (1995), while retaining the core concept of “principles and parameters”, Chomsky attempts a major overhaul of the linguistic machinery involved in the LGB model, stripping from it all but the barest necessary elements, while advocating a general approach to the architecture of the human language faculty that emphasizes principles of economy and optimal design, reverting to a derivational approach to generation, in contrast with the largely representational approach of classic P&P.

Chomsky’s ideas have had a strong influence on researchers investigating the acquisition of language in children, though some[specify] researchers who work in this area today do not support Chomsky’s theories, instead advocating emergentist or connectionist theories reducing language to an instance of general processing mechanisms in the brain.

He also theorizes that unlimited extension of a language such as English is possible only by the recursive device of embedding sentences in sentences.[citation needed]

Linguistics professors Paul M. Postal and Robert D. Levine argue that “Much of the lavish praise heaped on his work is, we believe, driven by uncritical acceptance (often by nonlinguists) of claims and promises made during the early years of his academic activity; the claims have by now largely proved wrong or without real content, and the promises have gone unfilled.”[15]

His best-known work in phonology is The Sound Pattern of English, written with Morris Halle (and often known as simply SPE). Though extremely influential in its day, this work is considered outdated (though it has recently been reprinted), and Chomsky does not publish on phonology anymore.

Generative grammar

The Chomskyan approach towards syntax, often termed generative grammar, studies grammar as a body of knowledge possessed by language users. Since the 1960s, Chomsky has maintained that much of this knowledge is innate, implying that children need only learn certain parochial features of their native languages.[16] The innate body of linguistic knowledge is often termed Universal Grammar. From Chomsky’s perspective, the strongest evidence for the existence of Universal Grammar is simply the fact that children successfully acquire their native languages in so little time. He argues that the linguistic data to which children have access radically underdetermine the rich linguistic knowledge which they attain by adulthood (the “poverty of the stimulus” argument).

Chomsky’s theories are still popular, particularly in the United States, but they have never been free from controversy. Criticism has come from a number of different directions. Chomskyan linguists rely heavily on the intuitions of native speakers regarding which sentences of their languages are well-formed. This practice has been criticized both on general methodological grounds, and because it has (some argue) led to an overemphasis on the study of English. As of now, hundreds of different languages have received at least some attention in the generative grammar literature,[17][18][19][20][21] but some critics nonetheless perceive this overemphasis, and a tendency to base claims about Universal Grammar on an overly small sample of languages. Some psychologists and psycholinguists, though sympathetic to Chomsky’s overall program, have argued that Chomskyan linguists pay insufficient attention to experimental data from language processing, with the consequence that their theories are not psychologically plausible. More radical critics have questioned whether it is necessary to posit Universal Grammar in order to explain child language acquisition, arguing that domain-general learning mechanisms are sufficient.

Today there are many different branches of generative grammar; one can view grammatical frameworks such as head-driven phrase structure grammar, lexical functional grammar and combinatory categorial grammar as broadly Chomskian and generative in orientation, but with significant differences in execution.

Cultural anthropologist and linguist Daniel Everett of Illinois State University has proposed that the language of the Pirahã people of the northwestern rainforest of Brazil resists Chomsky’s theories of generative grammar. Everett asserts that the Pirahã language does not have any evidence of recursion, one of the key properties of generative grammar. Additionally, it is claimed that the Pirahan have no fixed words for colors or numbers, speak in single phonemes, and often speak in prosody.[22] However, Everett’s claims have themselves been criticized. David Pesetsky of MIT, Andrew Nevins of Harvard, and Cilene Rodrigues of the Universidade Estadual de Campinas in Brazil have argued in a joint paper that all of Everett’s major claims contain serious deficiencies.[23] The dispute continues, pending further field research and analysis.[24]

Chomsky hierarchy

Main article: Chomsky hierarchy

Chomsky is famous for investigating various kinds of formal languages and whether or not they might be capable of capturing key properties of human language. His Chomsky hierarchy partitions formal grammars into classes, or groups, with increasing expressive power, i.e., each successive class can generate a broader set of formal languages than the one before. Interestingly, Chomsky argues that modeling some aspects of human language requires a more complex formal grammar (as measured by the Chomsky hierarchy) than modeling others. For example, while a regular language is powerful enough to model English morphology, it is not powerful enough to model English syntax. In addition to being relevant in linguistics, the Chomsky hierarchy has also become important in computer science (especially in compiler construction and automata theory).

Automata theory: formal languages and formal grammars
Grammars Languages Minimal
Type-0 Unrestricted Recursively enumerable Turing machine
n/a (no common name) Recursive Decider
Type-1 Context-sensitive Context-sensitive Linear-bounded
n/a Indexed Indexed Nested stack
n/a Tree-adjoining Mildly context-sensitive Embedded pushdown
Type-2 Context-free Context-free Nondeterministic pushdown
n/a Deterministic context-free Deterministic context-free Deterministic pushdown
Type-3 Regular Regular Finite
Each category of languages or grammars is a proper subset of the category directly above it.

Contributions to psychology

Chomsky’s work in linguistics has had major implications for modern psychology.[25] For Chomsky, linguistics is a branch of cognitive psychology; genuine insights in linguistics imply concomitant understandings of aspects of mental processing and human nature. His theory of a universal grammar was seen by many as a direct challenge to the established behaviorist theories of the time and had major consequences for understanding how language is learned by children and what, exactly, the ability to use language is. Many of the more basic principles of this theory (though not necessarily the stronger claims made by the principles and parameters approach described above) are now generally accepted in some circles.[dubious ]

In 1959, Chomsky published an influential critique of B.F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior, a book in which Skinner offered a speculative explanation of language in behavioral terms. “Verbal behavior” he defined as learned behavior which has its characteristic consequences being delivered through the learned behavior of others; this makes for a view of communicative behaviors much larger than that usually addressed by linguists. Skinner’s approach focused on the circumstances in which language was used; for example, asking for water was functionally a different response than labeling something as water, responding to someone asking for water, etc. These functionally different kinds of responses, which required in turn separate explanations, sharply contrasted both with traditional notions of language and Chomsky’s psycholinguistic approach. Chomsky thought that a functionalist explanation restricting itself to questions of communicative performance ignored important questions. (Chomsky-Language and Mind, 1968). He focused on questions concerning the operation and development of innate structures for syntax capable of creatively organizing, cohering, adapting and combining words and phrases into intelligible utterances.

In the review Chomsky emphasized that the scientific application of behavioral principles from animal research is severely lacking in explanatory adequacy and is furthermore particularly superficial as an account of human verbal behavior because a theory restricting itself to external conditions, to “what is learned”, cannot adequately account for generative grammar. Chomsky raised the examples of rapid language acquisition of children, including their quickly developing ability to form grammatical sentences, and the universally creative language use of competent native speakers to highlight the ways in which Skinner’s view exemplified under-determination of theory by evidence. He argued that to understand human verbal behavior such as the creative aspects of language use and language development, one must first postulate a genetic linguistic endowment. The assumption that important aspects of language are the product of universal innate ability runs counter to Skinner’s radical behaviorism.

Chomsky’s 1959 review has drawn fire from a number of critics, the most famous criticism being that of Kenneth MacCorquodale’s 1970 paper On Chomsky’s Review of Skinner’s Verbal Behavior (Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, volume 13, pages 83–99). This and similar critiques have raised certain points not generally acknowledged outside of behavioral psychology, such as the claim that Chomsky did not possess an adequate understanding of either behavioral psychology in general, or the differences between Skinner’s behaviorism and other varieties; consequently, it is argued that he made several serious errors. On account of these perceived problems, the critics maintain that the review failed to demonstrate what it has often been cited as doing. As such, it is averred that those most influenced by Chomsky’s paper probably either already substantially agreed with Chomsky or never actually read it. Chomsky has maintained that the review was directed at the way Skinner’s variant of behavioral psychology “was being used in Quinean empiricism and naturalization of philosophy”.[26]

It has been claimed that Chomsky’s critique of Skinner’s methodology and basic assumptions paved the way for the “cognitive revolution”, the shift in American psychology between the 1950s through the 1970s from being primarily behavioral to being primarily cognitive. In his 1966 Cartesian Linguistics and subsequent works, Chomsky laid out an explanation of human language faculties that has become the model for investigation in some areas of psychology. Much of the present conception of how the mind works draws directly from ideas that found their first persuasive author of modern times in Chomsky.

There are three key ideas. First is that the mind is “cognitive”, or that the mind actually contains mental states, beliefs, doubts, and so on. Second, he argued that most of the important properties of language and mind are innate. The acquisition and development of a language is a result of the unfolding of innate propensities triggered by the experiential input of the external environment. The link between human innate aptitude to language and heredity has been at the core of the debate opposing Noam Chomsky to Jean Piaget at the Abbaye de Royaumont in 1975 (Language and Learning. The Debate between Jean Piaget and Noam Chomsky, Harvard University Press, 1980). Although links between the genetic setup of humans and aptitude to language have been suggested at that time and in later discussions, we are still far from understanding the genetic bases of human language. Work derived from the model of selective stabilization of synapses set up by Jean-Pierre Changeux, Philippe Courrège and Antoine Danchin,[27] and more recently developed experimentally and theoretically by Jacques Mehler and Stanislas Dehaene in particular in the domain of numerical cognition lend support to the Chomskyan “nativism”. It does not, however, provide clues about the type of rules that would organize neuronal connections to permit language competence. Subsequent psychologists have extended this general “nativist” thesis beyond language. Lastly, Chomsky made the concept of “modularity” a critical feature of the mind’s cognitive architecture. The mind is composed of an array of interacting, specialized subsystems with limited flows of inter-communication. This model contrasts sharply with the old idea that any piece of information in the mind could be accessed by any other cognitive process (optical illusions, for example, cannot be “turned off” even when they are known to be illusions).

He is also not fond of psychoanalysis. In an interview with the New York Times he stated, “I do not think psychoanalysis has a scientific basis. If we can’t explain why a cockroach decides to turn left, how can we explain why a human being decides to do something?”[28]

Opinion on cultural criticism of science

Chomsky strongly disagrees with post-structuralist and postmodern criticisms of science:

I have spent a lot of my life working on questions such as these, using the only methods I know of; those condemned here as “science”, “rationality”, “logic” and so on. I therefore read the papers with some hope that they would help me “transcend” these limitations, or perhaps suggest an entirely different course. I’m afraid I was disappointed. Admittedly, that may be my own limitation. Quite regularly, “my eyes glaze over” when I read polysyllabic discourse on the themes of poststructuralism and postmodernism; what I understand is largely truism or error, but that is only a fraction of the total word count. True, there are lots of other things I don’t understand: the articles in the current issues of math and physics journals, for example. But there is a difference. In the latter case, I know how to get to understand them, and have done so, in cases of particular interest to me; and I also know that people in these fields can explain the contents to me at my level, so that I can gain what (partial) understanding I may want. In contrast, no one seems to be able to explain to me why the latest post-this-and-that is (for the most part) other than truism, error, or gibberish, and I do not know how to proceed.[29]

Chomsky believes that science is a good way to start understanding history and human affairs:

I think studying science is a good way to get into fields like history. The reason is, you learn what an argument means, you learn what evidence is, you learn what makes sense to postulate and when, what’s going to be convincing. You internalize the modes of rational inquiry, which happen to be much more advanced in the sciences than anywhere else. On the other hand, applying relativity theory to history isn’t going to get you anywhere. So it’s a mode of thinking.[30]

Chomsky has also commented on critiques of “white male science”, stating that they are much like the antisemitic and politically motivated attacks against “Jewish physics” used by the Nazis to denigrate research done by Jewish scientists during the Deutsche Physik movement:

In fact, the entire idea of “white male science” reminds me, I’m afraid, of “Jewish physics”. Perhaps it is another inadequacy of mine, but when I read a scientific paper, I can’t tell whether the author is white or is male. The same is true of discussion of work in class, the office, or somewhere else. I rather doubt that the non-white, non-male students, friends, and colleagues with whom I work would be much impressed with the doctrine that their thinking and understanding differ from “white male science” because of their “culture or gender and race.” I suspect that “surprise” would not be quite the proper word for their reaction.[31]

Political views

Main article: Politics of Noam Chomsky
Chomsky at the World Social Forum (Porto Alegre) in 2003.

Chomsky at the World Social Forum (Porto Alegre) in 2003.

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Chomsky has stated that his “personal visions are fairly traditional anarchist ones, with origins in The Enlightenment and classical liberalism”[32] and he has praised libertarian socialism.[33] He is a sympathizer of anarcho-syndicalism[34] and a member of the IWW union.[35] He has published a book on anarchism titled, “Chomsky on Anarchism”, which was published by the anarchist book collective, AK Press, in 2006.

Noam Chomsky has been engaged in political activism all of his adult life and expressed opinions on politics and world events which are widely cited, publicized and discussed. Chomsky has in turn argued that his views are those which the powerful do not want to hear, and for this reason he is considered an American political dissident. Some highlights of his political views:

  • Power, unless justified, is inherently illegitimate. The burden of proof is on those in authority to demonstrate why their elevated position is justified. If this burden can’t be met, the authority in question should be dismantled. Authority for its own sake is inherently unjustified. An example of a legitimate authority is that exerted by an adult to prevent a young child from wandering into traffic.[36]
  • That there isn’t much difference between slavery, and renting one’s self to an owner, or “wage slavery.” He feels that it is an attack on personal integrity that destroys and undermines our freedoms. He holds that those that work in the mills should run them, a view held (as he notes) by the Lowell Mill Girls.[37]
  • Very strong criticisms of the foreign policy of the United States. Specifically, he claims double standards (which he labels “single standard”) in a foreign policy preaching democracy and freedom for all, while promoting, supporting and allying itself with non-democratic and repressive organizations and states, and argues that this results in massive human rights violations. He often argues that America’s intervention in foreign nations, including the secret aid given to the Contras in Nicaragua, an event of which he has been very critical, fits any standard description of terrorism.[38]
  • He has argued that the mass media in the United States largely serve as a propaganda arm and “bought priesthood” of the U.S. government and U.S. corporations, with the three parties all largely intertwined through common interests. In a famous reference to Walter Lippmann, Chomsky along with his coauthor, Edward S. Herman has written that the American media manufactures consent among the public.
  • He has opposed the U.S. global “war on drugs”, claiming its language to be misleading, and referring to it as “the war on certain drugs.” He favors education and prevention rather than military or police action as a means of reducing drug use.[39] In an interview in 1999, Chomsky argued that, whereas crops such as tobacco receive no mention in governmental exposition, other non-profitable crops, such as marijuana, are specifically targeted due to the effect achieved by persecuting the poor.[40]
US domestic drug policy does not carry out its stated goals, and policymakers are well aware of that. If it isn’t about reducing substance abuse, what is it about? It is reasonably clear, both from current actions and the historical record, that substances tend to be criminalized when they are associated with the so-called dangerous classes, that the criminalization of certain substances is a technique of social control.[41]
  • Critical of the American capitalist system and big business, he describes himself as a libertarian socialist who sympathizes with anarcho-syndicalism and is critical of Leninist branches of socialism. He also believes that libertarian socialist values exemplify the rational and morally consistent extension of original unreconstructed classical liberal and radical humanist ideas to an industrial context. Specifically he believes that society should be highly organized and based on democratic control of communities and work places. He believes that the radical humanist ideas of his two major influences, Bertrand Russell and John Dewey, were “rooted in the Enlightenment and classical liberalism, and retain their revolutionary character.”[42]
  • Chomsky has stated that he believes the United States remains the “greatest country in the world”[43], a comment that he later clarified by saying, “Evaluating countries is senseless and I would never put things in those terms, but that some of America’s advances, particularly in the area of free speech, that have been achieved by centuries of popular struggle, are to be admired.”[44] He has also said “In many respects, the United States is the freest country in the world. I don’t just mean in terms of limits on state coercion, though that’s true too, but also in terms of individual relations. The United States comes closer to classlessness in terms of interpersonal relations than virtually any society.”[45]
  • According to Chomsky: “I’m a boring speaker and I like it that way…. I doubt that people are attracted to whatever the persona is…. People are interested in the issues, and they’re interested in the issues because they are important.”[46] “We don’t want to be swayed by superficial eloquence, by emotion and so on.”[47]
  • He holds views that can be summarized as anti-war but not strictly pacifist. He prominently opposed the Vietnam War and most other wars in his lifetime. However, he maintains that U.S. involvement in World War II was probably justified, with the caveat that a preferable outcome would have been to end or prevent the war through earlier diplomacy. In particular, he believes that the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “among the most unspeakable crimes in history”.[48]
  • He has a broad view of free-speech rights, especially in the mass media; he opposes censorship and refuses to take legal action against those who may have libeled him.[citation needed][49]

Chomsky has frequently stated that there is no connection between his work in linguistics and his political views, and is generally critical of the idea that competent discussion of political topics requires expert knowledge in academic fields. In a 1969 interview, he said regarding the connection between his politics and his work in linguistics:

I still feel myself that there is a kind of tenuous connection. I would not want to overstate it but I think it means something to me at least. I think that anyone’s political ideas or their ideas of social organization must be rooted ultimately in some concept of human nature and human needs. (New Left Review, 57, Sept. – Oct. 1969, p. 21)

Chomsky’s influence in other fields

Chomskyan models have been used as a theoretical basis in several other fields. The Chomsky hierarchy is often taught in fundamental computer science courses as it confers insight into the various types of formal languages. This hierarchy can also be discussed in mathematical terms[50] and has generated interest among mathematicians, particularly combinatorialists. Some arguments in evolutionary psychology are derived from his research results.[51]

The 1984 Nobel Prize laureate in Medicine and Physiology, Niels K. Jerne, used Chomsky’s generative model to explain the human immune system, equating “components of a generative grammar … with various features of protein structures”. The title of Jerne’s Stockholm Nobel lecture was “The Generative Grammar of the Immune System”.

Nim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee who was the subject of a study in animal language acquisition at Columbia University, was named after Chomsky in reference to his view of language acquisition as a uniquely human ability.

Famous computer scientist Donald Knuth admits to reading Syntactic Structures during his honeymoon and being greatly influenced by it. “…I must admit to taking a copy of Noam Chomsky’s Syntactic Structures along with me on my honeymoon in 1961 … Here was a marvelous thing: a mathematical theory of language in which I could use a computer programmer’s intuition!”.

Another focus of Chomsky’s political work has been an analysis of mainstream mass media (especially in the United States), its structures and constraints, and its perceived role in supporting big business and government interests.

Edward S. Herman and Chomsky’s book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988) explores this topic in depth, presenting their “propaganda model” of the news media with numerous detailed case studies demonstrating it. According to this propaganda model, more democratic societies like the U.S. use subtle, non-violent means of control, unlike totalitarian systems, where physical force can readily be used to coerce the general population. In an often-quoted remark, Chomsky states that “propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.” (Media Control)

The model attempts to explain this perceived systemic bias of the mass media in terms of structural economic causes rather than a conspiracy of people. It argues the bias derives from five “filters” that all published news must “pass through” which combine to systematically distort news coverage.

The first filter, ownership, notes that most major media outlets are owned by large corporations. The second, funding, notes that the outlets derive the majority of their funding from advertising, not readers. Thus, since they are profit-oriented businesses selling a product—readers and audiences—to other businesses (advertisers), the model would expect them to publish news which would reflect the desires and values of those businesses. In addition, the news media are dependent on government institutions and major businesses with strong biases as sources (the third filter) for much of their information. Flak, the fourth filter, refers to the various pressure groups which attack the media for supposed bias. Norms, the fifth filter, refer to the common conceptions shared by those in the profession of journalism. (Note: in the original text, published in 1988, the fifth filter was “anticommunism”. However, with the fall of the Soviet Union, it has been broadened to allow for shifts in public opinion.) The model describes how the media form a decentralized and non-conspiratorial but nonetheless very powerful propaganda system, that is able to mobilize an élite consensus, frame public debate within élite perspectives and at the same time give the appearance of democratic consent.

Chomsky and Herman test their model empirically by picking “paired examples”—pairs of events that were objectively similar except for the alignment of domestic elite interests. They use a number of such examples to attempt to show that in cases where an “official enemy” does something (like murder of a religious official), the press investigates thoroughly and devotes a great amount of coverage to the matter, thus victims of “enemy” states are considered “worthy”. But when the domestic government or an ally does the same thing (or worse), the press downplays the story, thus victims of US or US client states are considered “unworthy.”

They also test their model against the case that is often held up as the best example of a free and aggressively independent press, the media coverage of the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. Even in this case, they argue that the press was behaving subserviently to élite interests.

Academic achievements, awards and honors

In the spring of 1969 he delivered the John Locke Lectures at Oxford University; in January 1970 he delivered the Bertrand Russell Memorial Lecture at University of Cambridge; in 1972, the Nehru Memorial Lecture in New Delhi; in 1977, the Huizinga Lecture in Leiden; in 1988 the Massey Lectures at the University of Toronto titled “Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies”. In 1997, The Davie Memorial Lecture on Academic Freedom in Cape Town,[52] among many others.[53]

Chomsky has received many honorary degrees from universities around the world, including the following:

  • University of London
  • University of Chicago
  • Loyola University of Chicago
  • Swarthmore College
  • Delhi University
  • Bard College
  • University of Massachusetts
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Georgetown University
  • Amherst College
  • Cambridge University
  • University of Buenos Aires
  • McGill University
  • Universitat Rovira i Virgili
  • Columbia University
  • Villanova University
  • University of Connecticut
  • University of Maine
  • Scuola Normale Superiore
  • University of Western Ontario
  • University of Toronto
  • Harvard University
  • Universidad de Chile
  • University of Bologna
  • Universidad de la Frontera
  • University of Calcutta
  • Universidad Nacional de Colombia
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • Santo Domingo Institute of Technology
  • Uppsala University
  • University of Athens
  • University of Cyprus

He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. In addition, he is a member of other professional and learned societies in the United States and abroad, and is a recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association, the Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences, the Helmholtz Medal, the Dorothy Eldridge Peacemaker Award, the Ben Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science, and others.[54] He is twice winner of The Orwell Award, granted by The National Council of Teachers of English for “Distinguished Contributions to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language”[55]

He is a member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Department of Social Sciences.[56]

In 2005, Chomsky received an honorary fellowship from the Literary and Historical Society.

In 2007, Chomsky received The Uppsala University (Sweden) Honorary Doctor’s degree in commemoration of Carolus Linnaeus.[57]

In February 2008, he received the President’s Medal from the Literary and Debating Society of the National University of Ireland, Galway.

Chomsky was voted the leading living public intellectual in The 2005 Global Intellectuals Poll conducted by the British magazine Prospect. He reacted, saying “I don’t pay a lot of attention to polls”.[58] In a list compiled by the magazine New Statesman in 2006, he was voted seventh in the list of “Heroes of our time”.[59]


Main article: Criticism of Noam Chomsky

Due to the contentious nature of his writings and beliefs, Chomsky has acquired many critics.

Authors on Chomsky


  • Barsky, Robert F. (2007). The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower. Cambridge: MIT Press. ISBN-13: 978-0-262-02624-6. Retrieved on 2008-03-22.
  • Sperlich, Wolfgang B. (2006). Noam Chomsky. London: Reaktion Books. ISBN 1861892691. Retrieved on 2006-09-05.
  • Barsky, Robert (1997). Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent. Cambridge: MIT Press. ISBN 0262522551. Retrieved on 2006-09-05.
  • Lyons, John (1970). “Noam Chomsky (Modern Masters)”. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0670019119.

Other works

  • Rai, Milan (1995). [Broken Chomsky’s Politics]. Verso. ISBN 1859840116. Retrieved on 2006-09-05.
  • Goldsmith, John (1998). “Review of Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, by Robert Barsky”. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 34 (2): 173–180. Retrieved on 2006-09-04.
  • Dershowitz, Alan (May 10, 2002). “Chomsky’s Immoral Divestiture Petition”. The Tech 122 (25). Retrieved on 2006-09-04.
  • Roy, Arundhati (2003-08-24). “The Loneliness of Noam Chomsky”. The Hindu. Retrieved on 2006-09-05.
  • (2004) in Collier, Peter; Horowitz, David: The Anti-Chomsky Reader. Encounter Books. ISBN 189355497X.
  • Pateman, Trevor (2004). Wittgensteinians and Chomskyans: In Defence of Mentalism, Language in Mind and Language in Society.
  • Blackburn, Robin; Kamm, Oliver (November 2005). “For and Against Chomsky” (PDF). Prospect (116). Retrieved on 2006-09-04.
  • (2005) in McGilvray, James: The Cambridge Companion to Chomsky. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press. DOI:10.2277/0521780136. ISBN 0521780136.
  • Paradis, Michel (2005). Review of Government in the Future, by Noam Chomsky. Oxonian Review of Books 2005 4.3: 4–5
  • Schoneberger, T. (2000). A Departure from cognitivism: Implications of Chomsky’s second revolution in linguistics. The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, 17, 57–73.
  • Sperlich, Wolfgang B. (2006). Noam Chomsky. London: Reaktion Books. ISBN 1861892691. Retrieved on 2006-09-05.


See a full bibliography on Chomsky’s MIT homepage [7].

  • Chomsky (1951). Morphophonemics of Modern Hebrew. Master’s thesis, University of Pennsylvania.
  • Chomsky (1955). Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory.
  • Chomsky (1955). Transformational Analysis. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.
  • Chomsky, Noam, Morris Halle, and Fred Lukoff (1956). “On accent and juncture in English.” In For Roman Jakobson. The Hague: Mouton
  • Chomsky (1957). Syntactic Structures. The Hague: Mouton. Reprint. Berlin and New York (1985).
  • Chomsky (1964). Current Issues in Linguistic Theory.
  • Chomsky (1965). Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
  • Chomsky (1965). Cartesian Linguistics. New York: Harper and Row. Reprint. Cartesian Linguistics. A Chapter in the History of Rationalist Thought. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1986.
  • Chomsky (1966). Topics in the Theory of Generative Grammar.
  • Chomsky, Noam, and Morris Halle (1968). The Sound Pattern of English. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Chomsky (1968). Language and Mind.
  • Chomsky (1972). Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar.
  • Chomsky (1975). The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory.
  • Chomsky (1975). Reflections on Language.
  • Chomsky (1977). Essays on Form and Interpretation.
  • Chomsky (1979). Morphophonemics of Modern Hebrew.
  • Chomsky (1980). Rules and Representations.
  • Chomsky (1981). Lectures on Government and Binding: The Pisa Lectures. Holland: Foris Publications. Reprint. 7th Edition. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1993.
  • Chomsky (1982). Some Concepts and Consequences of the Theory of Government and Binding.
  • Chomsky (1982). Language and the Study of Mind.
  • Chomsky (1982). Noam Chomsky on The Generative Enterprise, A discussion with Riny Hyybregts and Henk van Riemsdijk.
  • Chomsky (1984). Modular Approaches to the Study of the Mind.
  • Chomsky (1986). Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origin, and Use.
  • Chomsky (1986). Barriers. Linguistic Inquiry Monograph Thirteen. Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press.
  • Chomsky (1993). Language and Thought.
  • Chomsky (1995). The Minimalist Program. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  • Chomsky (1998). On Language.
  • Chomsky (2000). New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind.
  • Chomsky (2000). The Architecture of Language (Mukherji, et al, eds.).
  • Chomsky (2001). On Nature and Language (Adriana Belletti and Luigi Rizzi, ed.).
  • Chomsky, N. & Place, U.T. (2000). “The Chomsky-Place correspondence 1993–1994”. Edited, with an introduction and suggested readings, by T. Schoneberger. The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, 17, 7–38.

Computer science

  • Chomsky (1956). Three models for the description of language. I.R.E. Transactions on Information Theory, vol. IT-2, no. 3: 113–124.


  • (1967). The Responsibility of Intellectuals
  • (1969). American Power and the New Mandarins
  • (1970). “Notes on Anarchism”, New York Review of Books
  • (1970). At war with Asia
  • (1970). Two Essays on Cambodia
  • (1971). Chomsky: selected readings
  • (1971). Problems of Knowledge and Freedom
  • (1973). For Reasons of State
  • (1973). Counter-Revolutionary Violence – Bloodbaths in Fact & Propaganda (with Edward S. Herman)
  • (1974). Peace in the Middle East? Reflections on Justice and Nationhood
  • (1976). Intellectuals and the State
  • (1978). Human Rights and American Foreign Policy
  • (1979). Language and Responsibility
  • (1979). The Political Economy of Human Rights, Volume I: The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism (with Edward Herman)
  • (1979). The Political Economy of Human Rights, Volume II: After the Cataclysm: Postwar Indochina and the Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology (with Edward Herman)
  • (1981). Radical Priorities
  • (1982). Superpowers in collision: the cold war now
  • (1982). Towards a New Cold War: Essays on the Current Crisis and How We Got There
  • (1983). The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians
  • (1985). Turning the Tide : U.S. intervention in Central America and the Struggle for Peace
  • (1986). Pirates and Emperors: International Terrorism in the Real World
  • (1986). The Race to Destruction: Its Rational Basis
  • (1987). The Chomsky Reader
  • (1987). On Power and Ideology
  • (1987). Turning the Tide: the U.S. and Latin America
  • (1988). The Culture of Terrorism
  • (1988). Language and Politics
  • (1988). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (with Edward Herman)
  • (1989). Necessary Illusions
  • (1991). Terrorizing the Neighborhood
  • (1992). What Uncle Sam Really Wants
  • (1992). Chronicles of Dissent
  • (1992). Deterring Democracy
  • (1993). Letters from Lexington: Reflections on Propaganda
  • (1993). The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many
  • (1993). Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War, and U.S. Political Culture
  • (1993). World Order and Its Rules: Variations on Some Themes
  • (1993). Year 501: The Conquest Continues
  • (1994). Keeping the rabble in Line
  • (1994). Secrets, Lies, and Democracy
  • (1994). World Orders, Old and New
  • (1996). Powers and Prospects: Reflections on Human Nature and the Social Order
  • (1996). Class Warfare
  • (1997). One Chapter, The Cold War and the University
  • (1997). Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda
  • (1998). The Common Good
  • (1999). The Umbrella of US Power
  • (1999). Latin America: From Colonization to Globalization
  • (1999). Acts of Aggression: Policing “Rogue” States (with Edward W. Said)
  • (1999). The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo
  • (1999). Profit over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order
  • (1999). The Fateful Triangle (updated edition)
  • (2000). Chomsky on Mis-Education (edited by Donaldo Macedo)
  • (2000). A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West
  • (2000). Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs
  • (2001). Propaganda and the Public Mind
  • (2001). 9-11
  • (2002). Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky
  • (2002). Chomsky on Democracy and Education (edited by C.P. Otero)
  • (2002). Media Control (Second Edition)
  • (2002). Pirates and Emperors, Old and New: International Terrorism in the Real World
  • (2003). Power and Terror: Post-9/11 Talks and Interviews
  • (2003). Middle East Illusions: Including Peace in the Middle East? Reflections on Justice and Nationhood
  • (2003). Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance
  • (2003). Znet article, Deep Concerns
  • (2004). Getting Haiti Right This Time: The U.S. and the Coup (with Paul Farmer and Amy Goodman)
  • (2005). Chomsky on Anarchism (edited by Barry Pateman)
  • (2005) Government in the future. Seven Stories Press. ISBN 1583226850. Text of the lecture given at the Poetry Center, New York, February 16, 1970.
  • (2005). Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World
  • (2005). The Impetious Imperialist
  • (2006). Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy
  • (2006). Perilous Power. The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy. Dialogues on Terror, Democracy, War, and Justice (with Gilbert Achcar)
  • (2007). Interventions
  • (2007). What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World


  • Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, Director: Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick (1992)
  • Last Party 2000, Director: Rebecca Chaiklin and Donovan Leitch (2001)
  • Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky in Our Times, Director: John Junkerman (2002)
  • Distorted Morality—America’s War On Terror?, Director: John Junkerman (2003)
  • Noam Chomsky: Rebel Without a Pause (TV), Director: Will Pascoe (2003)
  • The Corporation, Directors: Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott; Writer: Joel Bakan (2003)
  • Peace, Propaganda & the Promised Land, Directors: Sut Jhally and Bathsheba Ratzkoff (2004)
  • On Power, Dissent and Racism: A discussion with Noam Chomsky, Journalist: Nicolas Rossier; Producers: Eli Choukri, Baraka Productions (2004)


By Amy Goodman

  • Democracy Now! February 26, 2008: Public speech in Massachusetts and interview with Amy Goodman: Noam Chomsky: “Why is Iraq Missing from 2008 Presidential Race?”
  • Democracy Now! with Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn
  • Democracy Now! November 27 2007: on Mideast Peace

By Maria Hinojosa

  • Noam Chomsky on America’s Foreign Policy

By Peshawa Muhammed

  • Noam Chomsky on The US-Kurdish Relations and the Kurdish Question in Iraq
  • Noam Chomsky on Iraq and US Foreign Policy

By Andrew Marr

  • The Big Idea

By David Barsamian (from Alternative Radio, published in book form)

  • Keeping the Rabble in Line (1994)
  • Class Warfare (1996)
  • The Common Good (1998)
  • Propaganda and the Public Mind (2001)
  • Imperial Ambitions—Conversations With Noam Chomsky On The Post-9/11 World (2005)

By Danilo Mandic (published COPYLEFT by Datanews Editrice, Italy.)

  • On Globalization, Iraq and Middle East Studies (2005)
  • On the NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia (2006)

By Harry Kreisler (host of the TV series “Conversations with History” by UC Berkley)

  • Activism, Anarchism, and Power (March 22, 2002) MP4 video

By others

  • See complete list of interviews here:

See also

  • Politics of Noam Chomsky
  • Language acquisition
  • Chomskybot
  • Chomsky hierarchy
  • Important publications in computability
  • Colorless green ideas sleep furiously
  • Intellectual worker
  • Nim Chimpsky
  • Propaganda model
  • English studies
  • The American Empire Project
  • David Edwards (journalist)
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