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Noam Chomsky: Inventor of Linguistics… Huh?

July 20, 2010

I just started reading Johann Hari’s latest article about Noam Chomsky, and I was welcomed to this interesting fact:

Noam Chomsky is one of the most hysterically abused figures in the world today. Even his critics have to concede that his work inventing the field of linguistics — and so beginning to decode the structure of how language is formed in the human brain — makes him one of the most important intellectuals alive.

I agree that Chomsky is an important intellectual figure, and his massive contributions to linguistics are well-documented, but he did not invent the field. Some might say reinvented… Although, I’m not sure how favourably history will view Chomsky’s shadow having loomed over linguistics for such a long time. My own opinion, for what it’s worth, is that he’s largely been a positive influence, even if I find myself disagreeing with a lot of his major ideas.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 20, 2010 9:45 pm

    It seems to me that we have to grant Chomsky at least three things.

    1) A mode of formal reasoning about syntax that,

    2) Allowed him make a powerful argument about innateness, and

    3) Allowed a similarly powerful argument against behaviorism.

    That’s quite a bit, for it allows us to set bounds on “phenomena” in a useful way. In fact, it quite transformed the way we reason about language.

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