Up to date, I still remember my first linguistic class: or rather, English class. The lecturer, a tall, fat guy we can’t say to be beautiful walked up to the front and introduced himself then proceeded to introduce his “chalk mate” a huge picture of a guy he introduced to us as NAOM CHOMSKY. Then he told us a story;

 “Once upon a time, I sat where you are. I was eager to learn and get a job, just like you are…until I met these two guys: Michael Halliday and Noam Chomsky. They are very nice guys and when you meet them, you will fall in love. So deep in love you will get married and never get divorced. But I will warn you in advance though; Chomsky is not the kind of guy you take to bed.”

We all laughed, but a week later, we all could attest to what he said. Chomsky is an interesting guy to read and question BUT not one you take to bed: literally or otherwise.

So who is this guy Chomsky? He is a linguist, a philosopher of language, a journalist, a writer and a political activist who describes himself as a libertarian socialist. He was born in 1928 in Pennsylvania, has an MA in Philosophy and Linguistics and a PhD in linguistics

Linguists recognize him due to his contributions in linguistics mostly after his work on Generative grammar and transformational grammar. Chomsky addresses among others concepts of context and sensitivity in grammar, phrase structure, transformational syntax, formal grammar, language acquisition, linguistic competences, and phonology among others. With over 150 publications, he is one of the most renowned professors of modern linguistics and a key personality in philosophy of language.

 MITNews  (15th April 1992) wrote: “recent research on citations in three different citation indices show that Professor Chomsky is one of the most cited individuals in published works in the past 20 years…..eighth most cited source overall-just behind famed psychiatrist Sigmund Freud and just ahead of Philosopher Georg Hegel.” Of course this must have changed. However, with him being the father of linguistics and with every linguistic scholar I know questioning you about Chomsky (if you don’t know Chomsky you don’t have a job!), the values can’t have gone down.

His approach of linguistics seems to have a direct connection to rationalist philosophy, mostly his views on language acquisition, second language acquisition and his take on behaviorist theories. In 1957, he wrote about syntactic structures which led to the concepts of transformational grammar.  He believes that the mind is pre-equipped with a universal knowledge of human nature hence it is not dependent on experiences and acquired knowledge. This he calls “an innate set of linguistic principles shared by all humans”. He also believes that all human languages have a similar underlying grammatical structure which makes it easy for us to grasp the languages we are exposed to at a tender age without difficulty. This he called “universal grammar”.

In 1959, he wrote an extensive review of B. F. Skinner’s theory of behaviorism challenging the behaviorist approach to the studies of behavior and language hence contributing extensively to the study of behavior in psychology and related fields. He saw linguistics as a definite component of philosophy when he stressed on the universal unconscious perspective of language which allows us to generate original grammatical structures- nonsensical and sensible- yet all grammatically viable.

Visibly, “…he is very widely read and his work is used by researchers across all disciplines…In fact, it seems you can’t write a paper without citing Chomsky”, Says Theresa A. Tobin.

Today, he is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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