Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

[chom-skee]
Chomsky, Noam, 1928-, educator and linguist, b. Philadelphia. Chomsky, who has taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1955, developed a theory of transformational (sometimes called generative or transformational-generative) grammar that revolutionized the scientific study of language. He first set out his abstract analysis of language in his doctoral dissertation (1955) and Syntactic Structures (1957). Instead of starting with minimal sounds, as the structural linguists had done, Chomsky began with the rudimentary or primitive sentence; from this base he developed his argument that innumerable syntactic combinations can be generated by means of a complex series of rules.

According to transformational grammar, every intelligible sentence conforms not only to grammatical rules peculiar to its particular language, but also to "deep structures," a universal grammar underlying all languages and corresponding to an innate capacity of the human brain. Chomsky and other linguists who built on his work formulated transformational rules, which transform a sentence with a given grammatical structure (e.g., "John saw Mary") into a sentence with a different grammatical structure but the same essential meaning ("Mary was seen by John"). Transformational linguistics has been influential in psycholinguistics, particularly in the study of language acquisition by children. In the 1990s Chomsky formulated a "Minimalist Program" in an attempt to simplify the symbolic representations of the language facility. Chomsky is a prolific author whose principal linguistic works after Syntactic Structures include Current Issues in Linguistic Theory (1964), The Sound Pattern of English (with Morris Halle, 1968), Language and Mind (1972), Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar (1972), Knowledge of Language (1986), Language and Thought (1993), and Architecture of Language (2000).

Chomsky also has wide-ranging political interests. An early and outspoken critic of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and a vociferous opponent of the Iraq war, he has written extensively on many political issues from a generally left-wing point of view. Among his political writings are American Power and the New Mandarins (1969), Peace in the Middle East? (1974), Manufacturing Consent (with E. S. Herman, 1988), Profit over People (1998), Rogue States (2000), Hegemony or Survival (2003), and Failed States (2006). Chomsky's controversial bestseller 9-11 (2002) is an analysis of the World Trade Center attack that, while denouncing the atrocity of the event, traces its origins to the actions and power of the United States.

See interviews with D. Barsamian (1992, 1994, 1996, and 2001); biography by R. F. Barsky (1997); studies by F. D'Agostino (1985), C. P. Otero (1988 and 1998), R. Salkie (1990), M. Achbar, ed. (1994), M. Rai (1995), V. J. Cook (1996), P. Wilkin (1997), J. McGilvray (1999), N. V. Smith (1999), A. Edgley (2000), H. Lasnik (2000), and J. Bricmont and J. Franck, ed. (2009); Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (film by P. Wintonick and M. Achbar, 1992) and Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky in Our Times (film by J. Junkerman, 2002).

(born Dec. 7, 1928, Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.) U.S. linguist, philosopher, and political activist. He received a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1955, the same year he joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Chomsky takes the proper object of study for linguistics to be the mentally represented grammars that constitute the native speaker's knowledge of his language and the biologically innate language faculty, or “universal grammar,” that enables the developmentally normal language learner, as a child, to construct a grammar of the language to which he is exposed. For Chomsky, the ultimate goal of linguistic science is to develop a theory of universal grammar that provides a descriptively adequate grammar for any natural language given only the kind of “primary linguistic data” available in the social environments of children. This imperative has motivated the gradual refinement of Chomskyan linguistic theory from the early transformational grammar of the 1950s and '60s to the Minimalist Program of the 1990s and beyond. A self-described libertarian socialist, Chomsky has written numerous books and lectured widely on what he considers the antidemocratic character of American capitalism and its pernicious influence on the country's politics and foreign policy, mass media, and academic and intellectual culture. Seealso generative grammar.

Learn more about Chomsky, (Avram) Noam with a free trial on Britannica.com.

This article is about a documentary film, for the similarly named book see Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (1992) is a multi award-winning documentary film that explores the political life and ideas of Noam Chomsky, a linguist, intellectual, and political activist. Created by two Canadian independent filmmakers, Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick, it expands on the ideas of Chomsky's earlier book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, which he co-wrote with Edward S. Herman.

The film presents and illustrates Chomsky's and Herman's propaganda model, the thesis that corporate media, as profit-driven institutions, tend to serve and further the agendas of the interests of dominant, elite groups in the society. A centerpiece of the film is a long examination into the history of The New York Times' coverage of Indonesia's invasion and occupation of East Timor, which Chomsky claims exemplifies the media's unwillingness to criticize an ally.

Until the release of The Corporation (2003), made by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan, it was the most successful documentary in Canadian history, playing theatrically in over 300 cities around the world; winning 22 awards; appearing in more than 50 international film festivals; and being broadcast in over 30 markets. It has also been translated into a dozen languages.

Chomsky's response to the film was mixed; in a published conversation with Achbar and several activists, he stated that film simply doesn't communicate his message, leading people to believe that he is the leader of some movement that they should join. In the same conversation, he criticizes the New York Times review of the film, which mistakes his message for being a call for voter organizing rather than media critique.

Companion book

Mark Achbar edited a companion book of the same name. It features a copy of the script annotated with excerpts from referenced and relevant materials as well as several comments from Chomsky interspersed throughout. Eighteen "Philosopher All-Stars" baseball cards (as seen in the film) are also included. On the back of each card it includes a short summary of the person, some of their major works and a series of quotations attributed to the individual. The people featured as cards in the set are: René Descartes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Mary Wollstonecraft, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Sojourner Truth, Karl Marx, Sitting Bull, Rosa Luxemburg, Peter Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, and Avram Noam Chomsky. The book made the national bestseller list in Canada.

The first half of the book, hyperlinked to the relevant portions of the film's audio, is available online from Z Magazine.

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