Noam Chomsky is an intellectual prodigy who went on to earn a PhD in linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. Since 1955, he has been a professor at MIT and has produced groundbreaking, controversial theories on human linguistic capacity. Chomsky is widely published, both on topics in his field and on issues of dissent and U.S. foreign policy.
Just as World War II was coming to a close, Chomsky began his studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He found little use for his classes until he met Zellig S. Harris, an American scholar touted for discovering structural linguistics.
In 1955, the professorial staff at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) invited Chomsky to join their ranks. Now a professor emeritus, he worked in the school’s Department of Linguistics & Philosophy for half a century before retiring from active teaching in 2005. He has also been a visiting professor or lectured at a range of other universities, including Columbia, UCLA, Princeton and Cambridge, and holds honorary degrees from countless others throughout the world.
During his career as a professor, Chomsky introduced transformational grammar to the linguistics field. His theory asserts that languages are innate and that the differences we see are only due to parameters developed over time in our brains, helping to explain why children are able to learn different languages more easily than adults. One of his most famous contributions to linguistics is what his contemporaries have called the Chomsky Hierarchy, a division of grammar into groups, moving up or down in their expressive abilities. These ideas have had huge ramifications in fields such as modern psychology and philosophy, both answering and raising questions about human nature and how we process information.
Chomsky’s writings on linguistics include Current Issues in Linguistic Theory (1964), Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965), The Sound Pattern of English (with Morris Halle, 1968), Language and Mind (1972), Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar (1972), and Knowledge of Language (1986).
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