Avram Noam Chomsky

Father of modern linguistics

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Avram Noam Chomsky born December 7, 1928, is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician, political commentator and activist. Chomsky is also a major figure in analytic philosophy. He has spent most of his career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he is currently Professor Emeritus, and has authored over 100 books. He has been described as a prominent cultural figure, and was voted the "world's top public intellectual" in a 2005 poll.

Born to a middle-class Ashkenazi Jewish family in Philadelphia, Chomsky developed an early interest in anarchism from relatives in New York City. He later undertook studies in linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, where he obtained his BA, MA, and PhD.

About Chomsky

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Noam was the Chomsky family's first child. His younger brother, David Eli Chomsky, was born five years later. The brothers remained close, although David was more easy-going while Noam could be very competitive. Chomsky's parents' first language was Yiddish, but Chomsky said it was "taboo" in his family to speak it. Unlike her husband, Elsie spoke "ordinary New York English". Being Jewish, Noam Chomsky faced anti-semitism as a child, particularly from the Irish and German communities living in Philadelphia; he recalls German "beer parties" celebrating the fall of Paris to the Nazis.



The basis to Chomsky's linguistic theory is that the principles underlying the structure of language are biologically determined in the human mind and hence transmitted genetically.He therefore argues that all humans share the same underlying linguistic structure. In this he opposes the radical behaviourist psychology of B.F. Skinner, instead he argues that human language is unlike modes of communication used by any other animal species.

Impact

Chomskyan linguistics had become "the most dynamic and influential" school of thought in the field.Chomskyan models have been used as a theoretical basis in various fields of study. 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 and has generated interest among mathematicians, particularly combinatorialists. Some arguments in evolutionary psychology are derived from his research results.