Friday, February 09, 2007



Like it or not, Noam Chomsky will be up there with the 'greats' in future history - but how will that history be written ?


As New York's Wayne R. Dynes said recently : "His (Chomsky's) early interventions in the field of linguistics effectively ended the tyranny of behaviourism in the social sciences".

There are those who have not forgiven him for that - even now - and with a serious bout of professional jealousy, that lethal cocktail has led to irrational, personal hostility.

There are those who have not forgiven Albert Einstein - especially now - for his forthright political views (he was committed to the moral justice of the Socialist cause - like Bertrand Russell, HG Wells, Cyril Joad and George Bernard Shaw). So, 'official history' has painted Einstein as just the genius scientist - and glossed over his major contributions in other fields, such as politics and pacifism.

So, what am getting at ? Well, will future's 'official history' paint Chomsky as just the genius linguistic philosopher who revolutionized our understanding of language - but gloss over his major contributions in other fields, such as politics and power ?

We shall see...


For those unfamiliar with the detail in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Emmanuel Goldstein was the subject of the 'Two Minutes Hate'. In Orwell's book, Winston Smith obtained the 'officially banned' book by Goldstein - "The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism" - Chapter 1 (Ignorance is Strength), Chapter 2 (Freedom Is Slavery)(omitted), Chapter 3 (War is Peace) :

It's a wonderful read if you want to understand the nature of power. Orwell understood that nature - and so does Chomsky (I consider Chomsky as America's Orwell, by the way). But I digress...

Will Chomsky be fondly remembered as 'The Einstein of Modern Linguistics' -or remembered with hostility, as 'The Goldstein of 1984' ?

Like it or not, Chomsky will be remembered - but how ?

In the meantime, let's read his books and attend his lectures - if and when we can - which all carry a simple message for me : "Think for yourself - and clearly. Don't let others do the thinking for you. Don't let it happen. It depends on you. You are a pre-condition for humanity's future survival and well-being. It's up to you".

Remember - he is still very much alive - and long may that continue.

References :

I will have no other option, Richard, than fid time to read Chomsky. I confess I have read almost nothing by him. Will try to correct that.
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Hehe. He will be remembered. But not for his contributions to linguistics. I'm afraid his work is out the window. Functional grammar has replaced his TG. While I understand why he did it, then seemed to have left it in pursuit of ideological criticism. I just wish he's own up to his mistake in linguisitics (and not leave us hanging there) and let us get on with our lives.
Thanks for passing by, signature103.

His political work (or, "idealogical criticism" as you put it) has somewhat over-shadowed his professional work in linguistics.

I can't quite see his "mistake", as you put - but perhaps you can amplify on that...if and when you pass by again.

But what we do know is that his TG grammar theory revolutionised our understanding of language acquisition - and 'threw out the window' the Behaviourist Model...something for which we can be eternally indebted to Chomsky.

Without his professional work, there would never have been something like Marc Hauser's 'Moral Minds', which puts forward the idea of a Moral Instinct (much like the Language Instinct).

Without his political work, there would never have been anything like the intelligent opposition and resistance to unaccountable power, as we have now.
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