Friday, December 7, 2007

Noam Chomsky's Birthday

It's the birthday of the linguist and political analyst Noam Chomsky, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia (1928), who started out as a linguist at a time when most linguists believed that language is something children only learn through habit and practice. But Chomsky believed that language was instinctive in human beings, and in his book Syntactic Structures (1957), he developed a way of describing grammatical elements of all languages to show that there is a universal grammar innate to the human brain. His ideas revolutionized the field, making him the foremost linguist in the world.

But today, he's better known for his radical political ideas. He first got involved in politics during the Vietnam War, helping to organize the protest march on the Pentagon that Norman Mailer wrote about in his book Armies of the Night. Chomsky and Mailer ended up sharing a jail cell after the march, and Mailer described him as "a slim, sharp-featured man with an ascetic expression and an air of gentle but absolute moral integrity."

He still writes about linguistics, but he's also written books about American foreign policy, including Manufacturing Consent (1986) and Deterring Democracy (1991).

-The Writer's Almanac

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