Chomsky, Noam

Professor of Linguistics, MIT

Noam Chomsky is an eminent linguist and a radical political philosopher of international reputation. He was born on December 7, 1928 in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA) where he grew up in a family of Ukrainian and Belarusian Jewish immigrants who had gone through New York before settling in Philadelphia. According to Chomsky they remained "immersed in both Hebrew culture and literature." Not surprisingly, therefore, Chomsky’s parents both taught at a Hebrew school. Before he was two years of age they sent him to an experimental progressive school, where he remained until the age of twelve. There he would learn that everybody has a place and that everyone can do something important. Chomsky himself remembers a childhood absorbed in reading. He can see himself curled up on a sofa reading the books he used to borrow from the library often up to a dozen at a time. Having until then been to a school where he would neither experience competition amongst his classmates nor any kind of ranking relative to others, he would not learn until middle school that he is a good student. His years there and subsequently in high school, however, were characterized by ruthless competitiveness and they remain a period of his life almost completely blocked out of his memory, except for the emotional aspects, which he has qualified as rather negative. Today Chomsky is Professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he has taught all of his career. He founded generative linguistics, which in and of itself was a revolution in his field and beyond. He also became known to the general public, both at home and abroad by being a committed intellectual with a clear inclination for what he referred to early as "anarcho-syndicalism". Syndicalisme is a French word derived from Greek that means "trade unionism". The first article Chomsky ever wrote was published in the school newspaper just a few weeks after his tenth birthday as an editorial on the fall of Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War. Chomsky came across anarchism very young and even published an anti-fascist article when he was just twelve. Thanks to an assistance program for persons with disabilities in New York City in the 30s, Chomsky’s uncle who was a hunchback had been given a newspaper stand to tend behind the exit of the subway station of the 72nd Street and Broadway. The kiosk, as a result of being behind the exit hardly made any money, but it became a forum where radical ideas came together, and where the young Chomsky would work in the evenings and take part in the rich intellectual debates. Chomsky would even declare years later that it is where he got his political education. Chomsky has been a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and of the National Academy of Sciences. Over the years Noam Chomsky has been invited to numerous major universities all around the globe. He has received at least ten honorary university degrees from around the world. In 1988, Japan awarded him with the Kyoto Prize for the Basic Sciences category. In terms of its prestige, its intent, and its monetary value ($350,000), it is very similar to the Nobel Prize. He has been the eighth most cited intellectual in the scientific literature for a long time and was identified in 2005 by the British magazine Prospect as the most influential living scholar in the world. Indeed his influence extends beyond that of science and in 1992 The Arts and Humanities Citation Index recognized Chomsky as being cited more than any other living scholar in the eighties and early nineties. Indeed, with William Shakespeare, Karl Marx and the Bible, Chomsky is apparently one of the top ten most cited in the humanities.