Gary Marcus explores Noam Chomsky’s contribution to linguistics. Chomsky has turned eighty-four this December.
Noam Chomsky’s Legacy
Noam Chomsky turns eighty-four today, more than a half century after he exploded onto the scene of linguistics, in in the late nineteen-fifties, as a young professor at M.I.T. His career began perhaps most notably with a book review that helped launch an entire field of linguistics (known as generative grammar) and laid waste to another (the behaviorist view of B. F. Skinner that then dominated psychology). From that moment forward, linguistics truly has never been the same.
He remains as influential, and divisive, as he was when Larissa MacFarquhar wrote a Profile of Chomsky in The New Yorker nearly a decade ago (“The Devil’s Accountant”). He has at least three new essays on linguistics coming out soon, and if time has slowed him down, it’s not by very much. A few months ago, I sent him a manuscript and he replied, with comments, in less than half an hour.
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