Noam Chomsky

MIT

.

Many of you who donate to Fund Drive do so in order to support the student crew, thereby contributing to the future of linguistics. Without your donations, we, the LINGUIST graduate students, probably would not have had the chance to meet and interact with the linguists who will ultimately influence our lives and careers. This year, as a special treat for our subscribers, each of us on the LINGUIST graduate crew has asked a linguist who has been influential in our lives to share with us how they first became interested in linguistics.


The basic outlines are simple enough. As a 17-year old sophomore in 1946, I was pretty much disillusioned with college and thinking of dropping out. Through shared political interests, I met Zellig Harris, and in conversation became interested in his linguistic work, at first his history of Canaanite dialects, which related to matters I had some familiarity with, having read my father's doctoral dissertation on the 13th century Hebrew grammarian David Kimhi and other work on Semitic linguistics; and the one freshman course that I really found engaging was Arabic, with a fine scholar, Giorgio Levi della Vida.

Harris suggested that I proof-read his Methods of Structural Linguistics, my introduction to the modern field, and take his graduate courses, then on discourse analysis. He also suggested that I take graduate courses with several outstanding figures at the university, among them Nelson Goodman (philosophy) and Nathan Fine (mathematics), which I also did. By then the enthusiasm had returned -- and in retrospect, I suspect that Harris, a remarkable person who had an enormous influence on a great many young people, was subtly inducing me to go on in college.

By 1948 I was also working on my own on an undergraduate thesis, a generative grammar of Modern Hebrew, mostly morphophonemics (revised 1951 version published in 1979). And then on from there.


Dan Parker nominated Noam Chomsky because of his influences on social and political thought as well as his advancements in generative grammar

Back to 'Linguist of the Day' page