LINGUIST List 10.85

Tue Jan 19 1999

Sum: Source of Chomsky quote on "divine power"

Editor for this issue: Scott Fults <>


  1. Sean Dimond (S&T Onsite), Chomsky quote source

Message 1: Chomsky quote source

Date: Tue, 12 Jan 1999 11:59:23 -0800
From: Sean Dimond (S&T Onsite) <>
Subject: Chomsky quote source

Several people have responded to my query to this list, and after a
few days of internet research and emailing with a few colleagues and
followers of NC, I have had no definitive answer as to whether or not
NC actually 'said' that a divine power gave us language in that single
inspired stroke... and while some have hinted that the NC 'could' of
said it, most everyone has agreed that NC would *never* of said this
and meant it in any literal sense.

I emailed time magazine and my response from an editor said that the quote was merely a characterization of a news article, Dec. 5,
1998, titled "A Changed Noam Chomsky Simplifies" (I've purchased this
article from the LA Times archives, and have included it below). The
article is about NC's Minimalist Program, and the entire hubub seems
to have arisen from this one line:

"Imagine, Mr. Chomsky says, that some divine superengineer, in a
single efficient stroke, endowed humans with the power of language
where formerly they had none."

I posted a query on the chomsky chat message board at, and
the sysop there, who sends and facilitates weekly queries to NC himself,

"Noam did not use the word divine... It was simply added to the
interview, willy nilly, to suit the author of the article, presumably.
He made a typical comment, a hypothetical thought experiment to
explain a point, and the listener apparently took it wrong, and then
embelished it as well. "

Still no reply from NC himself, of course. 

Just fyi, I am interested in this as i've just begun a thesis looking
into post-mod constructivist ideas of cognition and lingual origin
making possible a new approach and reading of theology. Particularly
the jewish and christian doctrine of the 'imago deo'. Using maturana
and varela, heiddeger, and a little bit o' NC. I would obviously be
very interested in any thoughts or comments along these lines.

Thanks so much for the responses from this list, and here is the times

-sean dimond

A Changed Noam Chomsky Simplifies 

[LINGUIST has deleted the article for copyright reasons. If you would
like more information, please respond to Mr. Dimond.]
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