LINGUIST List 10.85

Tue Jan 19 1999

Sum: Source of Chomsky quote on "divine power"

Editor for this issue: Scott Fults <>


  • 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, said:

    "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 article.

    Best, -sean dimond

    A Changed Noam Chomsky Simplifies By MARGALIT FOX

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