Noam Chomsky: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Charles Kinney, Jr.
Noam Chomsky is a linguist and activist. He is known for his outspoken arguments about political and academic freedom. His thoughts and ideas on many subjects are studied and quoted for their inspirational and intellectual value.

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky is a linguist, author, human rights and political activist who was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1928. Mr. Chomsky studied at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University. He teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His books and ideas are highly studied. Mr. Chomsky has become a world-famous icon for his political ideas and linguistic theories, especially on how children learn a language (innate ability versus learned ability) and his revolutionary way of understanding languages.

Noam Chomsky
Chomsky

Before Mr. Chomsky, many people believed a child would only develop a language as a learned ability that is taught or encouraged. Mr. Chomsky believes that a child has innate ability. A child in Egypt and a child in France will produce the same language patterns at around the same age, even though the languages seem as different as Arabic and French (or English, Mandarin or any other language). This means that if a child makes a mistake in something like irregular plural form, like two mouses instead of two mice (mouse/mice), other children will make a similar mistake in a different language.

This concept,universal grammar, proposes that human brain development comes with pre-wired ability. Any child can learn any language if put in that learning environment. A child from Spain could learn Japanese if the child grows up in a Japanese-speaking environment. An easier way to think of it is like your mobile phone or computer that already comes with pre-loaded software. All that is needed is to turn on the switch.

Mr. Chomsky is also noted for his belief in anarchism, which is a complex idea with many forms. For Mr. Chomsky, Anarchism is the idea that people should be identified as free individuals rather than members of a hierarchical state or system, like a government, that controls them.

If they choose, individuals become part of groups, even those on the far end of the spectrum, like communist collectives.

Since the Vietnam War (1955-1976) , Mr. Chomsky has been an outspoken and sometimes controversial opponent of the US government. He has also been a critic of global politics, censuring foreign governments for their involvement in oppressive policies and war.

Quotes from Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky is well-known for his writings. His work is frequently quoted for his ability to inspire intellectual and academic curiosity, and for the questions he raises about the status quo, or the way things are. The following quotes are a sampling of some of his many famous statements and ideas:

Ideas On the Modern World

We shouldn't be looking for heroes, we should be looking for good ideas.

For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.

How it is we have so much information, but know so little?

Ideas On Political and Ideological Expression

If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.

If you're really in favor of free speech, then you're in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you're not in favor of free speech.

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