|Birth Day:||December 7, 1928|
|Birth Place:||Philadelphia, United States|
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He wrote his first article at age ten while attending the Oak Lane Country Day School. The article's ambitious subject was the spread of fascism.
Avram Noam Chomsky was born on December 7, 1928, in the East Oak Lane neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His parents, Ze'ev "William" Chomsky and Elsie Simonofsky, were Jewish immigrants. William had fled the Russian Empire in 1913 to escape conscription and worked in Baltimore sweatshops and Hebrew elementary schools before attending university. After moving to Philadelphia, William became principal of the Congregation Mikveh Israel religious school and joined the Gratz College faculty. He placed great emphasis on educating people so that they would be "well integrated, free and independent in their thinking, concerned about improving and enhancing the world, and eager to participate in making life more meaningful and worthwhile for all", a mission that shaped and was subsequently adopted by his son. Elsie was a teacher and activist born in Belarus. They met at Mikveh Israel, where they both worked.
Noam was the Chomskys' first child. His younger brother, David Eli Chomsky, was born five years later, in 1934. The brothers were close, though David was more easygoing while Noam could be very competitive. Chomsky and his brother were raised Jewish, being taught Hebrew and regularly involved with discussing the political theories of Zionism; the family was particularly influenced by the Left Zionist writings of Ahad Ha'am. Chomsky faced antisemitism as a child, particularly from Philadelphia's Irish and German communities.
In 1945, aged 16, Chomsky began a general program of study at the University of Pennsylvania, where he explored philosophy, logic, and languages and developed a primary interest in learning Arabic. Living at home, he funded his undergraduate degree by teaching Hebrew. Frustrated with his experiences at the university, he considered dropping out and moving to a kibbutz in Mandatory Palestine, but his intellectual curiosity was reawakened through conversations with the Russian-born linguist Zellig Harris, whom he first met in a political circle in 1947. Harris introduced Chomsky to the field of theoretical linguistics and convinced him to major in the subject. Chomsky's BA honors thesis, "Morphophonemics of Modern Hebrew", applied Harris's methods to the language. Chomsky revised this thesis for his MA, which he received from the University of Pennsylvania in 1951; it was subsequently published as a book. He also developed his interest in philosophy while at university, in particular under the tutelage of Nelson Goodman.
In 1947 Chomsky began a romantic relationship with Carol Doris Schatz, whom he had known since early childhood. They married in 1949. After Chomsky was made a Fellow at Harvard, the couple moved to the Allston area of Boston and remained there until 1965, when they relocated to the suburb of Lexington. In 1953 the couple took a Harvard travel grant to Europe, from the United Kingdom through France, Switzerland into Italy, and Israel, where they lived in Hashomer Hatzair's HaZore'a kibbutz. Despite enjoying himself, Chomsky was appalled by the country's Jewish nationalism, anti-Arab racism and, within the kibbutz's leftist community, pro-Stalinism.
From 1951 to 1955 Chomsky was a member of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University, where he undertook research on what became his doctoral dissertation. Having been encouraged by Goodman to apply, Chomsky was attracted to Harvard in part because the philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine was based there. Both Quine and a visiting philosopher, J. L. Austin of the University of Oxford, strongly influenced Chomsky. In 1952 Chomsky published his first academic article, Systems of Syntactic Analysis, which appeared not in a journal of linguistics but in The Journal of Symbolic Logic. Highly critical of the established behaviorist currents in linguistics, in 1954 he presented his ideas at lectures at the University of Chicago and Yale University. He had not been registered as a student at Pennsylvania for four years, but in 1955 he submitted a thesis setting out his ideas on transformational grammar; he was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree for it, and it was privately distributed among specialists on microfilm before being published in 1975 as part of The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory. Harvard professor George Armitage Miller was impressed by Chomsky's thesis and collaborated with him on several technical papers in mathematical linguistics. Chomsky's doctorate exempted him from compulsory military service, which was otherwise due to begin in 1955.
Chomsky befriended two linguists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Morris Halle and Roman Jakobson, the latter of whom secured him an assistant professor position there in 1955. At MIT, Chomsky spent half his time on a mechanical translation project and half teaching a course on linguistics and philosophy. He described MIT as "a pretty free and open place, open to experimentation and without rigid requirements. It was just perfect for someone of my idiosyncratic interests and work." In 1957 MIT promoted him to the position of associate professor, and from 1957 to 1958 he was also employed by Columbia University as a visiting professor. The Chomskys had their first child that same year, a daughter named Aviva. He also published his first book on linguistics, Syntactic Structures, a work that radically opposed the dominant Harris–Bloomfield trend in the field. Responses to Chomsky's ideas ranged from indifference to hostility, and his work proved divisive and caused "significant upheaval" in the discipline. The linguist John Lyons later asserted that Syntactic Structures "revolutionized the scientific study of language". From 1958 to 1959 Chomsky was a National Science Foundation fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.
In 1959, Chomsky published a review of B. F. Skinner's 1957 book Verbal Behavior in the academic journal Language, in which he argued against Skinner's view of language as learned behavior. The review argued that Skinner ignored the role of human creativity in linguistics and helped to establish Chomsky as an intellectual. With Halle, Chomsky proceeded to found MIT's graduate program in linguistics. In 1961 he was awarded tenure, becoming a full professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics. Chomsky went on to be appointed plenary speaker at the Ninth International Congress of Linguists, held in 1962 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which established him as the de facto spokesperson of American linguistics. Between 1963 and 1965 he consulted on a military-sponsored project "to establish natural language as an operational language for command and control"; Barbara Partee, a collaborator on this project and then-student of Chomsky, has said this research was justified to the military on the basis that "in the event of a nuclear war, the generals would be underground with some computers trying to manage things, and that it would probably be easier to teach computers to understand English than to teach the generals to program."
Chomsky joined protests against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War in 1962, speaking on the subject at small gatherings in churches and homes. His 1967 critique of U.S. involvement, "The Responsibility of Intellectuals", among other contributions to The New York Review of Books, debuted Chomsky as a public dissident. This essay and other political articles were collected and published in 1969 as part of Chomsky's first political book, American Power and the New Mandarins. He followed this with further political books, including At War with Asia (1971), The Backroom Boys (1973), For Reasons of State (1973), and Peace in the Middle East? (1975), published by Pantheon Books. These publications led to Chomsky's association with the American New Left movement, though he thought little of prominent New Left intellectuals Herbert Marcuse and Erich Fromm and preferred the company of activists to that of intellectuals. Chomsky remained largely ignored by the mainstream press throughout this period.
Chomsky continued to publish his linguistic ideas throughout the decade, including in Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965), Topics in the Theory of Generative Grammar (1966), and Cartesian Linguistics: A Chapter in the History of Rationalist Thought (1966). Along with Halle, he also edited the Studies in Language series of books for Harper and Row. As he began to accrue significant academic recognition and honors for his work, Chomsky lectured at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1966. His Beckman lectures at Berkeley were assembled and published as Language and Mind in 1968. Despite his growing stature, an intellectual falling-out between Chomsky and some of his early colleagues and doctoral students—including Paul Postal, John "Haj" Ross, George Lakoff, and James D. McCawley—triggered a series of academic debates that came to be known as the "Linguistics Wars", although they revolved largely around philosophical issues rather than linguistics proper.
Chomsky has attracted controversy for calling established political and academic figures "corrupt", "fascist", and "fraudulent". His colleague Steven Pinker has said that he "portrays people who disagree with him as stupid or evil, using withering scorn in his rhetoric", and that this contributes to the extreme reactions he receives from critics. Chomsky avoids attending academic conferences, including left-oriented ones such as the Socialist Scholars Conference, preferring to speak to activist groups or hold university seminars for mass audiences. His approach to academic freedom has led him to support MIT academics whose actions he deplores; in 1969, when Chomsky heard that Walt Rostow, a major architect of the Vietnam war, wanted to return to work at MIT, Chomsky threatened "to protest publicly" if Rostow was denied a position at MIT. In 1989, when Pentagon adviser John Deutch applied to be president of MIT, Chomsky supported his candidacy. Later, when Deutch became head of the CIA, The New York Times quoted Chomsky as saying, "He has more honesty and integrity than anyone I've ever met. ... If somebody's got to be running the CIA, I'm glad it's him."
He also became involved in left-wing activism. Chomsky refused to pay half his taxes, publicly supported students who refused the draft, and was arrested while participating an anti-war teach-in outside the Pentagon. During this time, Chomsky co-founded the anti-war collective RESIST with Mitchell Goodman, Denise Levertov, William Sloane Coffin, and Dwight Macdonald. Although he questioned the objectives of the 1968 student protests, Chomsky gave many lectures to student activist groups and, with his colleague Louis Kampf, ran undergraduate courses on politics at MIT independently of the conservative-dominated political science department. When student activists campaigned to stop weapons and counterinsurgency research at MIT, Chomsky was sympathetic but felt that the research should remain under MIT's oversight and limited to systems of deterrence and defense. In 1970 he visited southeast Asia to lecture at Vietnam's Hanoi University of Science and Technology and toured war refugee camps in Laos. In 1973 he helped lead a committee commemorating the 50th anniversary of the War Resisters League.
In 1970, the London Times named Chomsky one of the "makers of the twentieth century". He was voted the world's leading public intellectual in The 2005 Global Intellectuals Poll jointly conducted by American magazine Foreign Policy and British magazine Prospect. New Statesman readers listed Chomsky among the world's foremost heroes in 2006.
His work in linguistics continued to gain international recognition as he received multiple honorary doctorates. He delivered public lectures at the University of Cambridge, Columbia University (Woodbridge Lectures), and Stanford University. His appearance in a 1971 debate with French continental philosopher Michel Foucault positioned Chomsky as a symbolic figurehead of analytic philosophy. He continued to publish extensively on linguistics, producing Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar (1972), an enlarged edition of Language and Mind (1972), and Reflections on Language (1975). In 1974 Chomsky became a corresponding fellow of the British Academy.
Chomsky's famous 1971 debate on human nature with the French philosopher Michel Foucault was symbolic in positioning Chomsky as the prototypical analytic philosopher against Foucault, a stalwart of the continental tradition. It showed what appeared to be irreconcilable differences between two moral and intellectual luminaries of the 20th century. Foucault's position was that of critique, that human nature could not be conceived in terms foreign to present understanding, while Chomsky held that human nature contained universalities such as a common standard of moral justice as deduced through reason based on what rationally serves human necessity. Chomsky criticized postmodernism and French philosophy generally, arguing that the obscure language of postmodern, leftist philosophers gives little aid to the working classes. He has also debated analytic philosophers, including Tyler Burge, Donald Davidson, Michael Dummett, Saul Kripke, Thomas Nagel, Hilary Putnam, Willard Van Orman Quine, and John Searle.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, Chomsky's linguistic publications expanded and clarified his earlier work, addressing his critics and updating his grammatical theory. His political talks often generated considerable controversy, particularly when he criticized the Israeli government and military. In the early 1970s Chomsky began collaborating with Edward S. Herman, who had also published critiques of the U.S. war in Vietnam. Together they wrote Counter-Revolutionary Violence: Bloodbaths in Fact & Propaganda, a book that criticized U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia and the mainstream media's failure to cover it. Warner Modular published it in 1973, but its parent company disapproved of the book's contents and ordered all copies destroyed.
While mainstream publishing options proved elusive, Chomsky found support from Michael Albert's South End Press, an activist-oriented publishing company. In 1979, South End published Chomsky and Herman's revised Counter-Revolutionary Violence as the two-volume The Political Economy of Human Rights, which compares U.S. media reactions to the Cambodian genocide and the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. It argues that because Indonesia was a U.S. ally, U.S. media ignored the East Timorese situation while focusing on events in Cambodia, a U.S. enemy. Chomsky's response included two testimonials before the United Nations' Special Committee on Decolonization, successful encouragement for American media to cover the occupation, and meetings with refugees in Lisbon. The Marxist academic Steven Lukes publicly accused Chomsky of betraying his anarchist ideals and acting as an apologist for Cambodian leader Pol Pot. The controversy damaged Chomsky's reputation, and he maintains that his critics deliberately printed lies to defame him.
In 1985, during the Nicaraguan Contra War—in which the U.S. supported the contra militia against the Sandinista government—Chomsky traveled to Managua to meet with workers' organizations and refugees of the conflict, giving public lectures on politics and linguistics. Many of these lectures were published in 1987 as On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures. In 1983 he published The Fateful Triangle, which argued that the U.S. had continually used the Israeli–Palestinian conflict for its own ends. In 1988, Chomsky visited the Palestinian territories to witness the impact of Israeli occupation.
In 1988, Chomsky and Herman published Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, in which they outlined their propaganda model for understanding mainstream media. They argued that even in countries without official censorship, the news is censored through five filters that have great impact on what stories are reported and how they are presented. The book was inspired by Alex Carey and adapted into a 1992 film. In 1989, Chomsky published Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies, in which he suggests that democratic citizens, to make a worthwhile democracy, undertake intellectual self-defense against the media and elite intellectual culture that seeks to control them. By the 1980s, Chomsky's students had become prominent linguists who, in turn, expanded and revised his linguistic theories.
In the 1990s, Chomsky embraced political activism to a greater degree than before. Retaining his commitment to the cause of East Timorese independence, in 1995 he visited Australia to talk on the issue at the behest of the East Timorese Relief Association and the National Council for East Timorese Resistance. The lectures he gave on the subject were published as Powers and Prospects in 1996. As a result of the international publicity Chomsky generated, his biographer Wolfgang Sperlich opined that he did more to aid the cause of East Timorese independence than anyone but the investigative journalist John Pilger. After East Timor attained independence from Indonesia in 1999, the Australian-led International Force for East Timor arrived as a peacekeeping force; Chomsky was critical of this, believing it was designed to secure Australian access to East Timor's oil and gas reserves under the Timor Gap Treaty.
After the September 11 attacks in 2001, Chomsky was widely interviewed; Seven Stories Press collated and published these interviews that October. Chomsky argued that the ensuing War on Terror was not a new development but a continuation of U.S. foreign policy and concomitant rhetoric since at least the Reagan era. He gave the D.T. Lakdawala Memorial Lecture in New Delhi in 2001, and in 2003 visited Cuba at the invitation of the Latin American Association of Social Scientists. Chomsky's 2003 Hegemony or Survival articulated what he called the United States' "imperial grand strategy" and critiqued the Iraq War and other aspects of the War on Terror. Chomsky toured internationally with greater regularity during this period.
Chomsky retired from MIT in 2002, but continued to conduct research and seminars on campus as an emeritus. That same year he visited Turkey to attend the trial of a publisher who had been accused of treason for printing one of Chomsky's books; Chomsky insisted on being a co-defendant and amid international media attention the Security Courts dropped the charge on the first day. During that trip Chomsky visited Kurdish areas of Turkey and spoke out in favor of the Kurds' human rights. A supporter of the World Social Forum, he attended its conferences in Brazil in both 2002 and 2003, also attending the Forum event in India.
Chomsky received the 2004 Carl-von-Ossietzky Prize from the city of Oldenburg, Germany, to acknowledge his body of work as a political analyst and media critic. He received an honorary fellowship in 2005 from the Literary and Historical Society of University College Dublin. He received the 2008 President's Medal from the Literary and Debating Society of the National University of Ireland, Galway. Since 2009, he has been an honorary member of International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI). He received the University of Wisconsin's A.E. Havens Center's Award for Lifetime Contribution to Critical Scholarship and was inducted into IEEE Intelligent Systems' AI's Hall of Fame for "significant contributions to the field of AI and intelligent systems." Chomsky has an Erdős number of four.
Chomsky was married to Carol (née Carol Doris Schatz) from 1949 until her death in 2008. They had three children together: Aviva (b. 1957), Diane (b. 1960), and Harry (b. 1967). In 2014, Chomsky married Valeria Wasserman.
Chomsky has written prolifically on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, aiming to raise public awareness of it. He has long endorsed a left binationalist program in Israel and Palestine, seeking to create a democratic state in the Levant that is home to both Jews and Arabs. Nevertheless, given the realpolitik of the situation, he has also considered a two-state solution on the condition that the nation-states exist on equal terms. Chomsky was denied entry to the West Bank in 2010 because of his criticisms of Israel. He had been invited to deliver a lecture at Bir Zeit University and was to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman later said that Chomsky was denied entry by mistake.
In 2011, the US Peace Memorial Foundation awarded Chomsky the US Peace Prize for anti-war activities over five decades. For his work in human rights, peace, and social criticism, he received the 2011 Sydney Peace Prize, the 2017 Seán MacBride Peace Prize and the Dorothy Eldridge Peacemaker Award.
Chomsky supported the Occupy movement, delivering talks at encampments and producing two works that chronicled its influence: Occupy (2012), a pamphlet, and Occupy: Reflections on Class War, Rebellion and Solidarity (2013). He attributed Occupy's growth to a perception that the Democratic Party had abandoned the interests of the white working class. In March 2014, Chomsky joined the advisory council of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, an organization that advocates the global abolition of nuclear weapons, as a senior fellow. The 2016 documentary Requiem for the American Dream summarizes his views on capitalism and economic inequality through a "75-minute teach-in".
Chomsky's criticism of Israel has led to his being called a traitor to the Jewish people and an anti-Semite. Criticizing Chomsky's defense of the right of individuals to engage in Holocaust denial on the grounds that freedom of speech must be extended to all viewpoints, Werner Cohn called Chomsky "the most important patron" of the neo-Nazi movement. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called him a Holocaust denier, describing him as a "dupe of intellectual pride so overweening that he is incapable of making distinctions between totalitarian and democratic societies, between oppressors and victims". In turn, Chomsky has claimed that the ADL is dominated by "Stalinist types" who oppose democracy in Israel. The lawyer Alan Dershowitz has called Chomsky a "false prophet of the left"; Chomsky called Dershowitz "a complete liar" who is on "a crazed jihad, dedicating much of his life to trying to destroy my reputation". In early 2016, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey publicly rebuked Chomsky after he signed an open letter condemning Erdoğan for his anti-Kurdish repression and double standards on terrorism. Chomsky accused Erdoğan of hypocrisy, noting that Erdoğan supports al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, the al-Nusra Front.
In 2017, Chomsky taught a short-term politics course at the University of Arizona in Tucson and was later hired as a part-time professor in the linguistics department there, with his duties including teaching and public seminars. His salary is covered by philanthropic donations.
Chomsky signed the Declaration on the Common Language of the Croats, Serbs, Bosniaks and Montenegrins in 2018.
In February 2020, before attending the 2020 Hay Festival in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Chomsky signed a letter of condemnation of the violation of freedom of speech in the emirate, referring to the arrest of human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor. Other signers included authors Stephen Fry and Jung Chang.
Currently, Noam Chomsky is 92 years, 10 months and 11 days old. Noam Chomsky will celebrate 93rd birthday on a Tuesday 7th of December 2021.
Find out about Noam Chomsky birthday activities in timeline view here.