Noam Chomsky Essay
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Example Essay on Noam Chomsky
From his father, Noam Chomsky was introduced to the field of linguistics and received some early information in the historical principles linguistics. Chomsky’s mother, Elsie, was and is equally significant to Noam’s development as a thinker and linguist. Her political consciousness had encouraged him, from a very young age, to look further than his present social context and into the area of political action and involvement.
In 1953, Chomsky traveled to Europe and he determined that his endeavor to “formalize structural linguistics would not work because language was a highly abstract generative phenomenon.” (Ree, 2000) He then decided that his further studies should relate to models of this phenomenon. He concurs that language acquisition is not a specified process of “generalization, association, and abstraction,” that goes from linguistic details to the grammar. (Chomsky, 1990)
As we begin to move beyond the study of a single sign language and examine other sign languages of the world, an unexpected first impression appears. For those of us accustomed to the sometimes wild differences among unrelated spoken languages, distinct signed languages look much less wildly different.
Unrelated sign languages are certainly mutually unintelligible, as has been noted by many investigators, and vary greatly in their lexicons and basic word orders. Cross-linguistic research on sign languages does not yet include any languages that are radically different in typology from ASL. In short, whereas each sign language looks like some spoken language of the world, different sign languages thus far look unexpectedly like each other.
Is this a mistaken impression from too early and too small a sample of cross-linguistic research? Is it the result of studying only young languages, which have also been claimed to look surprisingly like one another in the auditory-vocal mode? Or is it something important and revealing about the true nature of modality and language? Only further research can untangle these questions.
In the auditory-vocal mode, there is a large distance between the nonlinguistic resources from which languages develop and the linguistic systems that eventually result. This is certainly not absolute: A number of interesting and important suggestions have been made about perceptual and motor constraints on spoken language structure.
For example, we now know that the phonetic categories of languages arise from auditory perceptual categories that predate the phonetic contrasts both developmentally and evolutionarily. Nonetheless, compared with gesture, the auditoryvocal modes seem strikingly arbitrary, even empty. In the visual-gestural mode, there appears to be a great deal more structure in nonlinguistic behavior, and also, perhaps, more uniform tendencies across sign languages to grammaticize these nonlinguistic resources in very similar ways.
1.Chomsky, N. Current Issues in Linguistic Theory. New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1990.
2.Ree, J. I See a Voice. New York: Harper Collins, 2000.