John Maher

Introducing Chomsky

Linguist Noam Chomsky maintains that the human brain has an innate language faculty, and that part of this biological endowment is a 'universal grammar', a theory of principles common to all languages. Thus, all human languages and the ways in which children learn them are remarkably similar.

Chomsky's book Syntactic Structures was a turning-point in 20th-century linguistics, challenging assumptions in many areas such as philosophy, psychology and intellectual history. Heir to the Enlightenment tradition, Chomsky has introduced new perspectives on language, the creative individual and the nature of human freedom in society.

Introducing Chomsky traces Chomsky's understanding of the cognitive realities involved in the use of language, and the technical apparatus needed to represent it. The book also describes Chomsky's radical critique of the institutions of power and the pathways of oppression, and his commitment to freedom and justice.
305 printed pages
Original publication



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    Yohanahas quotedlast year
    Chomsky is interested in the question: to what extent and in what ways can inquiry in the “Galilean style” yield understanding of the roots of human nature in the cognitive domain?
    Yohanahas quotedlast year
    There’s a view that a language is a set of grammatical expressions. That makes no sense at all, yet it’s a very common view
    Another view is that language is some kind of socio-political phenomenon. It’s like the notion “region”. The world isn’t divided into regions, but we use the notion all the time because it’s useful.
    Yohanahas quotedlast year
    E-Language and I-Language

    Chomsky originally developed the notion of competence, which is the system of knowledge that a native speaker possesses. This cognitive system or domain is reformulated, rather differently, as I-language: a state of the mind-brain. I-language is what a child acquires when it learns language: an instantiation of the initial state. It is highly abstract, remote from ordinary behaviour and mechanisms. By contrast, E-language means external, extensional, any concept of language that is not internal to the mind-brain. So, if one refers to “Irish” as the language they talk where it is dotted orange on a map of Ireland, that’s a case of E-language. It bears conceptual resemblance but no special relation to the earlier term performance – how language is actually used. E-language relates neither to competence nor performance, which are about organisms, nor to complicated socio-political constructs.

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