A hand raps lightly on the office door.
the universal grammar of Knuckle, a language that goes deeper than human
speech. Dr. A. Noam Chomsky C48 G51 Gr55 Hon84 glances over his shoulder
and emits an utterance to the rapper: OK, just a minute, which turns
out to mean something like, Come back in five or 10 minutes and try again.
Then he revs up his language module and the quiet torrent of words resumes,
his discourse segueing effortlessly from the structure of cognitive systems
to the degradation of classical liberalism to Eugene Debs and the crushing
of the labor movement to Richard Nixons dismantling of the Bretton Woods
international economic system to the World Trade Organizations next meeting
in Qatar to the totalitarian nature of corporations to
The meaning of this second Knuckle discourse is clear even to someone
who has never heard the dialect before. Chomsky again says that hell
be done in just a minute, which this time I translate to mean, I know
this chowderhead is taking advantage of my generosity, but since he came
all the way up from Philadelphia, lets cut him a little slack.
knuckles belong to Bev Stohl, Chomskys personable assistant and, um,
temporal structuralist. She reigns supreme in the outer office of the
Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT, where Chomsky is the
Institute Professor of Linguistics. Even legendary anarchists sometimes
need a firm hand and a system to save them from their own discursive effusiveness.
question: Given that he pretty much changed the course of linguistics
and the cognitive sciences with his theory of a language faculty inherent
in all humans, does it ever strike him as ironic that his own language
faculty borders on the superhuman?|
he says mildly, twisting a small piece of paper in his fingers. I dont
particularly like speaking. Its one of those things which I never intended
That would explain the barely audible voice and the initial hesitancy
to accept yet another interview request. (His schedule is booked months
in advance, and he turns down several interview requests each day.) But
it should not be taken to mean that he stumbled blindly into his second
career as a public intellectual and high-profile dissident.
remember very well deciding whether to make that move, he says, pinpointing
the decision to about 1960. You cant get into these things casually.
If you get involved, its going to be very demanding, and more than a
full-time life. You either do it seriously or you dont do it at all.
by any definition of the word, does it seriously. In Poland, some
people assumed there were two Noam Chomskys: the seminal, prolific linguist
and the seminal, prolific dissenter. The notion that one man could be
both was apparently incomprehensible. Even now, this 72-year-old grandfather
of four shows few signs of slowing down. Dr. Lila Gleitman G72 Gr75,
the Steven and Marcia Roth Professor of Psychology and professor of linguistics
at Penn and an old friend of Chomskys, may have figured out his secret.
She thinks its unfair that he has 30-hour days and the rest of us only
have 24-hour days.