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Lezing 14 Maart van Noam Chomsky in Leiden over Syntax
Noam Chomsky in Nederland Maart 2011

Lezing over syntax: 'Problems of Projection' op het Leiden University Centre for Linguistics (LUCL). Daaronder een kort interview met Lisa Cheng, de professor die Chomsky naar Nederland haalde.

Dim lights

Polymath Noam Chomsky (1928) revolutionised linguistics in the 1960s while at the same time making a name for himself as a political activist. The renowned MIT emeritus professor is visiting the Netherlands this week. On 14 March, Chomsky will be a guest at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics, where he will be giving a lecture for linguists about his core business: syntax. The lecture is fully booked. Chomsky is the founder of Generative Grammar. The big question he asked his students was: how can children learn the complex grammatical rules of their own language? Could it be that all human languages are variations on a single universal grammar?

Revolutionary approach

We asked a few questions of Prof. Lisa Cheng, chair in General Linguistics, and herself one of Chomsky’s former PhD students: 

Lisa, what would you say was so revolutionary about Chomsky’s ideas? What was his most important contribution to linguistics?
Well, I would say that his most important contribution was that he made linguistics into a real scientific discipline. That was his goal, actually: he wanted to explain how children acquire language, and in doing so, he brought linguistics to the level of an explanatory, rather than merely descriptive discipline.

You have worked with Chomsky yourself. What did you learn from him and what was he like as a teacher?
I learned a lot, mostly how to think and how to argue, as well as how not to lose sight of the bigger picture. He was an intense teacher, but absolutely fantastic to work with.

Why would you say that Chomsky was, and still is, so extremely controversial in some linguistic circles?
I think that in any scientific field, there is going to be disagreement and discussion, and that is as it should be if we want our knowledge to grow. But in the particular case of linguistics and Chomsky’s contribution, the genetic endowment for language is probably the one which triggers most controversy. And maybe this is true for many other fields too, that innateness as a notion tends to lead to heated debate.

How has neuroscience in your opinion influenced the idea of an innate language capacity?
At this point, there is still much that remains to be done before we can say whether neuroscience will be able to resolve the controversy regarding the innateness of language. But there is much exciting research going on at the moment. 

What do you think Chomsky means to Leiden linguistics today, especially in view of the fact that linguistics in Leiden is so strongly interdisciplinary and diverse?
I think that Chomsky’s theoretical ideas have to this day an incredible impact on theoretical linguistics, and if we talk about neuroscience, or any kind of interdisciplinary studies, a theoretical framework is absolutely essential in order to formulate working hypotheses.
 

Over Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky Wereldbekende linguïst en activist. Tussen 1980 en 1992 was hij de meest geciteerde levende persoon. Verkozen tot belangrijkste intellectueel ter wereld.

Lees, kijk en luister Chomsky over:

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