Noam Chomsky


Field: Linguistics

b. December 7, 1928

Noam Chomsky Notes

Noam Chomsky has published over seventy books and more than one thousand articles. His topics range from linguistics to philosophy to political science to the cognitive sciences and psychology. He was an Associate Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at age 29. At 32 he became a full Professor. By age 47 he was an Institute Professor, a rare position reserved for very few members of the MIT teaching staff. In addition to having revolutionized the field of linguistics, Chomsky is known as a radical political activist, specifically, he is an anarchist.

When Chomsky was ten years old he wrote what is believed to be his first published work, an editorial about the fall of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War. Commenting on this precocious behavior, Chomsky biographer Robert Barsky writes:

It may seem incredible that a ten-year-old child could be so enthralled by a distant conflict and the complex issues upon which it hinged, but if we bear in mind the nature of Chomsky's family life and the kinds of interests he was encouraged to pursue, we may begin to understand how a child such as Noam could be capable of making the sort of important connections found in the Barcelona editorial.

Avram Noam Chomsky was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father, William (Zev) came to the United States from Russia in 1913. After working menial jobs in Baltimore, Maryland he was able to get through Johns Hopkins University and then moved to Philadelphia. Chomsky's father was an intellectual with varied interests. He had a particular passion for research in the field of medieval Hebrew language. William Chomsky authored numerous works including Hebrew, the Eternal Language (1957). He edited and annotated David Kimhi's Hebrew Grammar (Mikhlol) (1952). His son Noam, when he was 12 years old, had read an earlier draft of this study of 13th century Hebrew grammar. Chomsky's mother, Elsie Simonofsky, was also an intellectual, and like her husband, taught Hebrew at the religious school of the Mikveh Israel congregation in Philadelphia. It has been speculated that Chomsky's political beliefs were more influenced by his mother than his father. Her politics were decidedly more left-wing than her husband's. The household environment was awash in the traditions of Judaism and the Hebrew language..

At the age of two Chomsky's parents enrolled him in the Oak Lane Country Day School which was a progressive school run by Temple University. Oak Lane was representative of the "new" thinking in education, attempting to integrate the ideas expressed by the American philosopher John Dewey. A child's creative skills were encouraged as opposed to the competitive nature of traditional schools which emphasized grades. The freedom to explore ideas replaced the rigid curricula of the less progressive schools. It was at this school that Chomsky wrote his Barcelona editorial. He remained at Oak Lane until he matriculated at Central High School.

The combination of a rich, intellectual and vital family environment with an open, creative school environment conspired to produce a precocious young boy who could be sensitive enough to the social and political problems an ocean away.

Chomsky went on to the University of Pennsylvania in 1945 at the age of 16. He lived at home, teaching Hebrew during the afternoon's to help pay for the cost of his education. While at college Chomsky met the woman he would eventually marry, Carol Doris Schatz. He also met a teacher, Zellig Harris, who has been called the "father of discourse analysis." Harris influenced and encouraged Chomsky's interest in language. His senior college thesis was called "Morphophonemics of Modern Hebrew." A paper he revised for his master's degree which he earned in 1951. He received his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in 1955. Chomsky began his association with MIT in 1955.

During the 1960s and 1970s Chomsky was in the forefront of the anti-war movement and other radical political causes. In 1967 Chomsky was arrested during the October March on the Pentagon. He spent the night in jail with Norman Mailer. In 1979 he became embroiled in a controversy regarding Robert Faurisson, a professor of French literature at the University of Lyon. Faurisson called into question whether the Nazi holocaust ever existed. Chomsky's support for Faurisson was based on free speech principles; but public reaction to this support labeled Chomsky an anti-semite and neo-nazi sympathizer. This view of Chomsky, despite being inaccurate, was, in his view, supported by the dominant media in an attempt to marginalize him because of his radical and outspoken political opinions.

Through all his political activity, Chomsky has remained a teacher. It has been estimated that he is directly or indirectly responsible for an incredible number linguists currently working in the field. His commitment to teaching is consistent with his desire for the "good society." He is, as always, critical of the educational status quo:

Typically [students] come in interested, and the process of education is a way of driving that defect out of their minds. But if children['s]...normal interest is maintained or even aroused, they can do all kinds of things in ways we don't understand.

Chomsky and Sports

The only reference found regarding an interest in sports is a letter wherein Chomsky writes of playing a pick-up game of basketball:

with some kind of rubber ball we found and a makeshift bushel basket with the bottom knocked out that I managed to tack on to the house wall next to a driveway. (Letter to Barsky, 11/16/1995).

It is not known, if after having spent so much time in the Boston area, whether or not Chomsky is a Red Sox fan.

Photo Credits
Photos from Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, the companion book to the award winning film by Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick (1994). Mark Achbar ed., Black Rose Books, Distributed by University of Toronto Press. (Available through and

Used with the permission of Mark Achbar.

It is the polciy of the Cosmic Baseball Association to provide credit for creative work whenever it is known. If you know of credit information for any uncredited work, please contact

Figure 7

Noam Chomsky Official Cosmic Record
1997 Ionians c .288 198 57 10 37
Total 1 Season Batting
POS-Position; BA-Batting Average;AB-At Bats; H-Hits; HR-Homeruns; RBI- Runs Batted In

Noam Chomsky External Links

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Noam Chomsky 1998 Cosmic Player Plate
Published: November 15, 1997
Updated: July 16, 1998
Revised: June 17, 2002
Copyright © 1997, 1998 by the Cosmic Baseball Association