Chris Knight on Chomsky (the ‘linguist’ and the ‘anarchist’): Brilliant and exhilarating

Decoding Chomsky

Noam Chomsky ranks among the leading intellectual figures of modern times. He has changed the way we think about what it means to be human, gaining a position in the history of ideas – at least according to his supporters – comparable with that of Galileo or Descartes. Since launching his intellectual assault against the academic orthodoxies of the 1950s, he has succeeded – almost single-handedly – in revolutionizing linguistics and establishing it as a modern science. Such victories, however, have come at a cost. The stage was set for the ensuing ‘Linguistics Wars’1 when, as a young anarchist, Chomsky published his first book. He might as well have thrown a bomb. ‘The extraordinary and traumatic impact of the publication of Syntactic Structures by Noam Chomsky in 1957’, recalls one witness,2 ‘can hardly be appreciated by one who did not live through this upheaval’. From that moment, the battles have continued to rage.

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