Chomsky begins by describing a formative experience in his early linguistics career. In 1946 he realized that The Bible was mistranslated. The Bible begins “In the beginning god created…“ That’s a mistranslation due to grammatical errors by Masoretic scholars who put the vowels in around the 8th century. Young Noam at 18 years old figured that if the first couple of words in The Bible can be wrong in the authoritative text, and wrong in translation, and nobody noticed it for 1000 years, there’s got to be something interesting to learn about language. He goes on to say that “the more you look the more you find everything is misunderstood. And when you think about it a little more, that’s not terribly that surprising. That’s the way the history of sciences work.”
In this lecture and discussion Chomsky reviews the state of understanding of language at the origins of generative grammar, the ways questions were reformulated and new ones devised, what progress has been made and what new problems and difficulties have arisen, and what seems within reach in Linguistics.
Noam Chomsky, by any measure, has led a most extraordinary life. In one index he is ranked as the eighth most cited person in history, right up there with Aristotle, Shakespeare, Marx, Plato and Freud. The legendary MIT professor practically invented modern linguistics. In addition to his pioneering work in that field he has been a leading voice for peace and social justice for many decades. Chris Hedges says he is “America’s greatest intellectual” who “makes the powerful, as well as their liberal apologists, deeply uncomfortable.” He is Institute Professor (emeritus) in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT and Laureate Professor of Linguistics and Haury Chair in the Program in Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona. At 89, he still gives lectures all over the world. He is the author of scores of books, including Propaganda & the Public Mind, How the World Works, Power Systems and Global Discontents with David Barsamian.