Noam Chomsky’s contributions to Language Studies
K. Anand Kumar
Ph.D Research Scholar, Bharathiar University, Coimbatore
The Bible says, God created Adam and “What so ever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof ” (Genesis 2:19). In every religion, there appears to be a divine source that provides humans with language. We, the people temd to take language for granted as natural phenomena. Language however is not a natural phenomenon; it is a creation of man’s social needs. We, like all other living creatures, depend upon the trinity – air, water and earth. In the same way the society depends upon the language for its existence.
Languages are governed by grammatical rules. Linguist Noam Chomsky thinks the human brain is set up to understand these rules. He is the best known and the most influential linguist of the second half of the 20th century. He has made a number of strong claims about language. He defines that we are born with a set of rules about language in our heads which he calls as the Universal Grammar. Theory of Universal Grammar is based on the notion that the grammar of all human language is based on a set of innate principles.
Chomsky’s major contribution to the language studies was that he made it Scientific and he gave scientific approach to language studies. As we come to know that there is a universal basis in the mind that incorporates the basic principles and we set values to these principles based on the data we get by exposure to an unorganized and random set of utterances via interaction with other people.
Grammar had only described language – which is useful for learning a language without telling us anything how about language works inside the mind before the advent of Chomsky’s Generative Grammar during the 1950s.
Language is one essential component of the human mind. The human brain is the most complex and intricate biological system we know. When we study its properties and manifestations, we are studying what we call ‘mind’. The human mind appears to consist of different systems. Each intricate and highly specialized with interactions of a kind that are largely fixed by our biological endowment, in these respects it is like all other known biological systems.
Chomsky says that the study of language is understanding the character of mental processes i.e. “language is a mirror of mind”. One may be interested in language for many different reasons, and from many different points of view. Chomsky had these central questions in his mind which dominated his interest : (1) What is it that we know, when we know a language? (2) How is this knowledge acquired? Answers to these questions would have been something like this: (1) A language is a certain system of habits and skills; to know a language is to have mastered these skills. (2) Knowledge of language is acquired by such mechanisms as conditioning, association, practice in exercising skills, etc.
Use of language is not an exercise of any habit or skill whereas use of language is creative i.e. it constantly involves the production and interpretation of new forms, new in the experience of the language user or even in the history of the language. As we talk about language as a system of communication, we speak of human language. Even animals have communication systems and they communicate in a variety of ways. For instance, bees dance, dogs bark and cats mew, etc… using only a very limited range of devices unlike human beings.
A person’s language may be a means of identifying his or her position on a social or cultural scale. Many languages are spoken in the world. Every language has its various mechanisms – some rooted in human reason, others arbitrary and adventitious – for the expressions of thought, which is a constant across languages. Arbitrary means that there is no connection between the sound or form of any word and the object which represents. For example, we do not know...
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