1988Basic SciencesCognitive Science
Avram Noam Chomsky photo

Avram Noam Chomsky

  • U.S.A. / December 7, 1928
  • Theoretical Linguist
  • Institute Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Creation of the Theory of Generative Grammar and Substantial Contribution to the Formation and Development of Cognitive Science

He proposed "the theory of generative grammar" and marked the beginning of a major revolution in linguistics, which provided an ambitious program to explain the structure of the human mind. He has encouraged the formation of cognitive science by giving it a basis in his theory.
*This field then was Field of Cognitive Science (in the wide sense).


Brief Biography

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
M. A., Graduate School, University of Pennsylvania
Ph. D. in Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania
Assistant Professor, MIT
Associate Professor, MIT
Professor, MIT
Institute Professor, MIT

Selected Awards and Honors

Honorary Degrees from the University of London and the University of Chicago
Honorary Degrees from Loyola University of Chicago, Swarthmore College, and Bard College
Honorary Degree from Delhi University (India)
APA Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions from The American Psychologist Association
Fellow of the British Psychologist Association and members of many academies

Major Works


Syntactic Structures


Aspects of the Theory of Syntax


Reflections or Language


Rules and Representations


Lectures on Government and Binding


Knowledge of Language


Creation of the Theory of Generative Grammar and Substantial Contribution to the Formation and Development of Cognitive Science

Dr. Chomsky is well recognized and respected for his revolutionary and epoch-making linguistical account titled, “The Generative Grammar Theory.” In this work, he established a highly developed system for elucidating the structure and workings of the human mind. This consequently gave birth to a new discipline known as cognitive science, a study built on an interdisciplinary collaboration of psychology, information science, linguistics, neurophysiology, and philosophy. Dr. Chomsky’s theory provides the underlying structural foundation for cognitive science.

Previous to the establishment of Dr. Chomsky’s Generative Grammar Theory, linguistical studies focused mainly on the recording of characteristic structures of each language and a subsequent classification thereof. However, they failed to establish an approach for illustrating linguistic universality. Linguistic philosophical principles were based on the notion that language was a behaviorally acquired experience learned from the surrounding environment and ignored the underlying intrinsical elements. Dr. Chomsky recognized that there was a general principle underlying the apparent disparities and differences and that this principle was common to all human languages. He reasoned that this universality was inherently common to human nature as it is rooted in the essence of humanity itself. By conducting research on the commonality of linguistic principles, Dr. Chomsky believed that not only linguistic structure, but also human mental processes, namely the structure of man’s inherently acquired reason, could be understood.

His Generative Grammar Theory was formulated on this essential concept. By taking a dynamic approach to syntactic rules as a means for generating sentences, he created a new scientific linguistical theory. Dr. Chomsky formulated his Generative Grammar Theory on a system of symbols, strictly defined by mathematical laws. His theoretical approach has become the basis for automata and mathematical linguistic theories which have since given rise to important fundamental developments in information science and computer science, in particular. The philosophical framework for Dr. Chomsky’s Generative Grammar Theory embodies the necessary elements worthy of world recognition as a basic science.

Along with the significant influences on linguistics and information science, Dr. Chomsky’s theory has led to the establishment of cognitive science, providing a sound theoretical basis. His work has also had a major influence on contemporary philosophy.

Dr. Chomsky is currently a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he is actively involved in research activities. He is still at the forefront of the field. By refining and extending his general theory, Dr. Chomsky has recently proposed “The Parameter Theory” which explains the grammatical differences between common universal structure and various languages. He is a true intellectual and a science man who conducts scientific research with peaceful intentions for the prosperity of humanistic values. He has trained and influenced many talented people and still maintains a dedicated and disciplined academic life.

Dr. Chomsky’s theoretical system remains an outstanding monument of 20th century science and thought. He can certainly be said to be one of the great academicians and scientists of this century.


Abstract of the Lecture

Language and Mind: Challenges and Prospects

With the impressive steps towards unification of the natural sciences in the twentieth century, the study of human thought and behavior has come to be seen as the next frontier of inquiry, posing new and provocative challenges. The cognitive sciences have introduced a shift of perspective in the study of these topics, from the study of behavior and its products to a focus on the internal mechanisms of mind that provide the basis for action, interpretation, and the growth of knowledge and understanding. This “cognitive revolution” has brought certain traditional questions to the forefront of scientific inquiry. It has also revived some classical ideas about the nature of thought and action, reconstructing them within a framework made available through the progress of the formal and natural sciences. In particular, these developments made it possible to undertake productive inquiry into the nature, use and acquisition of language, providing a guide for the inquiry into the neural mechanisms that have the properties and satisfy the conditions that are coming to light in this research, and thus offering the hope for further unification of scientific understanding.

Recent work suggests that the mind is highly modular, with interacting faculties that have their own internal structure. The language faculty is based on invariant principles, an element of the human biological endowment. These provide the basic structure of human languages and make it possible for a rich system of knowledge and understanding to develop, shared with others, on the basis of fragmentary data that suffices to determine the restricted options of variation that are permitted. This faculty is closely linked to motor and perceptual systems, and to a conceptual system with, it seems, similar properties. The language that “grows in the mind” as it is tuned to the environment is a generative procedure that determined the structure of an infinite array of expressions, permitting the free expression of thought.

Recent work suggests that language design is in a sense dysfunctional, meeting conditions of elegance and simplicity while yielding difficult computational problems for language use. These properties may be related to other features of language, unusual in the domain of biological systems. These properties do not prevent communication or conflict with evolutionary biology, but they do call for explanation.

The language faculty is apparently a true species property, common to the human species, unique to it in essentials, and fundamental to many aspects of human existence. It is also relatively accessible to study. While its detailed structure appears to be specific to it, we might suspect that other systems of knowledge, belief, judgment and creation may share some of the general properties that are coming to light as the faculty of language begins to yield some of its secrets.

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Cognitive Revolution –Approach from Language

November 12, 1988 13:00-17:00
Kyoto International Conference Center
Kazuko Inoue Professor, Kanda University of International Studies


Opening Remarks Shunichi Amari
Chairman of the Kyoto Prize Screening Committee in Basic Sciences;
Professor, Faculty of Engineering, the University of Tokyo
Greetings Kazuo Inamori
President, The Inamori Foundation
Greetings Heisuke Hironaka
Chairman, Kyoto Prize Committee in Basic Sciences;
Professor, Harvard University
Lecture Avram Noam Chomsky
Laureate in Basic Sciences
"Some Notes on Economy of Derivation and Representation"
Lecture Naoki Fujii
Assistant Professor, Keio University
"Remarks on the Proper Characterization of Barriers"
Lecture Nobuko Hasegawa
Associate Professor, Department of Literature, Shoin Women's University
"Passives in the Principles –and- Parameters Framework"
Lecture Yukiko Otsu
Associate Professor, Institute for Cultural and Linguistic Studies, Keio University
"On the Nature of the Grammar Acquisition Function"
Lecture Giyoo Hatano
Professor, Dokkyo University
"Language is not the only universal knowledge system: A view from 'everydaycognition'"
Questions and Answers