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date: 02 December 2023

Chomsky, Avram Noam

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics

P. H. Matthews

Chomsky, Avram Noam (1928– ) American linguist 

whose theories revolutionized much of the subject in the second half of the 20th century. In Syntactic Structures (1957), his first book and for many still his most important single work, he overturned the strategy of analysis developed by the Post-Bloomfieldians and replaced it with a formal theory of generative grammars and the concept of an evaluation procedure as a means of justifying them. In his next major book, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965), he proposed a theory of levels which included, in particular, the distinction between deep structure and surface structure; he also introduced the notion, in the long run far more important, that much of the structure of language in general is ‘innate’ or genetically inherited. From the end of the 1960s Chomsky’s work has been directed above all to the development of a theory of Universal Grammar, conceived as an account of what is so inherited and, by implication, to confirming that a Universal Grammar exists. A succession of works in the 1970s led by the end of the decade to what became known as a Principles and Parameters Theory: see in particular Reflections on Language (1975), Lectures on Government and Binding (1981), Knowledge of Language (1986), and, at a more popular level, Language and Problems of Knowledge (1988). His latest formulations form part of a programme of minimalism initiated in the early 1990s.