Monday, September 19, 2022

Noam Chomsky on how we learn language

These days Noam Chomsky cuts a rather sad figure as one whose deep opposition to US imperialism has blinded him to the realities of Russian imperialism.

But it wasn't always like that.

Here he is interviewed for Bryan Magee's BBC2 philosophy series Men of Ideas in 1978. The quality of the conversation makes me weep for the glory days of public service broadcasting, even if the opening titles lead you to expect a Monty Python sketch.

Magee's opening precis of Chomsky's ideas is a masterpiece in itself. I have linked just to that portion of the programme, but the whole of it will reward your watching. Magee does bring up Chomsky's politics towards the end of the interview.

I don't know if Chomsky's ideas are in fashion now in linguistics or philosophy, but he was an exciting and innovative figure in his day. I still remember reading his demolition of B.F.Skinner's Behaviourist account of how children learn language 40 years ago.

These Men of Ideas programmes mean a lot to me because I watched them in the summer before I went to York to read Philosophy and they gave me a wonderful introduction to the subject.

What I didn't know then was that, as a boy during the war, Magee was evacuated from Hoxton to Market Harborough and had lived literally round the corner from where I was watching his programmes.

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