Cover image for Chomsky : ideas and ideals
Chomsky : ideas and ideals
Smith, N. V. (Neilson Voyne)
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
ix, 268 pages ; 23 cm
The mirror of the mind -- The linguistic foundation -- Psychological reality -- Philosophical realism: commitments and controversies -- Language and freedom.
Subject Term:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library P85.C47 S64 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Chomsky has had a major influence on linguistics, psychology, and philosophy. In this rigorous yet accessible account of Chomsky's work, Neil Smith analyses Chomsky's key contributions to the study of both language and the mind. He gives a detailed exposition of Chomsky's linguistic theorizing, and examines the ideas for which he is best known. Smith discusses the psychological and philosophical implications of Chomsky's work, and argues that he has fundamentally changed the way we think of ourselves. Smith examines Chomsky's political ideas and how these fit intellectually with his scholarly work. The final chapter spells out the themes - rationality, creativity and modularity - that unite the disparate strands of his vast output. Throughout, Smith explores the controversy surrounding Chomsky's work, and explains why he has been both adulated and vilified.

Author Notes

Neil Smith is Professor and Head of Linguistics at University College London.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

As Smith (University College London) makes clear in his introduction to this important book, this is not a biography like Robert Barsky's Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent (CH, Jul '97). Rather, Smith takes on the monumental task of pulling together Chomsky's ideological, philosophical, and political contributions. The first two chapters set the foundation of Chomsky's linguistic work, placing linguistics in the field of hard sciences and providing a historic account of Chomsky's theories. The third and fourth chapters explore the psychological and philosophical aspects of Chomsky's work, particularly his treatment of "Plato's problem" (children's first-language acquisition). The final chapter turns to Chomsky's critique of US foreign policy. Smith was aided by more than 60 pages of notes, provided when Chomsky himself responded to a draft of this book, so the text is sprinkled with direct quotes, explanations, and vivid examples that are Chomsky's own. Smith's deference to Chomsky is least effective in the chapter on politics, and readers interested in this area will be better served by Milan Rai's Chomsky's Politics (CH, Dec '95). The present title will appeal to readers in all fields Chomsky has influenced, though it will challenge those uninitiated in linguistics. Thorough endnotes and excellent bibliography, with some annotations. Upper-division undergraduates and above. C. P. Jamison; Armstrong Atlantic State University

Table of Contents

Preface to the second editionp. xi
Acknowledgments for the first editionp. xiii
Introductionp. 1
Chomsky's achievementp. 1
On heroes and influencesp. 4
1 The mirror of the mindp. 6
Linguistics as a sciencep. 7
The nature of idealizationp. 10
Common sensep. 14
Modularityp. 15
Double dissociationp. 19
Modules and quasi-modulesp. 23
Intelligence and "learning"p. 24
Competence and performancep. 25
Competence and grammarp. 26
Rulesp. 27
I-language and E-languagep. 28
Performance, parsing, and pragmaticsp. 32
Parsing considerationsp. 32
Pragmatic considerationsp. 34
Competence and performance versus I-language and E-languagep. 35
Evolution and innatenessp. 36
Language acquisitionp. 37
Poverty of the stimulusp. 38
Word meaningp. 39
Universalsp. 40
Natural language and the language of thoughtp. 43
Summaryp. 45
2 The linguistic foundationp. 46
Introductionp. 46
Knowledge of languagep. 47
The lexiconp. 47
Knowledge of structurep. 49
Knowledge of structural relationsp. 50
Levels of representationp. 53
Constituents and rulesp. 54
Deep structurep. 56
Description versus explanationp. 58
From rules of principlesp. 60
The elimination of PS rulesp. 63
X-bar theoryp. 64
Government and Binding theoryp. 66
Binding theoryp. 66
Localityp. 68
Theta theoryp. 69
Case theory and governmentp. 70
Empty categoriesp. 73
The status of transformationsp. 76
Principles and parametersp. 78
Lexical and functional categoriesp. 80
Minimalismp. 83
Economyp. 86
The elements of Minimalismp. 88
Perfect syntaxp. 92
A historical progressionp. 93
Evolutionp. 94
3 Psychological realityp. 97
Causality and observabilityp. 99
Psychological reality and the nature of evidencep. 101
Intuitionsp. 103
Language processingp. 109
The derivational theory of complexityp. 110
Grammars and parsersp. 112
Parsing problemsp. 115
Economyp. 117
Language acquisition (Plato's problem)p. 119
Teaching versus learningp. 119
Learning versus growingp. 120
Parameter settingp. 120
The critical period hypothesisp. 123
Maturationp. 126
Language pathologyp. 129
Agenesis of the corpus callosump. 129
The polyglot savantp. 130
Specific language impairment (SLI)p. 131
Connectionism: the behaviorists strike backp. 133
4 Philosophical realism: commitments and controversiesp. 138
Commitmentsp. 138
Realismp. 138
I-language revisitedp. 140
Representation and computationp. 141
Naturalismp. 142
Mentalismp. 144
Tacit knowledgep. 145
The mind-body problemp. 146
Controversiesp. 147
Language and the worldp. 147
Language and the communityp. 150
Language and the individualp. 156
Problems of semanticsp. 162
Innatenessp. 167
Unification and reductionp. 173
Conclusionsp. 175
5 Language and freedomp. 176
Explanation and dissent: the common threadsp. 176
Relentless dissentp. 176
Common sense and theoryp. 176
Rationality, modularity, and creativityp. 179
Rationalityp. 179
Modularityp. 181
Malleability and plasticityp. 182
Creativityp. 184
The anarchist backgroundp. 185
The Encyclopedistesp. 188
The critique of (American) foreign policyp. 189
Vietnamp. 191
East Timorp. 192
9-11: terrorism and the "war on terror"p. 194
The critique of domestic policyp. 197
Pig farming in Haitip. 198
Drug traffickingp. 199
The critique of media controlp. 200
Murderp. 202
Third world electionsp. 202
The treason of the intellectualsp. 203
The technique of dissectionp. 204
The exposure of warped perspectivep. 205
The exposure of suppressed precursor eventsp. 206
The exposure of debased languagep. 207
Moral absolutes and options for the futurep. 209
The Faurisson affairp. 209
Islamic fundamentalismp. 210
Authorityp. 212
The positive programp. 212
Conclusionp. 214
Envoip. 216
Notesp. 217
Bibliographyp. 248
Indexp. 276

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