Re: Time 100: TimBL named one of 20 scientists of the century

Robert S. Thau (
Tue, 30 Mar 1999 11:42:48 -0500 (EST)

Ian Andrew Bell writes:
> James Tauber wrote:
> > Or Noam Chomsky.
> Seriously, though, WHY would Noam Chomsky be one of the top 20
> Scientists of the century. Most of his academic work extends the work
> of a much more significant figure in social theory, Marshall McLuhan.
> Of course, he was Canadian, so who really cares...

Ummm... one of us is deeply confused.

Chomsky's academic work is deep foundational linguistics,
concentrating on issues of grammar and sentence structure, and on
trying to identify common features of numerous natural languages. He
doesn't try to study even the full spectrum of communications among
individual humans (images, for instance, are way out of bounds), let
alone the structure of societies --- the two things McLuhan is most
known for. He concentrates on language alone, and his biggest
contribution to his field, for good or ill, is the notion that
language (or more precisely, grammar) *can* be studied in isolation
from other sensory facilities, emotions, social structures, and so
forth --- in short, that you can study grammar without *having* to
think McLuhan-type thoughts.

Chomsky's politics are something else entirely, BTW, and have little
direct connection to his work on natural language grammar.