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Noam Chomsky: a skeptic's view of the commitment to human rights (Released: 4/3/96)

by Mark J. Roy, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a noted critic of American foreign policy, will offer a skeptic's view on human rights policy in a lecture April 10 at the University of Connecticut.

Chomsky will discuss "The Commitment to Human Rights: A Skeptical View" at 7:30 p.m. in the UConn Student Union Ballroom on Hillside Road. The lecture, free and open to the public, is part of UConn's continuing series of events in observance of Fifty Years After Nuremberg: Human Rights and the Rule of Law.

In the 1960s, Chomsky was critical of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. From his books, articles and public speaking, he became better known to the public for his political views than for his linguistic scholarship. His first book on the Vietnam War, American Power and the New Mandarins, identified technocrats, bureaucrats and university-trained scholars as "New Mandarins" who defended America's right to dominate the globe, and criticized American decision-making that led to the war in Southeast Asia.

Political issues, particularly issues relating to human rights, have been the subject of many of Chomsky's subsequent books and articles, exploring "other political hotbeds around the world, drawing the conclusion that U.S. interests in human rights, justice, and morality are inevitably subordinated to big business profit-making," according to a biographical essay on Chomsky in the 1991 edition of Major 20th Century Writers.

While it is Chomsky's views on human rights issues and his socio- political criticism that will bring him to UConn, he is equally known to scholars and others for his theories on language. While a Junior Fellow at Harvard in the early 1950s, he completed his doctoral dissertation on "Transformational Analysis." The major theoretical viewpoints of the dissertation appeared in the monograph Syntactic Structure, published in 1957. This formed part of a more extensive work, The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory, was published in 1975.

"His work revolutionized the field of linguistics and actually recreated it," says Howard Lasnik, a UConn professor of linguistics. "Linguistics is an ancient and very traditional field but one which had a number of errors in its development, and Chomsky corrected those errors. He concluded, and his colleagues and students have further developed, the theory that language is a core property of the mind, that it is innate and that even very young children develop language skills without training."

Chomsky has written and lectured widely on linguistics, philosophy, intellectual history, contemporary issues, international affairs and U.S. foreign policy. Among his published works are: Aspects of the Theory of Syntax; American Power and the New Mandarins: At War with Asia; Reflections on Language; Towards a New Cold War; Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origins and Use; The Culture of Terrorism; Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War and U.S. Political Culture; and Letters from Lexington: Reflection on Propaganda.

A native of Philadelphia, Chomsky received his bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. A member of the MIT faculty since 1955, he was appointed Institute Professor in 1976, serving in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Science. He is a member of other professional and learned societies in the United States and abroad, and is a recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association. Chomsky's lecture at UConn is sponsored by the Council on Peace Education, the Student Union Board of Governors, and the Dodd Year Academic Committee.

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