Language as a Way of Knowlegde

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Language as a source of knowledge

Submitted: July 02, 2017

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Submitted: July 02, 2017



Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician, political commentator, and activist. Denoted as the “father of modern linguistics,” Chomsky focuses on analytic philosophy and on that basis diverged into an extensive study into language as a way of knowing and various implications being dealt with and resolute factors that impact language as a whole (Tomasello).

Noam Chomsky’s main core idea, revolved around the bounding regions of Generative Grammar. Generative Grammar can be defined as linguists who work within the framework of generative grammar and strive to develop a general theory that reveals the rules and laws that govern the structure of particular languages, and the general laws and principles governing all natural languages (Browning). The basic areas of study of generative grammar revolve around four dominant components:  phonology (the study of the sound patterns of language), morphology (the study of the structure and meaning of words), syntax (the study of the structure of sentences), and semantics (the study of linguistic meaning) (Jovanovich Inc.). A core idea that is associated with this terminology is that humans have an innate language faculty and that the universal principles of human language reflect the basic properties of this said language faculty (Browning).

Generative Grammar came to the attention of Chomsky by the way of its trenchant critique of behaviorist theories of language acquisition and use, and indeed played an important role in the cognitive revolution. Side by side came a curious band of nativism, however, Chomsky did not rely of behavioral observations of the type conventional in the scientific study of human behavior and cognition (Jovanovich Inc.). Instead Chomsky focused and relied on logical arguments simply based on his proof that grammars based solely on sequential associations, that in essence don’t account for many natural language phenomena’s. In addition, he clarified the principle of abstract syntax, which in essence could not be learned or understood by simply observing particular basic instances of language.  Chomsky however, kept updating his ideas and philosophies on linguistics as generative grammar started to really evolve. Often times a variety of empirical phenomena’s, extended nativistic hypotheses to aspects of language structure that were later incorporated in Chomsky’s original logical arguments and statements.

Another key component to Chomsky’s beliefs that evolved from his study and experience in the field of linguistics was the theory of Universal Grammar. Universal Grammar is basically a theory in linguistics that suggests that there are properties that all possible natural human languages have ( The theory suggests that some rules of grammar are hard-wired into the brain, and manifest without being taught, simply implying that they may be innate. To confirm this, Chomsky has stated "I think, yet the world thinks in me", which exemplifies the fact that he believes that since humans have undergone evolution and have been created by nature, that Universal Grammar is a biological evolutionary trait, and therefore common to all humans in existence (

Noam Chomsky regards his ideas towards language, based on logical assumptions and valuable reasonings to back up his asserted claims. The means of interacting, language is a very broad topic, however, Chomsky points out the from birth there is a sense of grasping a head start and also being able to acquire the skill at a quicker and more efficient pace. Chomsky would argue that if ones neurological maps (the brain’s language) became perhaps damaged, it is highly probable that one is on the verge of a mental disease. An alteration in one’s verbal language is not likely to have a long lasting impact on thought. Thought correlates to the basis of language directly as what one may think or assume from a possible observation is communicated and presented through the means of a standardized language system, in our case through the Latin derived language of English (Wikipedia). Although, language may be the central or main theme, the structure of thought and its subsequent procedure and progression delves into the common foe deemed by Noam Chomsky of language.

In the early 20th century, emerged a theory know as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (SWH) states that there is a systematic relationship between the grammatical categories of the language a person speaks in his day-to-day life and how that person both understands the world and behaves in it ( The Sapir Wharf Hypothesis was a collaborative work of Benjamin Wharf and Edward Sapir, hence the name of the hypothesis, Sapir-Wharf Hypothesis. Noam Chomsky would refute the Sapir-Wharf Hypothesis, based on his main focus and direction on the innateness and universality of language. However, changes took place in the later half of the 20th century, when the Sapir-Wharf Hypothesis was altered based upon its advances in cognitive psychology and anthropological linguistics, which basically renewed interest in the SWH ( Another drawback for the hypothesis is that most thought is constrained by language, which can be discovered through personal experience. As you have probably noticed with public and even us in general we sometimes encounter with occasional difficulty expressing ourselves due to constraints in the language, and we are constantly conscious that the language is not adequate for what we intent to imply (

Language is undoubtedly a great way of knowing, however there are specific limitations, which coincide and impact the ways of knowing. Language as a way of knowing, according to Chomsky is a great way to acquire means of certainty based upon the Universal or Generative Grammar terminologies. Likewise, Chomsky does not find it appropriate to solely believe that the Sapir-Wharf Hypothesis is accurate to assert this claim as a way of knowing. Instead Chomsky focuses more on innate and building block way of knowing. Chomsky also believes that thought does not directly correlate with the idea of language, primarily because we may think something or in particular way, but we are unable to present or give off that same message in words. Hence, Chomsky points out many limitations of language as a source of knowing.












Works Cited

Tomasello, Michael. "Langauge Is Not an Instinct." Cognitive Development. Atlanta, GA: Emory University, 1994. 131-56. Print.


Jovanovich Inc, Harcourt Brace. "Language and Mind. Noam Chomsky (1968)." Language and Mind. Noam Chomsky (1968). Andy Blunden, Feb. 2005. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.


Browning, Maggie. "Generative Grammar." Generative Grammar. Princeton University, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.


Princeton.Edu. "Universal Grammar." Universal Grammar. Princeton University, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.


Princeton.Edu. "Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis." Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis. Princeton University, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.


Wikipedia. "Wikia." Cognitive Linguistics. Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.

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