Reflecting on Noam Chomsky’s 66 years at MIT

On the occasion of his move to Tuscon, Arizona and his acceptance of a university post there

MIT Professor Emeritus of Linguistics Noam Chomsky recently joined the University of Arizona as a laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics and the Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice. The Tech corresponded with Professor Chomsky over email and sat down with the Head of the Linguistics and Philosophy Department David Pesetsky for an interview earlier this September to talk about Chomsky’s MIT experience and legacy.

If you walked into Noam Chomsky’s former Thursday afternoon linguistics class, you would have found a crowd of over 200 people, comprised not only of the ten to twenty MIT students enrolled in the class, but also curious students from other departments and established academics from other schools, Pesetsky recalled. Linguistics professors would plan their travels around these lectures, making sure to include a half-day stop in Boston while flying across the globe. Those Thursday afternoon classes were not your average college seminars — they were hubs for intellectual activity.

Chomsky first arrived in September 1951, as a graduate student at the Harvard Society of Fellows. Chomsky described his initial exposure to MIT’s intellectual atmosphere as “challenging, vibrant, with lively interchanges among researchers in a variety of disciplines” and building 20 as “a marvel of excitement and interaction.”

Here, Chomsky met Halle, a professor in the linguistics department, who became Chomsky’s “very close friend and colleague.” After Chomsky graduated and attained his position as a professor, the two shared an office at the Modern Language Department and Research Laboratory of Electronics.

Chomsky worked with Halle to establish the modern linguistics department. In the past, Pesetsky said, “[linguistics] was [a] sort of…

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