One of South Africa’s leading language experts, Professor Rajend Mesthrie, was guest speaker at UCT’s Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts’ Great Texts / Big Questions lecture on 15 April. He discussed ‘Syntactic Structures: Noam Chomsky and the colourless green revolution in language studies’.
Avram Noam Chomsky is considered by many to be the father of modern linguistics. Mesthrie’s lecture has Chomsky’s first book Syntactic Structures (published in 1957) as a starting point. “Syntactic Structures started a revolution in language studies,” says Mesthrie, “This involved a Kuhnian shift from the 1940s and 1950s approach of seeing Linguistics as a descriptive science characterizing the languages of the world, to explaining the cognitive (generative) element of language in the human mind.” Mesthrie’s lecture will consider how Chomsky influenced fields as diverse as the psychology of language, child language development, grammar and sign language, as well as his central place in understanding the social versus the genetic in the humanities.
Professor Rajend Mesthrie holds a Research Chair in Linguistics within the University of Cape Town’s English Department (a National Research Foundation-sponsored SARCHI chair in Language, Migration, and Social Change). He is a past president of the Linguistics Society of Southern Africa and a previous head of Linguistics at UCT (between 1998 and 2009). He is series editor of Key Topics in Sociolinguistics for Cambridge University Press (CUP) and one of the co-editors of the CUP journal English Today. He is a prolific author; his publications include the edited collection Language in South Africa (CUP 2002) described by reviewers as “compulsory reading” and “essential knowledge” for all students and scholars of sociolinguistics in South Africa.
Dr Rob Baum, director of UCT’s Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts (GIPCA) said “Chomsky’s influence on education and government - which in ancient times were considered associated if not synonymous - is inestimable. His theories on language studies are of global interest and have cultural and national relevance in South Africa today, where there is much debate around language and identity.”
#3 Noam Chomsky image by Fellowsisters shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.
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