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The Concept of Language (Noam Chomsky)

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Linguist Noam Chomsky, professor at MIT, discusses the ways in which language changes over time and how the idea of a national language is a modern phenomenon. In this University of Washington interview, Upon Reflection host Al Page speaks with Chomsky about how languages are systems of communication rooted in human nature.
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Text Comments (411)
Andy Palmer (2 days ago)
Chomsky’s alright but that 1989 graphic design is out of this world
D Personal (16 days ago)
Chomsky is a Zionist gatekeeper. As such, he ultimately supports the Deep State because it supports Israel, The Homeland of the Jews, which is why he doesn't actively promote third parties. He has openly said that he is a Zionist. And he's a liar: @t
Leo Neale Palmer (16 days ago)
dark ending geez
Daniel camus (22 days ago)
Mr. Chomsky continually and consistently straight lines all his innumerable insights; this interviewer is staid.
Josiah Tejeros (1 month ago)
His speaking was now very different from today. Why?
TBoneZone (1 month ago)
This is not really useful, because it is only talking about the way Language used to be, in the Past, which is not the way it is going to be in the Future, when we grow up. Then will be able to Format the Universal Language, which will be needed, for both People and the Machines, so that People can Talk to Machines, using their Keyboards, or a Microphone, or by waving their arms, or any number of things, and then the Machines can talk back to us, or other Machines.  That language will be the Universal Code, and that will need to be very precise. And so there is a very real good reason, why we need to Refine a Good Language that is Absolutely Exact, with No Exceptions. We should be designing the New Language right now. And so this might be a way to become more popular, and to seem cool, because it makes the people feel warm and fuzzy inside, and so it is more like a Drug, but it is not Real Leadership. - T
rembeadgc (1 month ago)
People, out of insecurity, become dogmatic about language and many other things. There are things to be afraid of because death is real. Dogma is a desperate attempt to hold onto life and meaning. Dogma actually impedes life and meaning.
Maria Clara Mendes (1 month ago)
Either Place (1 month ago)
18:33 "If you're just throwing paint around randomly, it's not a work of art." Jackson Pollock: *Hold my beer*
Why'd Chomsky say English words don't "quite follow the order of the thoughts", and thus French is clearer?
Jonas Steinberg (1 month ago)
Chomsky elucidates the politics of language.
Momocha Angom (1 month ago)
Professor Noam Chomsky.
John NoNameGibbon (1 month ago)
LOL What the fuck was that at the end, Chomsky!?
John NoNameGibbon (1 month ago)
If French is similar to German, does that mean Portuguese is too? It's the only romance language that acts French, despite being geographically more distant than Spanish.
Felix de Villiers (2 months ago)
I enjoy Chomsky's talks and often listen to them.. I'm half-German and German poetry - often combined with music - and prose are very important to me. Neverthelss, even if French has some grammatical features in common with German, it does not sound in the slightest bit like German. French had a wonderful influence on English - due to the Norman conquest: the guttural sounds disappeared or were softened. Where in English we say "I thought" a German will say "Ich dachte" The guttural gh in English is not pronounced and even the d becomes a soft th. In German poetry I feel that there is a beauty in the way lyricism flows of the the guttural sounds which offer resistance to mere lyrical flow. I can never decide which poetry I prefer, but if you put a gun to my head I would choose English. As for French it is a sublimely beautiful language: Je suis le ténébreux, le veuf, l'inconsolé, Le Prince d'Acquitaine a la tour abolie...
Felix de Villiers (2 months ago)
I have found while studying languages that musicality has an influence on grammar or construction. The Queen says "My husband and I" and not "I and my husband." The first version has a rhytm and a cadence. This putting of syllables. vowels and consonances in the right place with a rhythm and cadence is taken to an extreme in good poetry
Heike (2 months ago)
Listening to Noam Chomsky makes me feel so peaceful, what a powerful man.
hotstixx (2 months ago)
Endlessly facinating man.
Dima Moussa Mawlawi (2 months ago)
Amazing linguist I really wish to meet
Vladimir Remmirez (2 months ago)
Noam Chomsky founded ASMR
Six Million (2 months ago)
That background high pitched tone needs filtering
Kendall Kessler (2 months ago)
Great video! Language is fascinating!
Snowdenbleep (2 months ago)
Chomsky always benefits from 1.25, and nowadays 1.5x speed :D
Ralph Cramden (2 months ago)
Very bad sound quality !
kathleen smith (2 months ago)
CHARLATAN ---- Look up Sapir and Whorf and how language is being used to control how we think by elite. Chomsky is controlled opposition , for Christ Sake he works at MIT (home of the pentagon) . Studies show that language effects how your perceive the world (because you use it to think in) -- Chomsky says this is not true. OF course if is true -- look up Lera Boroditsky she does a great TED Talk. Language is huge for how we think and our culture -- the British knew this more than 100 years ago that is why they made it illegal for the Irish to speak their native language.
Your Muslim Brother (2 months ago)
Lol you are much more controlled opposition than Professor Chomsky... He actually gives a serious, sophisticated & verifiable critique of power structures, government, the wealthy, the elite etc which relies on evidence, facts, logic instead of laughable, idiotic, paranoid, easily refuted conspiracy theories.... You're simply stupid and know nothing.... You have never read a chomsky book or listened to his lectures but expect us to take your idiotic clown ass seriously.. please die and do the world a favour.
One Little Indian (2 months ago)
How is it that there is black English as the professor says? That's the question to delve into. N'wawa englishmondawa pilowikloziwi ta malsiklozi, awaka wji w8mbimadah8do mindozigalasi zahagachibao!
kage (2 months ago)
chomsky gives the impression of being casually superhuman
Alex Peek (2 months ago)
chomsky is an absolute baller
Nick Tait (2 months ago)
This is incredible, listening to Chomsky elucidate on the mystery of language using his own articulate and nuanced speech has a delightful effect on me.
ARgmail (2 months ago)
English is very beautiful. It's often overlooked but as a person that speaks 4 languages it's definitely the most beautiful.
Your Muslim Brother (2 months ago)
"Definitely".... no you idiot, beauty is subjective... i speak 4 languages and arabic is more beautiful
ryh (3 months ago)
14:51 Must be street Scouse.
KeskinCookin (3 months ago)
Great insight into language.
Paul Mamani (3 months ago)
Well done
naturphilosophie1 (3 months ago)
the best way to interview chomsky is to get him fired up a bit then get smacked with knowledge.
Jorge Diaz (3 months ago)
I like the "... in fact " he uses mid explanation....its like a "listen up ..you don't wanna miss this"
M Krump (3 months ago)
The first question set the tone... And it's pretty stupid view of point... How german is different from French... ((WTF!!! this question Haha. Le dictionnaire and the Worterbuch are something like 300,000 different words and opposed meaning.))
d Lon (3 months ago)
M Krump Noice. Overstood
M Krump (3 months ago)
+d Lon ... My perspective is based on stuff that I listen. Like any scholarship dudes with doctorats somehow all based on books and some kind analyst from schema(algorithm) that are found through different layers about the same subjects... If you add the others nations perspective... I dont know much I do not have any information about let say Romania or Modern Greece perception.
Cesar Sandoval (4 months ago)
this is still true to date
Murph (4 months ago)
I have read enough of the comments to come to the conclusion everyone must be a liberal-leftist moron. What is wrong with you people? You are obviously incapable of logical thinking. Oh that's right, you're probably also Democrats!
Murph (4 months ago)
Typical! A guy with a degree and tenure and still doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. I am 7 minutes into this video and he could have expressed that France or Italy or any European country, had at one time hundreds of dialects of each of those languages. Small groups or niches of people growing in every facet including language. This is still seen in Asia, more specifically the Chinese and Australia with the Aborigines. You give too much credit to people like Noam Chomsky. Think outside the box people! This goes along with the theory that all humans came from Africa. If everyone came from Africa from the beginning, all language would be the same! My argument Remains the Same... If it can happen in one place, it can happen in an infinite number of places and that goes for everywhere on Earth. It is clear there are different types of humans and as we grew in population those forms of communication I.e., language, developed among the groups. Pseudoscience is really becoming a pain in the ass!
BAYAN IBRAHIM (4 months ago)
The little black thing is it mustache ?
Frank R. Pilot (4 months ago)
One language less wars.
TeaParty1776 (4 months ago)
Chomsky's evasion of man's volitional mind prevents him from understanding language. See Intro To Objectivist Epistemology by Ayn Rand.
Chris Heinrich (4 months ago)
Freggs uh jun filadi mun chura val copa del ihuaniht, voc stalli achumaya. Dil umbroshi fil dusturn. See, I can even invent my own language!
Inge Justa van der Helm (5 months ago)
Hugh Laurie & Stephen Fry on language (very funny) -> https://youtu.be/3MWpHQQ-wQg
Nilotpal Mishra (5 months ago)
wise words!
greenspringvalley (5 months ago)
Excellent questions. Asking about humor.
nfltrrr qwsa (5 months ago)
the editing is not awkward enough..
jeff jones (5 months ago)
That is interesting. Every other video, he is talking about politics, psychology, philosophy...You wouldn't know from them, that he is a professor of linguistics! Would have sworn he was a history or political science prof!
bhenadrecra (5 months ago)
that first joke ‘the french would probably say so’ was so obviously cut in afterwards. it’s hilarious
BAYAN IBRAHIM (4 months ago)
bhenadrecra can u explain the joke for me ?
Tim Rowe (5 months ago)
What the fuck, how does he know so much?
Steve C (5 months ago)
At least his hair got more interesting after time...
Tom K (6 months ago)
The man is amazing and extremely smart!
Kevin Jones (6 months ago)
This editing is really humorous. The interviewer seems to abruptly and unnaturally interrupt Chomsky with his l'esprit d'escalier to Chomsky’s counter of his question.
Med El (6 months ago)
Makayen ri DARIJA s7ab najib ybano hna
Leo Alexander (6 months ago)
Ahhhh, you fuckin' teachers throwin' shit, "Stop throwin' oranges at us kids. They're hard and ultimately counterproductive!" is what I'd sad ; ) "Why don't you just get right out of town!" Nah, but seriously, we have our fun, but everyone's welcome.
Leo Alexander (6 months ago)
The interviewer's interjections, like that travesty of a joke at 0.37, look edited in; which makes it much worse. That's their idea of a witty comeback.
Sean Healy (6 months ago)
10:09 Dang, didn't know Chomsky grew up on the streets!
Ron Budd (6 months ago)
Sometimes I HATE to listen to this guy but he does know what he's talking about....
Xavier Boyer (6 months ago)
HI All RAS students
ceveretus (6 months ago)
I've never heard Chomsky full of this much doublespeak and contradiction. Of course the frenchman thinks he's speaking the language of truth, Chomsky scoffs. That's his language. And then, showing the same fallacious thinking, Chomsky overlooks the wealth of innovation in English and finds it instead in the stone age tribes of Australia, astounding innovations! Get real. What is he, Jared Diamond? Not a good performance from 'Ol Chompsk here.
Robert Byers (6 months ago)
Why does he accuse americans of KIND of genocide against Indians. tHis is not only false but nobody says it ever who was actually doing history. why does he attack his country? if he hates america then go back to israel and deal with THEIR indians.
Mark Majkowski (7 months ago)
He often answers another question and adds historical distractions. As to learning language versus taught which seems an important distinction — liken learning from what you hear like a child to proper usage to any skill that starts weak and develops. Black dialect was taught for a while in some schools in the 90’s. I think language is like farming. First you eat what you can then you try new options that refine and improve. The way he describes this is that there is no difference between a cave drawing and the LHC or a child’s poem and Hamlet. The language usage seems very different. Science was mostly written in German because the Germans did most of the science. English is international language versus desire for Esperanto. I’d like to know how word distinction and usage develops with technology and specialization — and what he thinks the number of words constitute adequacy for a language. Or how he thinks words cause thought impressions to form or he used. I sense language is how we interact but also how we conceptualize process and distinguish what we experience and humans can distinguish thousands of things in meaningful ways compared to pigs or dolphins or insects. Which might have eat, reproduce, evade as the concepts of language processing they can manage. I’m not a linguist but it seems language is how you compare your thoughts to other’s thoughts or even to think. And the more you can think and express the better. Math is just a language, too, but it seems like it is a bit more precise to describe concepts more complex than rock or on as in no one argues what an = means but sometimes we don’t know what is is. What other species can comprehend an imaginary number or the S wave equation? Probably several in our galaxy (with their own nomenclature and symbols) whom we’ve never met. And I bet we both would quickly agree on what an H atom is or an electron if we don’t kill each other first. But I don’t anything smart enough and powerful enough to get here would find killing us desirable. Because they would have a better concept and language for how to deal with us than we have and I don’t think we’d go a galactic distance to kill unnecessarily.
Mac Barrera (7 months ago)
20:38 - is he describing loss?
osman awad (7 months ago)
Father of language Noman Chomsky.. Thanks for wt given us a huge of informations
Collector Duck (7 months ago)
I wish the interviewer would stop masturbating off the camera. His little moans are incredibly annoying. "uuh.. mmh... umh... uuh.... uh.. mmh... mmh.. mm."
deadsparrow28 (7 months ago)
Chomsky notes around 15:00 that he found himself in places in England where he couldn't understand a word being said. That is also the experience of many English people who travel north or south after a couple of hundred miles.
AnarchoMcTasteeFreeze (7 months ago)
the connections between his linguistic and political thinking come to light
niranjan saikia (7 months ago)
i like his outlook
Noor Mohamed Mohd Yousof (7 months ago)
The Quran speaks about Adam being taught about names of all things and Adam was honored above the angels for knowing these things.
dugfriendly (7 months ago)
What!?! I was a student there in 1989. Ad this to the cool stuff I missed. Like Nirvana playing in the HUB ballroom. Ugh!
Sherif El Kadi (8 months ago)
LOOOOOOOOOL ... Suuuure , of-course Allaho Akbar ! where is Tesla now ? looking for a cap stone ? ??? are you ??
fancynancylucille (8 months ago)
"There are certain principles of human biology which determine what a language can be, and no language can be like that."  What the heck is that supposed to mean?
Fernando MDNA (8 months ago)
I don’t get what he means by the definition of a word is just a hint. A table is a table, right? There are different types of tables, but ultimately they are tables, and you wouldn’t call a chair a table because that’d be wrong!
Fernando MDNA (8 months ago)
In Portuguese you cannot say “I him want to see.” It makes absolute no sense!
Tim Blissett (8 months ago)
Year of 1980 - book title?
Kumari Aarti (8 months ago)
Krpya Hindi me bhi banao.
aarondavid826 (8 months ago)
very knowledgeable in linguistics but terrible in politics, attributing motivations to groups and individuals with absolutely zero logical justifications.
Adrian Glenn Bionat (8 months ago)
damn, Chomsky is gangsta.
Lachlan Byrne (9 months ago)
cunning linguist
Alex Szabó (9 months ago)
26:40 the reporter starts to play on his classic casio watch which we all had in the 90s
recniabsal (9 months ago)
Noam Chomsky could've easily been in the same position as Milo Thatcher in Atlantis. Maybe.... Milo was pretty badass.
Ken W. Simpson (9 months ago)
Chosky claimed 9/11 was not a conspiracy by the Bush administration when obviously it was. Why? Probably because his alma mater, MIT, produced the inept and fake video of planes penetrating and ludicrously passing through the steel and concrete walls of the twin towers - an impossibility. There were no planes, no Islamic terrorists and no Osama Bin Laden. The Israelis set demolition charges weeks earlier to detonate when synchronised with the imaginary aircraft. An Israeli TV crew was on hand to record the catastrophe even before it happened. Chomsky sold out, like the late Christopher Hitchens did over the US invasion of Iraq and 9/11.
TheNameNerd (9 months ago)
I always knew deep down that learning strict rules and grammar was totally pointless, I've never paid any attention to formal grammar and yet I was reading at a college level in 4th grade. I took the ACT without studying and got a 32 in English just by picking the answers that sounded the most fluent and "literary". Obviously it doesn't come naturally to everybody but it's so ridiculous we waste time teaching kids bullshit when you can be a fabulous listener and communicator without it.
Cauasia Rush (9 months ago)
I wanna see where the English language is in 400 years.
Tertiary Adjunct (4 months ago)
It will only spoken by the servants cleaning the floors of the Chinese masters.
Cauasia Rush (9 months ago)
This man is the living embodiment of what a true intellectual is.
Advertising (9 months ago)
"when you're taught rules of you own language in grade school...your actual language nobody teaches you. it grows in your head...you don't learn it anymore than you learn to see..."
Lady Liberty Pictures (9 months ago)
Armando Argolvini (10 months ago)
A very rich series of ideas.
Fernando Vazquez (10 months ago)
France is gonna be the language of science!
RationalThinker1859 (10 months ago)
These days we call Chomsky an "armchair" critic. Lot's of commentary, but little research. Good stuff on unpacking grammar though.
marc verhaegen (10 months ago)
Biuological preadaptations to speech & language, google e.g. "Speech originS 2017 Verhaegen"
Lily Jade (10 months ago)
Chinese have that same concept too ... to keep language pure... ha. Taiwanese Mandarin written is different than the newest Mao shorthand Mandarin. Thus China is not pure, to the Taiwanese.
Leisure (10 months ago)
i love how when common assumptions are blown out the water by Chomsky you think yeah this guy makes sense
Taolin Liu (10 months ago)
he talks exactly the same lol
wandering spirit (10 months ago)
Never graduated... but, I read all about this at the city library, amateur level.
O Smith (10 months ago)
Interviewer: "Will there ever be a time when linguistics not facinate you?" Chomsky "I suppose there will must come some time when your mind deteriorates and you can't deal with hard questions." Apparently that time will NEVER come for Prof. Chomsky!
Randy Jones (11 months ago)
"french follows the order of the thought" what a dumb***
Marcel Bas (11 months ago)
6:09 "...kind of... genocidal".
Claxiux (1 month ago)
Very strange when negative things that ARE are referred to by semi-attributes like "kind of" or "almost". Was disappointing to hear it from the Prof. I wished he had said it as it is.
mike020363 (11 months ago)
The interviewer questions are stunningly lacking in any kind of preparation or direction. Dr Chomsky is game, but I think he’s wondering if he walked into the wrong interview. It’s like having a 30 minute interview with Stephen Hawking and spending the entire time asking him what his favorite foods are and why do they taste the way they do. Jeez.
David Villarreal (11 months ago)
"well, first of all you are assuming that they are different..."
herauthon four (11 months ago)
so, people in the street that do not understand eachother.. close quarters misunderstanding for a long time.. that must have been interesting economics.

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