A Special Supplement: Chomsky’s Revolution in Linguistics

Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky; drawing by David Levine

A brief bibliography of works relevant to the issues discussed in this article:

Noam Chomsky, Syntactic Structures (Humanities Press, 1957). Chomsky’s first book, now out of date, but still required reading as the classic statement of the attack on structuralism.

Noam Chomsky, Language and Mind (Harcourt, Brace and World, 1968, 1972). A series of three lectures Chomsky gave in Berkeley in 1967. This is the clearest statement by Chomsky of the relations between his theory of language and his theory of human nature. Start reading Chomsky’s work with this book. It is now available in an enlarged edition containing three extra articles.

Noam Chomsky, Cartesian Linguistics (Harper & Row, 1966). An attempt to trace the ancestry of Chomsky’s theory of language from the rationalist philosophers of the seventeenth century.

Noam Chomsky, Topics in the Theory of Generative Grammar (Humanities Press, 1966). I believe this to be the simplest and easiest to understand statement by Chomsky of his fundamental linguistic notions, though developments since it was published make some parts of it out of date.

Noam Chomsky, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (MIT Press, 1965). The classic statement of Chomsky’s mature theory as described in Section II of this article. Most current controversies, over e.g., generative semantics, take this book as their starting point. It is hard to follow, unless you have read, say, numbers 2, 4, and 6 of this bibliography first.

John Lyons, Noam Chomsky (Viking Press, Modern Masters, 1970). The simplest and clearest introduction to Chomsky’s work and to the basic notions of generative grammar. It is rather uncritical, especially about the alleged connection between Chomsky’s linguistics and his politics, but it is the best book with which to begin the study of generative grammar. Read it first, then read Chomsky.

D. Steinberg and L. Jacobovitz, Semantics, An Interdisciplinary Reader in Philosophy, Linguistics and Psychology (Cambridge University Press, 1971). An absurdly expensive ($16.50) but useful collection of essays. Several attack the adequacy of the account of language given in Aspects of the Theory of Syntax.

J. R. Searle, ed., The Philosophy of Language (Oxford University Press, 1971). A paperback collection of essays covering both the speech act analysis of language and generative grammar.

J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (Harvard University Press, 1962). Austin’s William James Lectures given at Harvard in 1955. It contains the classic exposition of the theory of speech acts.

J. R. Searle, Speech Acts, An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (Cambridge University Press, 1969). Contains the theory of speech acts that underlies the remarks in Section V of this article.

D. A. Reibel and S. A. Schane, eds., Modern Studies in English, Readings in Transformational Grammar (Prentice-Hall, 1969). Generative grammar has spawned a sizable anthology industry. Of the collections devoted exclusively to syntax, this and the next seem to me the most useful, though both contain some fairly technical articles.


This is exclusive content for subscribers only – subscribe at this low introductory rate for immediate access!

Subscribe for $1 an Issue

Unlock this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, by subscribing at the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue — that’s 10 digital issues plus six months of full archive access plus the NYR App for just $10.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account.