[Marxism] Carol Chomsky
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Sat Dec 20 17:09:14 MST 2008
NY Times, December 21, 2008
Carol Chomsky, 78, Linguist and Educator, Dies
By MARGALIT FOX
Carol Chomsky, a linguist and education specialist whose work helped
illuminate the ways in which language comes to children, died on
Friday at her home in Lexington, Mass. She was 78.
The cause was cancer, her sister-in-law Judith Brown Chomsky said.
A nationally recognized authority on the acquisition of spoken and
written language, Professor Chomsky was on the faculty of the Harvard
Graduate School of Education from 1972 until her retirement in 1997.
In retirement, she was a frequent traveling companion of her husband,
the linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky, as he delivered his
Carol Chomsky was perhaps best known for her book, "The Acquisition
of Syntax in Children From 5 to 10" (M.I.T. Press), which was
considered a landmark study in the field when it appeared in 1969. In
it, she investigated children's tacit, developing awareness of the
grammatical structure of their native language, and their ability to
use that awareness to extract meaning from increasingly complex
sentences over time.
Young children, Professor Chomsky found, could distinguish no
difference in meaning between superficially similar sentences like
"John promised Bill to shovel the driveway" and "John told Bill to
shovel the driveway" they could not discern who did the shoveling
in each case. Older children, she found, could do so automatically,
without having been formally taught.
Where earlier investigators had concluded that the acquisition of
syntax the grammatical structure of sentences is complete by the
time a child is 5, Professor Chomsky demonstrated that when it came
to syntactically complex constructions, at least, acquisition is far
from finished at that age.
Professor Chomsky's later research focused on children's acquisition
of the written word. In the late 1970s, she developed a technique for
helping struggling readers attain greater fluency. She had the
students silently read a passage while a tape recording of the
passage played along. The process was repeated until the student
could read the text fluently, without the tape. The technique, known
as repeated reading, has been widely used in classrooms ever since.
Still later, Professor Chomsky turned her attention to educational
technology, creating software that develops reading-comprehension skills.
Carol Doris Schatz was born in Philadelphia on July 1, 1930. She
married Noam Chomsky, whom she had known since childhood, in 1949. In
1951, she earned a bachelor's degree in French from the University of
In the 1960s, faced with the possibility that her husband would be
jailed for his activities in opposition to the Vietnam War, Carol
Chomsky resumed her education: a doctorate would be useful should she
need to become the sole family breadwinner. Though that prospect did
not materialize, she earned a Ph.D. in linguistics from Harvard in 1968.
Besides her husband, the Institute Professor and emeritus professor
of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Professor Chomsky is survived by their three children, Aviva Chomsky,
a professor of Latin American history at Salem State College in
Salem, Mass.; Diane Chomsky of Mexico City; and Harry Chomsky, of
Albany, Calif.; a brother, J. Leonard Schatz of Burlington, Mass.;
and five grandchildren.
In a 2001 interview with The Pennsylvania Gazette, the alumni
magazine of the University of Pennsylvania, Carol Chomsky contrasted
her brand of linguistics practical, experimental, hands-on with
her husband's abstract, quasi-mathematical approach:
"It's a very different sort of 'linguistics' from Noam's pursuits,"
she said. "I always have to laugh when people talk about how
interesting our dinner-table conversation must be since we're in the
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