[Marxism] Carol Chomsky

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Dec 20 17:09:14 MST 2008

NY Times, December 21, 2008
Carol Chomsky, 78, Linguist and Educator, Dies

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 
public lectures.

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 
same field."

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