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Naoki Fukui

Sophia University, Tokyo | Celebrating Noam Chomsky’s 90th Birthday

Published onApr 19, 2019
Naoki Fukui

Celebrating Noam Chomsky’s 90th Birthday

When I was a young teenager, I discovered the name “Noam Chomsky,” along with other names like “Évariste Galois” and “Bertrand Russell,” as I was hanging around the bookstores in the Kanda district in central Tokyo. My interest in language, mathematics, philosophy, literature, social issues, etc. was beginning to arouse at that time, and, though it took me several years to (partially) understand what’s stated in his writings, Noam Chomsky had become one of my intellectual heroes by the time I entered college.

The prospect for “the new, genuine (i.e., physics-like) science of human mind,” i.e., the prospect for the “Second” Scientific Revolution, which Chomsky’s writings seemed to offer, brought me into this field of generative linguistics. And a kind of miracle that’s happening in front of me, that is, the fact that a serious (in fact, very special) scientist and a very serious political activist could reside harmoniously within a single individual, has been instrumental in keeping me alive in the field.

“Chomsky” became “Noam” to me when I came to know him personally as a graduate student at MIT in the early 1980s, and since then, I have been in contact with him and he has been always very supportive and sympathetic, for which I am forever grateful.

Not too long ago (in March 2014), I had a great opportunity to invite Noam to deliver two public lectures (along with other technical seminars) at my institution, Sophia University in Tokyo, one on science/linguistics, and the other on politics/political thought. As is well-known, this is a very natural combination—outside of Japan, in fact. Starting in 1966, Noam had visited Japan several times, but his politics had been, for some reason, carefully dissociated from his linguistics, leading to his remark in the Japan Times interview (February 22, 2014): “I was quite struck by the fact that Japan is the only country I visited—and there were many—where talks and interviews focused solely on linguistics and related matters, even while the world was burning.” I wanted to change this situation and asked Noam to give two lectures as I mentioned above, and the lectures attracted packed audiences, including so many students, on both days. That was one of the few memorable events in my life indeed.

Happy 90th Birthday, Noam. Life goes on!

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