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Governing Board Symposium Q&A

The Biology of Language in the 21st Century with Noam Chomsky, David Poeppel, and Elissa Newport

July 22, 2011
18 minutes
Noam Chomsky, David Poeppel, Elissa Newport


Avram Noam Chomsky is a legendary American linguist, computer scientist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and Professor (Emeritus) in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at MIT. Chomsky has been described as the "father of modern linguistics” and a major figure of analytic philosophy. His work has influenced fields such as computer science, mathematics, and psychology. According to the Arts and Humanities Citation Index in 1992, Chomsky was cited as a source more often than any other living scholar from 1980 to 1992. He is also the eighth most cited source of all time, and is considered the "most cited living author".

David Poeppel is a Professor of Psychology and Neural Science and Director of the David Poeppel Lab at New York University. His lab’s research focuses on human auditory cortex physiology, neural basis of speech perception, auditory/speech psychophysics, (mostly lexical level) psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics.
In the Poeppel Lab, experiments investigate:
• How auditory signals are encoded in the human auditory cortex
• What type of temporal information is extracted from auditory stimuli
• What processes underlie lexical access
• What is the “parts list” for speech perception and word recognition
• What is the functional anatomy of speech perception & language comprehension

Elissa Newport is the George Eastman Professor in the Brain & Cognitive Sciences and Linguistics department at the University of Rochester. Her primary research interest is in the acquisition of language, and in the relationship between language acquisition and language structure. She focuses on the language acquisition process, investigating how learners go from linguistic input to knowledge of the grammar of a language. Newport looks at the maturational effects on language learning, comparing children to adults as first and second language learners, and asking why children, who are more limited in most cognitive domains, perform better than adults in language acquisition. These studies involve the acquisition of signed and spoken languages at varying ages.