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Noam Chomsky speaks directly with students at ‘office hours’

Anna Augustowska

Professor Noam Chomsky gave students to ask questions directly to him at his Office Hours on Oct. 2 in the Environmental and natural Resources 2 Building.

Professor and famed linguist Noam Chomsky gave students the chance to pick his brain at an open house Wednesday, Oct. 2. 

Chomsky is considered the founder of modern linguistics. Prior to joining the University of Arizona in 2017, he taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 62 years. 

The event, held in the ENR2 building, was a joint effort from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Associated Students of the University of Arizona. 

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Bennett Adamson, executive vice president of ASUA, said the goal was to have a student-centered event when he came up with the idea of office hours as the Social and Behavioral Sciences senator last year. Adamson also said current SBS senator Matt Hernandez helped make the concept a reality for this year.

“I think UA is really lucky to have Chomsky on the faculty since he’s such a world renowned scholar,” Adamson said. 

The office hours were an opportunity for students to learn from Chomsky. 

“Office hours seemed like a better approach, since it was really a Q&A and less formal than a lecture,” Adamson said. “We wanted a more relaxed, interactive atmosphere.” 

Students mainly asked Chomsky questions related to politics and linguistics. 

Patrick Robles, a public management and policy student, asked Chomsky what type of Democrat would be a viable candidate for the 2020 presidential election.

Chomsky said there isn’t a simple answer, but noted that the Democratic Party has shifted more toward the middle while the Republican Party has shifted far to the right.

“Mainstream Democrats are what used to be moderate Republicans,” Chomsky said. “Which one is the way to reach the general population? That’s not easy to say.” 

Chomsky added that many Republican leaders during the ’60s were pro-choice regarding abortion until the party realigned

He also referred to the late Sen. John McCain’s presidential candidacy for the 2008 election, noting that McCain was in favor of taking action to combat climate change; he compared it to current Republican leaders, who “100 percent strictly denies it.” 

Chomsky blames this shift in party stances on the Koch brothers’ lobbying

Mikhail Berlin, a graduate student studying Russian, asked Chomsky about language acquisition and critical period theory. 

Chomsky explained critical period theory as “a debate that maybe all of our intrinsic capacities develop in a specific way, genetically determined to develop certain things at certain times.” 

There are certain time periods where someone learns how to walk and use two-word sentences, according to Chomsky. 

He added that there is indirect evidence suggesting there are transition points in a person’s life, with one being roughly around puberty. Prior to this point, according to Chomsky, children can learn languages quickly. 

“If you get an 18-year-old, you’ll have difficulty,” Chomsky said. “You can learn a second language, but it’s hard. For most people, they never get fully fluent, fully sound like a native [speaker].”

The last question of the night was about the roots of anarchism in leftist ideology.

“There is a core principal behind [anarchist movements], namely that structures of hierarchy are not self-justifying,” Chomsky said. “They have to justify themselves.”

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When structures of hierarchy cannot justify themselves, which is almost always, according to Chomsky, those structures should be dismantled. If these powerful structures do not have a justification, they should not exist. 

“Its roots go back into classical liberalism,” Chomsky said. As an example, Chomsky said the Republican Party under Abraham Lincoln considered wage labor to be slavery, with the only difference being wage labor is temporary. 

Chomsky said, “I suspect that every one of you is an anarchist.”

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