About Carol Chomsky (Schatz)
Carol Chomsky (July 1, 1930 – December 19, 2008) was an American linguist and education specialist who studied language acquisition in children.
Chomsky was born in Philadelphia as Carol Doris Schatz on July 1, 1930. She married Noam Chomsky in 1949, the two having known each other since she was five years old. Her mother had been a teacher at a Hebrew school where his father was the principal. She was awarded a bachelor's degree in French from the University of Pennsylvania in 1951.
The couple spent some time living in HaZore'a, a kibbutz in Israel. Despite her interest in becoming a mechanic or driving a tractor, at the time of the Chomsky's stay in 1953 "the kibbutz wasn't quite ready for that. It was way before there were even words about women's rights" according to Judith Chomsky, wife of Noam Chomsky's younger brother.
She earned a doctoral degree in linguistics from Harvard University in 1968, having attended the school in order to ensure that she would be able to make a living in the event that her husband would be sent to jail for his active opposition to the Vietnam War.
Chomsky's best-known work was her 1969 book The Acquisition of Syntax in Children From 5 to 10 which investigated how children develop an understanding of the underlying grammatical structure of their native language and how they use this skill to interpret sentences of increasing complexity as they get older. Despite earlier scientific beliefs that children complete their acquisition of syntax by the age of five, Chomsky's research showed that children continue to develop the skills needed to understand complex constructions beyond that age.
As part of her research to understand how children develop the ability to read, she developed a method in the late 1970s called repeated reading, in which children would read a text silently while a recording of the text was played. The child would repeat the process until the text could be read fluently without the tape. Research showed that four readings accompanied by a recording could be enough to provide added reading fluency for most children. More than 100 studies have been performed on the technique, with most finding statistically significant improvements in reading speed and word recognition.
She served on the faculty of the Harvard Graduate School of Education from 1972 until 1997.
Chomsky died at age 78 on December 19, 2008 of cancer in her home in Lexington, Massachusetts.
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 Pennsylvania.
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.”