Noam Chomsky received the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Humanities and Social Sciences in a ceremony at his home in Tucson, Arizona. BBVA Foundation President Carlos Torres Vila made the special trip to present him the award, as the U.S. linguist was unable to attend the award ceremony in Bilbao last June. “This is a recognition to your unparalleled contributions to the understanding of human language, which have had a tremendous influence in so many fields," said Torres Vila.
This year marked the first time the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards have included the category of Humanities and Social Sciences. The jury chose Chomsky as its first winner for pioneering new research areas in the humanities, especially in the study of the human brain and cognitive systems that comprise it.
Professor Chomsky, for health reasons, was not able to be in Bilbao, the city that hosted the award ceremony for the first time, instead expressing his gratitude for the recognition by video. Carlos Torres Vila was pleased to visit him in his Tucson residence to present him the €400,000 award in person.
“This is a recognition to your unparalleled contributions to the understanding of human language, which have had a tremendous influence, decisive I would say, in so many fields including not only linguistics, but cognitive science and the philosophies of language and mind,” emphasized the President of the BBVA Foundation. Meanwhile, Professor Chomsky greatly appreciated the award: “Thank you very much. It’s an incredible honor. I am very grateful.”
Language as innate knowledge
Since the end of the 1950s, Noam Chomsky’s research revealed how the acquisition of language depends on the innate ability of the human mind, which makes it possible to understand and create sentences based on the formal principles of “universal grammar.”
The jury’s records recognized Chomsky’s conclusions as widely accepted, with implications that have led to new research “in a new and fruitful area that covers linguistic theory, psycholinguistics, cognitive science, the philosophy of language and the mind, and cognitive psychology.”
With his vision of language as a product of a pre-programmed ability of the human mind, which it generates with predefined structures, Chomsky made research possible “from both the scientific and humanistic perspectives” which could be considered “humanity’s most distinctive cognitive product,” explain the jury’s records. Thus, language becomes not only an instrument of communication, but a cognitive, biological object emanating from the human brain, and therefore a window into the way the brain works.