The renowed linguist and political theorist discussed the global economy yesterday. In a flood of almost biblical proportions, hundreds of students, professors and activists turned out for a talk yesterday by noted linguist and political theorist Noam Chomsky. Chomsky has profoundly influenced the field of linguistics with his view that language and universal grammar are uniquely human mental abilities. At the same time, he has also spent a lifetime as a controversial critic of American foreign policy. Chomsky has earned several degrees from Penn, completing his undergraduate and graduate work during the 1940s and 1950s and receiving a doctoral degree in Linguistics in 1955. Addressing an overflowing crowd in Meyerson Hall's Room B1 yesterday, Chomsky was the featured speaker in a "dual celebration." The event honored both Linguistics Professor Zellig Harris' posthumously published book, Transformation of Capitalist Society, and the 25th anniversary of House of Our Own Books. Chomsky, who studied under Harris, spoke on a wide spectrum of issues related to "today's threats, tomorrow's hopes." One such threat is the growing gap between the nation's wealthy and poor, he said. "Rich people are doing quite nicely," he said, explaining what he called the "United States economic miracle" -- or the myth that the current booming economy is helping everyone succeed financially. "Even the wealthy have problems," Chomsky added sarcastically. "They don't know what to do with all that cash." Although Chomsky used examples from the media to demonstrate society's perpetuation of the myth of national financial success, he concluded the speech on a relatively positive note. "Today's struggles seem to point to a greater hope for success," he said, adding that although there are no "known secrets on how to proceed" to this success, people must "free [their] minds from doctrinal control" and "face the prospects of hard work." Before Chomsky took the stage, Sociology Professor William Evan reflected on Harris' life, noting that his extensive work in linguistics and the social sciences "enriched our University community." Evan lauded Harris' "frame of reference" theory on social change and hailed him as a "mentor" with a "unique style" of teaching. "He was casual and friendly with his students," said Evan, who studied under Harris during World War II. "He looked at all of his students? as potential creative researchers." After Evan spoke, Finance Professor Edward Herman, who was one of the event's organizers, praised House of Our Own -- which Deborah Sanford and Greg Schirm have run for 25 years -- as a pioneer in attempting to improve the "sterile intellectual environment" that characterized the University in the 1970s. A sometime collaborator of Chomsky's on political books, Herman stressed that independent bookstores like House of Our Own and the local Penn Book Center are "under siege" as large chains such as Barnes & Noble move in and monopolize student business. "[The University's] aims should be vigorously opposed," he said, urging students to "add your voice to the debate" on the future of independent book dealers.
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