Noam Chomsky is renowned for being one of the most important and prolific public intellectuals of our time. Naturally, then, we look to him for opinions on the most pressing issues in the world today, from the dynamics of contemporary global politics and the changing role and influence of the media to prevalent economic policies and, uh, Baby Yoda linguistics.
Eager to gather his thoughts on this last point, Jessica Yu emailed the 90-year-old professor with the hopes that doing so would prompt Chomsky to break his silence on this vital topic.
Yu tweeted the exchange that followed, which saw her send Chomsky an email regarding the “one subject that currently unites the human race.” Looking to take advantage of the expertise available only from the “father of modern linguistics” himself, Yu wondered when viewers may be able to expect Baby Yoda to “move beyond eye contact and body language as a means of communication” and speak his first words. “As an expert in linguistics, would you be able to offer your considered opinion regarding how Baby Yoda will eventually communicate using language?” Yu asked.
Surprisingly, Chomsky replied with a single sentence: “Never heard of Baby Yoda, I’m afraid.”
Undeterred, Yu followed up again to explain more about what the fictional creature is, hoping to hear if Chomsky thought “ a bipedal alien with opposable thumbs and vocal chords would more likely sign like [the late, “talking” gorilla] Koko or speak?” Likely hoping to get the most out of a possible second answer, she also asked what insight Chomsky may have about Boda’s possible methods of communication and his “thoughts on meme posting more broadly.”
“Koko didn’t sign, as far as we know,” he responded, not missing a chance to address his long-standing beef with the gorilla. “Her trainer refused to release the relevant evidence. There have been extensive and sophisticated efforts to elicit some language-like behavior from apes, with virtually no success. There are many popular illusions about these matters.”
“No thoughts about memes,” he concluded.
While it’s too bad that Chomsky didn’t have a few thousand words of Boda-related theory ready to complement the green tyke’s recent anatomical survey, it’s pretty great that he responded to Yu at all. The first exchange seems like pure courtesy—a nice, quick note—but we can only imagine the second, longer reply was spurred by a need to once again clear up “popular illusions” about Koko and her scientist pals. Whatever the reason, be thankful that we now know what Chomsky isn’t interested in (Baby Yoda; memes; clout-chasing, fake-ass gorillas) and please, do no send him any more follow-ups on these topics.
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