Zellig Harris: From American Linguistics to Socialist Zionism

Hardcover | April 4, 2011

byRobert F Barsky

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In 1995, Robert Barsky met with Noam Chomsky to discuss hiswork-in-progress, Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent (MIT Press, 1997). Chomsky told Barsky that he shouldfocus his attention instead on midcentury linguist and activist Zellig Harris,who was, Chomsky modestly insisted, more interesting than Chomsky himself. Intrigued, Barsky began to research Harris (1909--1992) and discovered thestory of a major figure in American intellectual life "sitting in a corner in the middle of the room" -- part of crucial twentieth-century conversations about language, technology, labor,politics, and Zionism. The intersecting worlds of Harris's intellectualand political activities were populated by such figures as Louis Brandeis,Albert Einstein, Franz Boas, Nathan Glazer, and Chomsky.

Barsky describes Harris's work in language studies, andhis pioneering ideas about discourse analysis, structural linguistics, andinformation representation. He also discusses Harris's part in the pre-1948 Zionist movement -- when many Jews on the Leftenvisioned a socialist Palestine that would be a haven not only for persecutedJews but also for disenfranchised Arabs and anyone seeking a sanctuary against oppression -- and recounts Harris's debates on the subject with Brandeis, Einstein, and a large group of students involved with a Zionist organization called Avukah. And Barsky describes Harris's views on capitalism, worker-owner relations, and worker self-management, the legacy ofwhich can be found in some of his students' writings, notably those of Seymour Melman. Barsky shows how Harris, as mentor, teacher, and colleague,powerfully influenced figures who came to dominate the twentieth century's political discussion -- ;thinkers as different as Noam Chomsky and Nathan Glazer.

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In 1995, Robert Barsky met with Noam Chomsky to discuss hiswork-in-progress, Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent (MIT Press, 1997). Chomsky told Barsky that he shouldfocus his attention instead on midcentury linguist and activist Zellig Harris,who was, Chomsky modestly insisted, more interesting than Chomsky himself. Intrigued, Barsky bega...

Robert F. Barsky is Professor of English, French, European,and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent (1997, 1998) and The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower(2007, 2009), both published by the MIT Press.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:376 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.75 inPublished:April 4, 2011Publisher:The MIT PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0262015269

ISBN - 13:9780262015264

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Harris comes to life in this slim biography by Barsky, whose research is as intriguing as it is substantive. Barsky not only does justice to the seminal scholarship of Harris but also contributes to a fuller understanding of the history of science in the present. A must read for students of linguistics and those interested in the history and philosophy of science. Zellig Harris's dream of a secular, leftist Zionism, built on cooperation with the indigenous Arab population, has been dashed by history. But his legacy stubbornly survives, not only in the pioneering work he did in the field of linguistics, but also in the inspiration he provided Noam Chomsky, the most outspoken political gadfly of our day. In this rigorously researched, sympathetically cast biography, Robert Barsky rescues from oblivion a figure from the past who may still have much to teach the future.