WHEN Carol Chomsky arrived at a kibbutz in Israel with her husband, Noam, she wanted to drive a tractor or work as a mechanic.

"The kibbutz wasn't quite ready for that," she once said. "It was way before there were even words for women's rights."

Carol, who went on to become a prominent linguist and educator, didn't mind getting her hands dirty.

"She could fix a car," said a sister-in-law, Judith Chomsky. "She was mechanical. I mean, she was the one who fixed everything at the house.

"She was very athletic, and until she became ill, was fishing and water skiing and doing things people wouldn't normally associate with her. She played the accordion."

Carol Chomsky, a Philadelphia native who was a nationally recognized authority on language acquisition with a special interest in how children learn to read, died of cancer Friday. She was 78 and lived in Lexington, Mass.

She was on the faculty of the Harvard Graduate School of Education from 1972 until her retirement in 1997.

Despite her accomplishments, Carol was often overshadowed by her controversial husband, also a native Philadelphian and now a linguistic professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but who was best- known as a far-left activist who almost went to jail during his strenuous protests against the Vietnam War.

In an article in the Pennsylvania Gazette, the alumni magazine of her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, she told about going on tours with Noam and finding herself surrounded by "very young and breathless" women.

They inevitably asked, "So what's it like to be married to Noam Chomsky?"

Her typical response was, "I'll tell you one thing - it's never boring."

They had known each other since they were 5 years old and were students of the school of the Mikveh Israel congregation at 44 N. 4th St. Noam's late father, William, was a teacher there.

The former Carol Doris Schatz later attended the Hebrew Teachers' College of Philadelphia (Gratz College), where William Chomsky had become a professor.

Of her future husband, she said in the Gazette article, "When we were early teenagers, I viewed him as an overly intellectual, undersized, 'nerdy' sort of kid. He definitely wasn't somebody I would have wanted to date."

But as they found themselves involved in numerous Hebrew activities in Philadelphia - youth groups, summer camps and social events - she was impressed by his knowledge and take-charge forcefulness. They started dating in 1947, the year both started at Penn.

They were married in 1949 when she was 19 and he had just turned 21.

It was after their graduation from Penn that they moved to the kibbutz in Israel. It proved to be a less-than-satisfying experience and they shortly took their leave.

Carol received her Ph.D. in linguistics from Harvard for her work in language development and psycholinguistics.

She always emphasized that her linguistics were not her husband's linguistics.

When people would tell her that she and her husband must have had stimulating dinner conversations over linguistics, she had to say that her brand was "practical, experimental, hands-on," in contrast to her husband's "abstract, quasi-mathematical approach."

She was the author of "The Acquisition of Syntax in Children from 5 to 10," which investigates how children learn language.

"She was a very upbeat, happy kind of person," said Sylvia Schatz, another sister-in-law. "She was also a very giving person, of herself and of her thoughts, of her ideas, of her suggestions."

Besides her husband, she is survived by two daughters, Aviva and Diane Chomsky; a son, Harry Chomsky, and five grandchildren.

Services: Were being arranged. *