Jan Firbas

Compiled by Martin Drápela on 13 May 2015

Professor Dr Jan Firbas, DrSc., Dr. h. c. mult. (1921–2000) was a linguist of world renown, a long-time University Professor at Masaryk University in Brno, a prominent representative of the Linguistic School of Prague, and last but not least an outstanding scholar who substantially developed Vilém Mathesius’s work on the information structure of language and who coined the term Functional Sentence Perspective. The respect that he earned for his work can be best illustrated, for instance, by the following quotation from a letter written by then Professor Randolph Quirk in September 1981 and addressed to the Rector of Univerzita Jana Ev. Purkyně (today Masaryk University):

“...Your university and your country must be very proud of him
and the great line of Czech scholarship from Mathesius to Vachek
which he has so signally extended...”

Of all the publications that recount Jan Firbas’s life and academic career, the following one is probably the one that is most precise since it was written by Professor Dr Aleš Svoboda who can be regarded as Jan Firbas’s most successful follower and also his closest research associate:

  • Svoboda, Aleš: ‘Jan Firbas – an outstanding personality of European linguistics’ in J. Hladký (Ed.): Language and Function. To the Memory of Jan Firbas, Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2003, pp. 1-7. Reprinted in the first volume of Firbas’s Collected Works on pages 351-357.

An equally faithful description of Jan Firbas’s personal character and scientific achievements was published as his obituary in the journal Functions of Language:

  • Davidse, Kristin & Brian D. Joseph: ‘Jan Firbas, 1921-2000’, Functions of Language 7.2, 2000, pp. 273–277.

It is impossible to describe Firbas’s accomplishments and details of his academic path in one webpage. The following list can therefore represent only a very limited overview of key milestones in his academic career:

  • 1945 Jan Firbas enrolled at Masaryk University’s Faculty of Arts shortly after the end of WWII.
  • 1945 - was appointed a research aide in the Seminar for English Philology at Masaryk University’s Faculty of Arts (from 1 December 1945).
  • 1946 - graduated from Masaryk University with degrees in English and philosophy.
  • 1947 - was appointed a teaching assistant in the English Department (from 1 September 1947).
  • 1948 - received his PhDr degree in English and German philology.
  • 1950 - was appointed an Assistant Professor (from 1 September 1950).
  • 1959 - received his Ph.D. degree from Charles University.
  • 1964 - was made an Associate Professor ("docent") (from 1 June 1964).
  • 1966 - was appointed an Associate Professor ("docent") at the faculty (from 1 january 1966).
  • 1968 An official recommendation (in a letter of 30 September 1968) for the rank of "professor extraordinarius" by the Rector of Univerzita Jana Ev. Purkyně (today Masaryk University). Due to the political situation in Czechoslovakia, this academic rank was never awarded to Jan Firbas. It was only after the year 1989 that he was made a Full Professor.
  • 1971 Jan Firbas filed a request for the defence of his DrSc thesis. In 1973 Jan Firbas was informed that his request was deferred by the authorities as a result of "a complex moral and political evaluation".
  • 1978 - filed another request for the defence of his DrSc thesis. This request was never answered by the authorities.
  • 1986 - was awarded with two honorary doctorates abroad, from the University of Leeds (U.K.) and from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium).
  • 1990 - was made a Full Professor of English at Masaryk University (effective 1 June 1990).
  • 1990 - received the DrSc degree upon the defence of the thesis which took place on 28 November 1990.
  • 2000 Jan Firbas received a third honorary doctorate, from the University of Turku (Finland).

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