About Prague Linguistic Circle


One more cathedral

The Prague Linguistic Circle was one of the most influential schools of linguistic thought in pre-war linguistics. Through its former members like Roman Jakobson or René Wellek, it influenced modern American linguistics as well as many other linguists in the world. In the spring of 1996, many renowned linguists came to Prague to pay homage to the heritage of the Prague Linguistic Circle and to Roman Jakobson during a conference to 70 Years of Existence of the Prague Linguistic Circle and 100th Anniversary of Roman Jakobson's Birthday.

Although the 'classical period' of the Circle can be dated between 1926, the year of the first meeting, and the beginning of WWII, its roots are in much of the earlier work of its members, and also it did not completely cease its work with the outbreak of the war.

Among the founding members were such personalities as Vilém Mathesius (President of PLC until his death in 1945), Roman Jakobson, Nikolay Trubetzkoy, Sergei Karcevskiy, Jan Mukarovský, and many others who began to meet in the mid-twenties to discuss issues of common interest.

The, at first, irregular meetings with lectures and discussions gradually developed into regular ones. The first results of the members' cooperative efforts were presented in joint theses prepared for the First International Congress of Slavicists held in Prague in 1929. These were published in the 1st volume of the then started series Travaux du Cercle Linguistique de Prague.

The Théses outlined the direction of the work of the Circle's members. Such important concepts as the approach to the study of language as a synchronic system which is, however, dynamic, functionality of elements of language, and the importance of the social function of language were explicitly laid down as the basis for further research.

Current activities

Prague's Old Town Square

After the war the Circle's activities were being gradually toned down, and continued largely in individual work of its former members and their pupils. With renewed intensity, the 60s witnessed much cooperative linguistic work in the Czech Republic which resulted in the publication of Travaux Linguistique de Prague which built upon the rich linguistic tradition of Prague. However, with the 'normalization' of the 70's, the New Circle's work was forcefully interrupted.

After the political changes of 1989, the Circle's activity was slowly renewed. Thanks to several Czech linguists, namely Prof. Petr Sgall and the late Prof. Oldrich Leška, the Circle started regular meetings to which scholars are invited to present on topics of interest, research in progress and history of linguistics. The work was brought to fruition with the publication of the new Travaux in the fall of 1995. The success of the conference on 70 Years of PLC indicates that the work of the Circle is still worthy of notice even after nearly three quarters of a century.

Other Prague linguistic events

Yet another picture of a cathedral

In the past five years, Prague has been the site of a number of linguistic conferences and workshops.

In their efforts to educate a new generation of linguists, ÚFAL (The Institute for Applied and Formal Linguistics) led by Prof. Eva Hajicová has organized regular workshops to which many scholars of international renown were invited. To name just a few: C. Fillmore, G. Lakoff, B. Partee, G. Leech, J. Searl and many others have all lectured in Prague in recent years. The workshops were sponsored by the Soros foundation.

Three conferences in Linguistics and Phonetics took place in Prague after 1989. LP '90 and LP '94, LP '96 . They were organized by Institute of Linguistics .

The Institute of Near-Eastern Studies led by Prof. Petr Vavroušek organized a workshop on the Use of Computers in Historical and Comparative Linguistics. In July of 1998, the Institute organized Rencontre Assirioloqiue, which attracted a wide range of historians and linguists.

8th International European Summer Schools In Logic, Language and Information (ESSLLI'96) took place in the summer of 1996 organized by UFAL of Charles University.

Other associations also organize regular meetings informing of current linguistic research in the Czech Republic. They are the Linguistic Association (Jazykovedné Sdružení) presided by dr. Svetla Cmejrková, and the Club of Friends of the Czech Language led by Prof. Alexandr Stich.

Basic references

Czech National Gallery

A very good source book on the history and theoretical development of the Prague linguistic school is Josef Vachek's The Linguistic School of Prague: An introduction to its theory and practice, published by Indiana University Press in 1966. This book contains the most qualified description of the basic tenets of the Prague Linguistic School, short biographies of selected members and an extensive bibliography of works related to the Circle's work.

Josef Vachek was also the editor of A Prague School Reader in Linguistics, which contains papers dealing with important problems in general linguistics by members of the Prague Linguistic Circle. The collection was also published by Indiana University Press in 1964.

For those wishing to acquaint themselves better with the Circle's work Travuax du Cercle Linguistique de Prague contains papers of the pre-war period. Travaux Linguistique de Prague gives clues about the post-war theoretical development of the Circle.

Other works by Roman Jakobson , Nikolay Trubetzkoy, Sergei I. Karcevskiy, Vilém Mathesius, Vladimír Skalicka, Bohumil Trnka, Josef Vachek and many others are also of interest, and not only to the student of the history of linguistics.

Those interested can purchases selected works by Czech linguists through Bohemica.com Bookstore.