Vilém Mathesius

(3 August 1882, Pardubice – 12 April 1945, Prague)

Eminent linguist, literary historian, co-founder of the Prague Linguistic Circle

In 1901, Mathesius began his studies of Germanic and Romance philology under Jan Gebauer at Charles University in Prague. The topic of his doctoral dissertation, which he submitted in 1907, was Hippolyte Taine’s criticism of Shakespeare. He submitted his habilitation in 1909. In 1912, he was appointed the university’s first professor of English philology, effectively founding the department of English philology at Charles University, which was the first such department in the Czech Lands. He remained head of the department until 1939, when the Nazis closed all Czech universities. Mathesius was the chief editor of two linguistic journals, Travaux du Cercle Linguistique de Prague (Works of the Prague Linguistic Circle) and Slovo a slovesnost (Word and Verbal Art), and the co-founder of a third, Nové Athenaeum (The New Athenaeum). His extensive publications in these journals and elsewhere cover a wide range of topics, including the history of English literature, syntax, and Czech stylistics. He is considered one of the founders of structural functionalism in linguistics.

Main works

  • O potenciálnosti jevů jazykových (On the potentiality of the language phenomenon), 1911
  • Dějiny literatury anglické I–II (The history of English literature I–II), 1910–1915
  • Kulturní aktivismus (Cultural activism), 1925
  • Co daly naše země Evropě a lidstvu (What our lands contributed to Europe and mankind), 1940
  • Možnosti, které čekají (Possibilities that await), 1944
  • Obsahový rozbor současné angličtiny na základě obecně lingvistickém (A functional analysis of present-day English on a general linguistic basis), 1961 (posthumous)
  • Jazyk, kultura a slovesnost (Language, culture, and poetic art), 1982 (posthumous)
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