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  • Language and function: To the memory of Jan Firbas ed. by Josef Hladký
  • Zdenek Salzmann
Language and function: To the memory of Jan Firbas. Ed. by Josef Hladký. (Studies in functional and structural linguistics 49.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2003. Pp. ix, 336. ISBN 1588113035. $130 (Hb).

This collection was to honor Jan Firbas of Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, on his 80th birthday, but Firbas passed away in 2000, less than a year earlier. A student of Josef Vachek after World War II, Firbas became a steadfast proponent of the original Prague Linguistic Circle approach and in the 1950s coined the term ‘functional sentence perspective’ (FSP). Persecuted in his homeland for his religious beliefs but honored abroad with several honorary doctorates and many guest professorships, he never hesitated to return home, where he continued his research in the English language.

The book contains twenty-three articles by authors from twelve countries. All contributions are in English and most of them draw on English-language data. The topical richness of the collection may best be illustrated by the following samples.

In ‘Old English þa revisited’ (39–55), Leiv Egil Breivik examines the semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic properties of the Old English discourse marker þa ‘then’ in clause-initial position. On the basis of the available evidence, it appears that the use of this particle is governed primarily by syntactic factors.

In ‘The double basis of the Prague functional approach: Mathesius and Jakobson’ (57–69), František Daneš compares the concept of function as viewed by two pillars of the Circle. For Vilém Mathesius, functionalism issued ‘from his personal predisposition to see things in their natural settings, human dimensions, and to interpret them with respect to possible practical applications’ (60); Roman Jakobson’s teleological functionalism was influenced by the philosophy of Edmund Husserl and his interest in the language of poetry, inspired by Russian formalism.

‘The functions and meanings of word-formations (with reference to Modern English)’ (195–210) is the subject of Klaus Hansen’s article. According to Hansen, in order to describe the basic meanings of word formations as naming units, one must consider at least three semantic layers or components: the logico-semantic relation between their immediate constituents, the ‘topicalization’ assigned to the underlying logico-semantic structure, and any additional systematically occurring semantic components.

The concept of FSP is applied in Peter Newmark’s article ‘Functional sentence perspective and translation’ (237–45). Because a failure to consider the mutual interaction of at least the context, semantics, linearity, and intonation (in speech) can significantly distort a message, FSP also plays an important role in the practice of translation.

In her contribution ‘On the associative anaphor in fairy tales’ (315–23), Ludmila Uhlířová discusses the necessity of specific pieces of information having to be repeated in order for a longer text to be coherent. Stimulated by an article by Firbas based on texts from modern English fiction, she found very similar tendencies in fairy tales.

Other contributions include discussions of the morphophonemics of Old Javanese, the Czech National Corpus, the Japanese thematizer wa, Firbas and the Prague School, and constancy of syntactic function across languages.

The book begins with a short biography of Firbas, followed by an extensive bibliography of his publications. The scholar memorialized by this festschrift would have been pleased by how much his writings have stimulated other scholars. [End Page 528]

Zdenek Salzmann
Northern Arizona University


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