About the Vilem Mathesius Centre

The Vilem Mathesius Center has been established at the Faculty of Philosophy, Charles University, Prague, as an international center of research and teaching in linguistics and semiotics. The Center closely cooperates with Prague Linguistic Circle, the founder of which in 1926 was Vilem Mathesius together with R. Jakobson, N. Trubetzkoy, J. Mukarovsky and others. The Circle stood at the heart of important developments in structural linguistics and semiotics in the 1930's. The members of the classical Circle were highly involved in international congresses, conferences, and other meetings, prominent specialists from abroad regularly visited the Circle, and the Circle's publications (first of all the series Travaux du Cercle linguistique de Prague) belonged to the most important writings of the epoch. From linguistics and the theory of literature, the structuralist approach emanated to other domains of the humanities throughout Europe.

This great tradition has endured even during the troubled times when in Czechoslovakia overt continuation of the Circle's results was restricted on ideological grounds.

The tradition of the classical Circle has been revived in 1989, thanks to the initiative of Oldrich Leska, who was the chairman of the renewed Circle until his death in summer 1997. Josef Vachek was the honorary chairman of the Circle, before he passed away in March 1996. Several groups of linguists in the Czech Republic have achieved new results based on the classical method of functional structuralism, which are of great interest to the whole of the linguistic and semiotic community in the world: E.g., studies in the 'information structure' of the sentence or its 'topic-focus' dichotomy, anchoring the sentence in its context; explicit analysis of the issues of meaning in natural language; dependency syntax as an economical account of the structure of the sentence.

The very purpose of the Center, now headed by Eva Hajicova, consists in re-establishing and fostering effective contacts between the present-day trends in linguistics (including computational linguistics) and semiotics in the West and the contemporary efforts in Central and Eastern Europe. Many well known specialists in the humanities are aware of the fact that among the sources of their own approaches there are ideas connected with the Prague tradition, and are willing to come to Prague as visiting scholars. In the present situation it is eminently important that young scholars in Central and Eastern Europe get good orientation in the recent trends of research, both in theoretical aspects and in computer applications; the latter are substantial for future work with computerized text corpora, providing sound basis for language processing, including translation, lexicography, human-computer interaction, and so on. To this aim, the Center organizes regular Lecture Series.

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