Roman Laskowski in Memoriam

By Bobrowski, Ireneusz | Journal of Slavic Linguistics, Summer-Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Roman Laskowski in Memoriam


Bobrowski, Ireneusz, Journal of Slavic Linguistics


Professor Roman Laskowski, one of Poland's most distinguished Slavic scholars, a specialist in Polish, Czech, and the theory and methodology of linguistics, died in Krakow on June 21, 2014, after a long and severe illness.

Roman Laskowski was born on February 16, 1936 at Komarno near Lwow (now Lviv, Ukraine). Shortly after the Soviet invasion of the eastern territories of Poland on the September 17, 1939, his father was arrested by the NKVD and never returned home. Roman, his mother, and two brothers were deported to the Soviet Union. Thanks to her indefatigable resolution and heroic courage, his mother managed to save her sons' lives and to get them out of the Soviet Union. In 1946 they settled in Kietrz, Silesia, where Roman Laskowski completed his secondary school education and in 1954 matriculated at the Jagiellonian University, graduating with a degree in Slavic Philology in 1959.

Laskowski started his academic career as an employee of the Silesian Scientific Institute in Katowice (now the Silesian Institute, Katowice), and subsequently moved on to the Department (now Institute) of Slavic Studies at the Polish Academy of Sciences, where he was a member of a team led by Alfred Zariba compiling the Atlas jpzykowy Slqska (Linguistic Atlas of Silesia). In the same period he was working on his doctoral dissertation on the derivation of nouns in Lach, dialects transitional to Czech. He obtained his doctoral degree from the Jagiellonian University in 1969 and his habilitation degree, also from Jagiellonian University, in 1974 with a dissertation on the morphophonology of contemporary Polish (Studia nad morfonologia wspolczesnego jezyka polskiego). By this time, Laskowski was already an employee of the Institute of the Polish Language at the Polish Academy of Sciences (IJP PAN), a research institute with which he would be closely associated for the rest of his life, although he also had spells of employment at the University of Gothenburg (1985-2000), the Jagiellonian University (2001-7), and the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Warsaw (2008-12).

Laskowski started his linguistic research at the IJP PAN with an analysis of Old Polish texts, in collaboration with Warlaw Twardzik (who predeceased him by just a few weeks). Laskowski appreciated working with Professor Twardzik and returned to this area many times over the years, even after he had advanced a highly precise linguistic theory of his own focusing on grammatical phenomena in modern Polish, particularly Polish morphology.

Encyclopedia entries on Laskowski characterize him as a pioneer and precursor of generative phonology. His book on the morphophonology of Polish has been frequently cited in work on generative phonology. However, the concept of morphophonology that it presents goes back to the principles elaborated in the Prague Linguistic Circle, particularly by Nikolai Trubetzkoy, who first used the concept of the morphophoneme in the representation of the members of an alternation. The fact that Laskowski's complete morphophonology for Polish, which he built up on this foundation, was acknowledged in the nascent field of generative phonology may be readily explained. Suffice it to recall the very substantial influence on the form of the phonological and morphophonological component in the generative model that came from Roman Jakobson.

Laskowski's greatest achievement may have been the creation of an original, advanced, and coherent theory of morphology. This theory has served as the framework for the description of the morphological subsystem of Polish in the Academy's Gramatyka wspolczesnego jezyka polskiego: Morfologia, edited by R. Grzegorczykowa, R. Laskowski, and H. Wrobel. Laskowski's theory of morphology makes reference to Prague structuralism but takes its cue from the American distributionalism. This is particularly patent in his classification of lexical units, for which syntactic distribution serves as a basis. …

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