Jerzy Kuryłowicz

Jerzy Kuryłowicz

Jerzy Kuryłowicz (Polish pronunciation: [ˈjɛʐɨ kurɨˈwɔvit͡ʂ]; 1895-1978) was a Polish linguist who studied Indo-European languages. He was the brother of Włodzimierz Kuryłowicz and his son is also called Jerzy Kuryłowicz.



He was born on August 26th 1895 in Stanisławów, Austria–Hungary (now Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine), is considered the most outstanding contemporary Polish historical linguist, structuralist and language theoretician, deeply interested in the studies of Indo-European languages. He studied in Vienna at Die Hochschule fur Welthandel (1913-1914), and then, after World War I, continued the studies at the University of Lviv, where his unusual language skills drew the attention of some prominent linguists. As a result, he was granted a scholarship in Paris. This gave him an opportunity to qualify as a university professor of Indo-European linguistics soon after his return to Poland. After obtaining the title, he became a professor at the University of Lviv. Later on, in 1946-48 Kuryłowicz filled in for Dr Krzyżanowski at the Institute of English Philology in Wrocław. Finally, he moved to Cracow, where he took the chair of General Linguistics at Jagiellonian University. He retired in 1965. Kuryłowicz was a member of the Polish Academy of Learning and the Polish Academy of Science. He died at the age of 83 on January 28th 1978 in Kraków.

He was a member of the Polish Academy of Learning and the Polish Academy of Sciences. His son, Jerzy Kuryłowicz (1925-2002) obtained his PhD from the Technical University of Warsaw, Poland.

Work in linguistics

Kuryłowicz did not belong to any of the structuralist linguistic schools. In his views he was close to glossematics, whose many assumptions he accepted and developed. He is best known for his works on the Indo-European languages. The most important ones are Apophony in Indo-European (1956) and The Inflectional Categories of Indo-European (1964). In the latter, he discussed the inflectional categories of Indo-European languages and later, on the basis of these studies, formulated the so-called Case Theory.

Case Theory

In this theory he proposes the division into grammatical and concrete cases. According to Kuryłowicz, the case is a syntactic or semantic relation expressed by the appropriate inflected form or by linking the preposition with a noun, so it is the category based on a relation inside the sentence or a relation between two sentences.

The category of case covers two basic case groups: 1. grammatical case 2. concrete cases

Grammatical cases: their primary function is syntactic, the semantic function is secondary. If we take the sentence: ‘The boy sat down’ (Fisiak 1975: 59) with an intransitive verb ‘sit’, we may notice that the sentence can be changed into causative construction: ‘’He made the boy sit down’’ (ibid), where the word ‘boy’ is changed from nominative into accusative, with the superior position of nominative. (Nominativus, accusativus)

Concrete cases: they include instrumentalis, locativus and ablativus, whose primary function is the adverbial semantic function. They answer the questions: with whom?, where?, from where?. The syntactic function of concrete cases is secondary. These cases are governed by semantically determined verbs.

For instance, the Polish verb kierować (to drive) governs the direct object in the instrumental case, as in the expression kierować samochodem (to drive a car) (Fisiak 1975: 60)


While studying the phonology of Indo-European languages, Kuryłowicz pointed at the existence of the Hittite consonant h. This discovery supported Ferdinand de Saussure’s coefficients sonantiques, elements de Saussure reconstructed to account for vowel length alternations in Indo-European. This led to the so-called laryngeal theory, a major step forward in Indo-European linguistics.

Syntactic transformation

In 1936 Kuryłowicz introduced the idea of syntactic transformation, pointing at the same time that this syntactic (transformative) derivation does not change the meaning of syntactic form. Therefore, if we take the sentence like: Kate washes the car. and change it into passive: The car is washed by Kate. we can notice that the second sentence has the same meaning as the first one. They differ just in terms of style. The idea of transformative derivation proves that Kuryłowicz was ahead of his times, because what he described resembles one of the main assumptions of Chomsky’s Transformative – Generative Grammar postulated several years later.

Foundation concept

Kuryłowicz was also interested in the element hierarchy and the function of the language system. Analyzing the problem of hierarchy he introduced the concept of foundation, which is the relation between two forms or functions in a language. One of the forms or functions, so-called founding, always results in the presence of the founded, not conversely. For instance, in Latin, the ending –os or –or in sg. The nominative always forms the –orem ending in the accusative. It does not work the other way round because the ending in the accusative does not allow us to predict the ending in the nominative case: It can be either –os or –or. (Fisiak 1975: 56)


  • Kuryłowicz, J., 1936. “Derivation lexicale et derivation syntaxique”. In Kuryłowicz, J., 1960, 41–50.
  • Kuryłowicz, J., 1938. “Struktura morfemu”. In Kuryłowicz, J., 51–65.
  • Kuryłowicz, J., 1949a. “La nature des proces dits ‘analogiques’”. Acta Linguistica 5: 121–38.
  • Kuryłowicz, J., 1949b. “La notion de l’isomorphisme”. In Kuryłowicz, J., 1960, 16–26.
  • Kuryłowicz, J., 1949c. “Le probleme du classement des cas”. In Kuryłowicz, J., 1960, 131–154.
  • Kuryłowicz, J., 1956. Apophony in Indo-European.
  • Kuryłowcz, J., 1960. Esquisses linguistiques. Wrocław – Kraków, Polska Akademia Nauk.
  • Kuryłowicz, J., 1964. The Inflectional Categories of Indo-European. Heidelberg, Carl Winter.


  • Fisiak, J., 1975. Wstęp do współczesnych teorii lingwistycznych. Wydawnictwa Szkolne i Pedagogiczne. Warszawa.

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  • Kuryłowicz, Jerzy — born Aug. 26, 1895, Stanislav, Galicia, Austria Hungary died Jan. 28, 1978, Kraków, Pol. Polish historical linguist. His identification of the Hittite medial h in 1927 substantiated the existence of laryngeals, the Indo European speech sounds… …   Universalium

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