Born in Radzymin on the 13th of March 1845, into an aristocratic family of French origin. He completed the Warsaw Main School and continued his studies in Prague, Jena, and Leipzig, where he defended his doctoral thesis in 1870. He was a professor at the universities of Kazan (1874-1883), Tartu (1883-1893), Kraków (1894-1899), Saint Petersburg (1899-1918), and Warsaw (1918-1929), as well as at the Catholic University of Lublin (1918-1920). De Courtenay was also a member of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences. His academic career was, however, disturbed by the repercussions of his political and journalistic activity. It was just on that account – on the charge of propagating Pan-Slavism – that he had lost his professorship at the Jagiellonian University. In 1914, following the publication of his pamphlet called Natsionalnyi i tierreetorialnyi priznak he was judged by the tsarist authorities and sentenced to two years in prison. Although the sentence was then reduced to just three months, he had lost his post at the Saint Petersburg University (and later only regained it for a short spell after the fall of tsarism). In 1922 he competed for the office of President of Poland. His candidature was proposed – without his consent, though – by national minorities; but he stood no chance of winning in the vote carried out at the National Assembly. Due to his political beliefs, he was perceived as an opponent of Conservatism and advocate of free-thinking and moral progress, although he would criticize progressive views as presented by the Bolsheviks (for instance, he agitated fervently for the need to defend Poland during the Polish-Soviet war). He also combated Nationalist views or, at least, those that he considered such. When he was offered a professorship at the newly founded University of Vilnius, he refused, arguing that a Polish university in that city might be perceived by Lithuanians as an instrument of Polonization. He was also critical of institutional Church and advocated separation of Church and state. In the eyes of many of his ideological opponents he passed for one of the leading enemies of religion in the Second Polish Republic, in spite of the fact that he formally withdrew from the Roman Catholic Church only in 1927. His works include O drevnepolskom iazyke do XIV stoletiyia (1870), O ogólnych przyczynach zmian językowych (1891), Kashoobskiy ‘iazyk’, kashoobskiy narod i ‘kashoobskiy vopros’ (1897), Szkice językoznawcze (1904), Zarys historii językoznawstwa, czyli lingwistyki (glottologii) (1909), Charakterystyka psychologiczna języka polskiego (1915), and Zarys historii języka polskiego (1922). His linguistic works made him one of the most respected scholars in that field. De Courtenay died in Warsaw on the 3rd of November, 1929.
This website is a part of the project entitled ‘Polish Political Thought and Independence: A Program for the Promotion of Polish Intellectual Heritage Abroad’, generously funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland as A part of ‘Public Diplomacy 2017’ programme, component ‘Collaboration in the field of Public Diplomacy 2017’.