Jan Firbas (25 March 1921, Brno – 5 May 2000, Brno), was a Czech linguist and a prominent representative of the Prague School of linguistics. Born in Brno, in the Czech Republic, he studied English, German and philosophy at the Faculty of Arts of Masaryk University. From 1949 he was a member of the Department of English and American Studies of the faculty until his death in 2000. He became a member of the Prague Linguistics Circle, which was outlawed by the communist government. Persecution from the communist government and the fact that he came from an old Protestant family and refused to renounce his belief significantly delayed his academic career. Despite his international renown, it took him ten years to have his habilitation officially approved and he was only made Professor in 1990. In 1986, he was awarded Honorary Doctorates by the Universities of Leuven and Leeds, and in 2000 by the University of Turku. Even though he was frequently invited to give lecture series at universities across the globe in the 1970s and 80s, he could freely accept the invitations only after the fall of the communist regime in November 1989. Jan Firbas died on the 5 May 2000 in Brno, the city where he had stayed for most of his life.
Firbas developed a theory of Information Structure called Functional Sentence Perspective (FSP), inspired by the work of Vilém Mathesius. It is Jan Firbas who is to be credited with the first use of the term Functional Sentence Perspective. He wrote more than 100 papers on the subject and published a comprehensive account of his approach to information structure of language as a monograph in 1992. Firbas's most diligent disciple was Aleš Svoboda, with whom he closely collaborated especially in the 1970s and 1980s on the development and refinement of the key concepts in the theory of Functional Sentence Perspective. The most important contribution of Jan Firbas to the study of information structure of language was to highlight the fact that "word-order is not the only means of FSP", thus in fact also correcting the view of Vilém Mathesius that "English is less susceptible to FSP than Czech" (ibid.). Firbas's further investigation of the means of FSP lead him to postulate a systemic view of FSP in which "context, linear modification, semantics and in the spoken language also intonation act as formative forces or factors" of FSP.
The work of Jan Firbas, covering not only the FSP theory but also other topics in linguistics, is now being edited by his followers into a five-volume collection of his articles titled Collected Works of Jan Firbas (ISBN 978-80-210-5127-0). As of 1 January 2013, only the first volume (ISBN 978-80-210-5128-7) of the collection has been published.
- Firbas, Jan: Functional Sentence Perspective in Written and Spoken Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1992.
- Firbas, Jan: Collected works of Jan Firbas (Vol. I). Edited by Aleš Svoboda, Jana Chamonikolasová, and Ludmila Urbanová. Brno: Masaryk University Press, 2010.
- Hladký, Josef (Ed.): Language and function: to the memory of Jan Firbas, Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2003.
- Obituary: Jan Firbas (1921 - 2000)
- Svoboda, A.: “Jan Firbas - An outstanding personality of European linguistics” in J. Hladký (Ed.): Language and Function. To the Memory of Jan Firbas. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2003, pp. 1-8.
- Firbas, J.: "Round table on functional linguistics, 1st April 1993, University of Vienna: Prof. J. Firbas", VIenna English Working paperS, Vol.3, No.1, 1994, pp. 4–5
- Golková, E.: "Bibliography of the publications of Professor Jan Firbas, PhDr, DrSc, Dr.h.c. (Leeds, United Kingdom; Leuven, Belgium; Turku, Finland)” in Hladký, Josef (Ed.): Language and function: to the memory of Jan Firbas, Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2003, pp. 9-22.
- Firbas, J.: Functional Sentence Perspective in Written and Spoken Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1992.
- Firbas, J.: "Ze srovnávacích studií slovosledných. (K Mathesiovu pojetí anglické slovosledné soustavy ve srovnání se slovoslednou soustavou českou) [From comparative word-order studies. (Thoughts on V. Mathesius' conception of the word-order system in English compared with that in Czech)], Slovo a slovesnost 23, 1962, p. 173 English Summary
- Firbas, J.: "A systemic view of functional sentence perspective" in T. Dobrzyńska (Ed.): Teoria tekstu, Wroclaw: Polska Akademia Nauk, pp. 17-33
- Firbas, J.: "On some basic problems of functional sentence perspective" in M. Davies and L. Ravelli (Eds): Advances in Systemic Linguistics: Recent Theory and Practice, London/New York: Pinter, 1992, p. 178
- Firbas, J.: Collected works of Jan Firbas (Vol. I). Edited by Aleš Svoboda, Jana Chamonikolasová, and Ludmila Urbanová. Brno: Masaryk University Press, 2010.