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In Memoriam Em. Univ.-Prof. Dr. Dieter Kastovsky (1940-2012)

On November 23rd 2012 Dieter Kastovsky died of a heart attack during a visit in Poznan. His sudden death has shocked us deeply. It is hard to accept that so full and active a life should have been so abruptly cut short.

Dieter joined the Vienna English Department in 1981 after eight years as professor in Wuppertal. In those early Vienna years, his international mindset set in motion a profound cultural change in the department: international scholars visited as guest-speakers, guest-professors or contributors at the symposia Dieter organized. More importantly still, he encouraged colleagues, especially the young ones, to travel and present internationally. This was not a matter of course at the philosophical faculty of the 1980s and early 1990s. Dieter was a master at networking long before the word became a household term.

The university protests of 1968, which he experienced as the speaker of the academic ‘Mittelbau’ in Tübingen, shaped his interest in and gusto for university politics. And so he soon took on management duties within the faculty: between 1986 and 2006 he was for a total of 16 years head of the school of translation and interpreting. During his period of office the unit experienced significant growth into a fully-fledged Centre for Translation Studies of the University of Vienna. From 1990-1992 he also acted as Head of the English Department.

Dieter still had so many plans for the future. In particular he wanted to publish the book-length take on the Historical morphology of English with Edinburgh University Press that he had been working on for so long. The structure of English words and the typological questions raised by the diachronic development of these structures had always captured his scientific interest throughout his career ever since he wrote his dissertation on Old English deverbal substantives at the University of Tübingen in 1967. Decisive influences in those early years were his supervisor, the Anglicist Hans Marchand, as well as Eugenio Coseriu, with whom he studied Romance philology. In the 1970s he became fascinated with the ideas of Generativism like many other young European linguists at the time and introduced them in his teaching. From the early 1980s onwards, however, his earlier socialisation into European structuralism gained ground again and guided his conceptualizations of English morphology. Also at this time, he started to take up his earlier diachronic work. The far-reaching changes which English underwent in the transition from the Old English to the Middle English period became the centre of his research interest, especially as these related to the morphological typology of the language. Much of this research appeared in print and informed the chapter on Old English semantics and vocabulary he was invited to contribute to the Cambridge History of the English Language (1992). Much of it, however, only remains in the form of lecture notes and it was these he was planning to write up as a book, whose completion was interrupted by his sudden death.

Alongside his concern with linguistic form Dieter had always cultivated an interest in semantics (see Englische Wortbildung und Semantik, 1982, Narr Verlag) but through his collaboration with his wife Barbara Kryk-Kastovsky he extended the range of his interest into pragmatics and developed respect and understanding for linguistic theories that regard language not as only abstract structure but as a resource for making meaning in context.

Since his retirement in 2009 Dieter regularly taught as guest-professor at the University of Llodz’s Warsaw division and the fact that he died during a visit to Poland acquires a deeper significance if one is aware of his personal history. From the late 1970s onwards Dieter had always tried to ignore the Iron Curtain as best he could, keeping up a lively interchange with colleagues from Poland, East Germany and the then Czechoslovakia. His deep connection and friendship with the east of Europe certainly had roots in his family history: Dieter was born in 1940 in the eastern Czech town of Freudenthal (Bruntal) near the Polish border. The Polish authorities in particular gave credit to his attitude and his initiative, witnessed by a number of Polish decorations. Without calling himself that Dieter was a European of the first order and he loved to network in all corners of the continent (and, in fact, of the globe). In his passion for travel Dieter the professional scholar and Dieter the private person met.

And in general he was a person who enjoyed life. He could talk about good food with relish and he also knew how to cook good food himself and loved to share it with guests at his table. He took great delight in attending balls during each Vienna season and at least once a year would travel to New York to see musicals and go the 'The Met'. He loved opera and musical theatre.  'This makes me think of soandso' he would often say at the end of a meeting and then would start to sing (in a respectable tenor voice) a song or aria that would somehow ironically or humorously comment on a topic that had been discussed - only to be so very pleased if no one knew which piece it came from.

Dieter Kastovsky made the most of his life: he enjoyed it fully, both socially and professionally. As scholar, colleague, and friend, he will be greatly missed.

Dieter Kastovsky - Curriculum Vitae:


Born in Freudenthal (Bruntal, Czech Republic) on December 26th 1940. He grew up in Esslingen (Schwaben, Germany). He had been married to his second wife Dr. Barbara Kryk-Kastovsky, professor at the University of Poznań, since 1992. He studied English, Romance and German philology at the universities of Tübingen, Berlin (Free University) and Besançon. After receiving his PhD he worked with Hans Marchand in Tübingen from 1967-1973. 1973-1981 Professor of English Philology and Linguistics at Bergische Universität, Wuppertal. Since  1981 chair of English Linguistics at the University of Vienna. 1986-1990, 1994-2004: Head of Department of Interpreting and Translation; 1990-1992 Head of English Department; 2004-2006 director of the Centre for Translation Studies at the University of Vienna. 1991-2006 Secretary and Treasurer of Societas Linguistica Europaea. Member of the Sudetendeutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften und Künste, Munich and Fellow of the English Association, London.
Honours and awards: Medal of Honour, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, 1986; Medal of Honour, Ministry of Education, People's Republic of Poland, 1989; Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit, People's Republic of Poland, 1990; Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit, Republic of Poland, 2005; Gold Medal of Honour of the University of Vienna, 2009.

Christiane Dalton-Puffer



Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik /
Department of English
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