Witold Doroszewski

Polish lexicographer and linguist

Witold Doroszewski (May 1, 1899 - Jan. 26, 1976) was a Polish lexicographer and linguist, and Professor at the University of Warsaw, member of the Warsaw Scientific Society, and member of the Polish Academy of Sciences. He is known for his contributions in the field of linguistics and semantics.

Witold Doroszewski in 1962


  • The potential conflict inherent in every word, and finding expression in the fact that the use of every word is an individual embodiment of a general concept, is the focal point of semantics understood as a part of linguistics — that is as a science of the meanings of words and the history of such meanings
    • Witold Doroszewski, Z zagadiiien leksykografii polskiej [Selected Problems of Polish Lexicography], Warszawa 1954, p. 93; as cited in Schaff (1962;6).
  • In a certain sense lexicography may be considered a superior discipline to lexicology, for results are more important than intentions and the value of theoretical principles must be estimated according to results.
    • Witold Doroszewski, Elements of lexicology and semiotics. Vol. 46. Mouton, 1973. p. 36-37

"Comments on Semantics", 1952


Witold Doroszewski, "Uwagi o semantyce" [Comments on Semantics], in Mysl Filozoficzna, 1955, No. 3 (17).

  • [ Semantics can be defined as] the science of the meanings of words, [the central issue of which is] the problem of the relationship between words and designata.
    • As cited in Schaff (1962;6).
  • Not only the tools of manual labour, but also the tools of human thoughtwords — are subject to the laws of historical development. The history of the meanings of words is outside the area of interest of formal logic, and could not be fruitfully studied by the methods of that discipline.
The history of language in what is its most essential content is the history of language as a social instrument of thought; it is historical epistemology which cannot be studied within the scope of any other discipline.
The linguist is of necessity only marginally interested in all conventional terminology, whereas certain votaries of formal logic are inclined to investigate domains which are alien to linguistics and even to some extent in contradiction to its basic assumptions!
  • As cited in Schaff (1962;7).

Quotes about Witold Doroszewski

  • For Witold Doroszewski, at the root of semantic analysis lies the philosophical issue of the relationship between the general and the particular, the starting point being the analysis of the function of the copula "is". Doroszewski analyses the problem of meaning as closely linked with denotation. It is in that question that he sees the focal point of semantics.
According to Doroszewski, the history of meaning consists in the growth of a "gap" between the sign and its designatum. and the cause of changes in meanings lies in the conflict between the general character of the sign and the need for its being made to rise to the occasion whenever it is concretely embodied.
The attitude of Doroszewski, a representative of linguistic semantics, is of interest not only because he draws concrete conclusions from the general definition of semantics, but also because of his reflections on the relationship between semantics as pursued by linguists, and semantics as pursued by logicians. By touching here upon that issue, I anticipate further analysis. This does not advance the clarity of exposition, but is, unfortunately, often inevitable. In this case, it is justified in so far as it helps us to realize better the specific traits of linguistic semantics and its research objectives.
  • Professor Witold Doroszewski (1899–1976) was an exceptional personality, a man of great talent and great labour, which ensured him a glittering and rapid career resulting i.a. in the linguistic school that formed around him in the Warsaw academia. The basis of his academic achievements was an original philosophical concept originating from Aristotelian monism, the centre of which was the notion of homo loquens (a talking man). With respect to linguistics, Witold Doroszewski’s outstanding accomplishments are concerned with word formation; lexicography, lexicology and semantics; culture of language; dialectology; general linguistics. Professor Witold Doroszewski’s achievements correspond with various streams of contemporary linguistics and are an object of a continuing academic discourse.
    • Stanisław Dubisz. "Witold Doroszewski – an intellectualist, linguist, teacher." in: Poradnik Językowy (2016), Issue 1 ; Article abstract.
  • Doroszewski [was] the author of the most important dictionary of the 20th-century Polish language (at least in the category of general-purpose dictionaries).
    • Mirosław Bańko, "Witold Doroszewski as a lexicographer and lexicologist," in: Poradnik Językowy (2016), Issue 1
  • Witold Doroszewski treated the culture of language as a significant part of linguistics. He believed that popularising correct Polish and knowledge of language is more important than pointing out and analysing linguistic errors since promoting positive models is the basis of work on language. He defined language as one of the forms of the human activity in the society. Apart from numerous specific solutions, radio advice, collected in 3 volumes of O kulturę słowa (About the culture of the word), he also formulated several general principles of the culture of language. He presented the first set of criteria for linguistic correctness, developed theoretical assumptions of the dictionary of correct Polish, defined the notion of linguistic norm and linguistic error. Many findings and observations contained in his studies have been valid to date, his way of treating prescriptive linguistics has been continued by his students.
    • Andrzej Markowski. "Witold Doroszewski’s views on the culture of language," in: Poradnik Językowy (2016), Issue 1 ; Article abstract.
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