In loving memory of Dubravko Kučanda
(13 August 1950 – 20 December 2006)
Dubravko (3rd from the right) at his last conference (CALS conference, Split, Croatia in May 2004)
With quiet pride and no small measure of lingering sadness, the English Department is remembering Dubravko Kučanda – one of its oldest members – today, on the 15th anniversary of his premature passing.
Most of us were lucky to have worked with Dubravko, to have laughed with him and learnt from this giant of a man and scholar. So we don’t apologize for the sentimentality, since no amount of it is too much when it’s about honoring the memory of a man like Dubravko.
As one of the first ever members of the English Department, Dubravko was the one who planted the seeds of harmony, tolerance, an easy-going and familiar disposition with which the English Department is still so often credited by students and the faculty’s staff at all rungs of its organizational ladder.
Dubravko is our genuine linguistic Hall of Famer. His stellar work has earned him a recognition and respect not only from linguists at home, but also from some of the best of the world’s best. But rather than dwell on the details of his many professional achievements, let us share a few thoughts about the man behind – for the benefit of our young new colleagues who weren’t lucky enough to start from under his wing, and of our students today who did not have a chance to catch the “syntax bug” by witnessing first-hand Dubravko’s infectuous enthusiasm as teacher and scholar.
Dubravko was beloved by those who knew him personally. He had a magnetic personality and was passionate about everything he did, from linguistics to politics to cuisine. He was a cosmopolitan and a pacifist, ever since his student days as a long-haired Flower-Power hippie. He was a brilliant mind, yet still just a free, down-to-earth spirit.
Dubravko brought more to scholarly encounters than his keen linguistic eye. As Mario Brdar, his first-generation student and closest colleague and friend put it, with Dubravko every conference was an adventure, a swirl of lively scientific discussions laced with jokes and thoughtful but fun lessons in (academic) life and living it well. He was struck down by serious illnesses at least on three occasions, but was never broken. He had a great sense of humor and loved to joke, even about the disabilities brought on by his declining health. He refused the idea of early retirement and resisted for as long as he could leaving the top floor office, which he shared with some of us, even though there was at the time still no elevator in the building.
Most of us were privileged to have been Dubravko’s students. Some remember him ad-libbing his lectures, standing at the window of the lecture hall, cigarette lit. He virtually never read from notes, but narrated syntax with the craft of a master story-teller and a hypnotic conviction that “broke” even the most disinterested student in the back row. Some of us remember a graduating student presenting Dubravko with a hand-painted mug featuring the example of the notorious farmer and the poor lit-tle duckling in all manner of syntactic contortions.
We still retell anecdotes about Dubravko’s mastery of improvisation. A favorite is the story of him sketching his presentation on a piece of paper, and having run out of that, completing it on a piece of tissue paper, all on the night before the confer-ence. He was well-known for his dislike for any displays of deference and empty social etiquette. We all paid our share of “fines” – picking up the tab for drinks at the next conference – for every time we slipped and addressed him with the dreaded Vi (honorific ‘you’). I will personally always remember him smiling away the criticism for wearing jeans and sneakers for my master’s thesis defense. I have a sneaking suspicion that he would “forget” to deliver on his promise to behave in future and wear something “proper” when the time came for the defense of my dissertation. Sadly, he passed on before that event.
He truly loved his whole Department but was especially fond and protective of us, the Department novices. His family’s obituary thank-you note says it all:
[…] Hvala svim djelatnicima Filozofskog fakulteta, profesorima, pri-jateljima i studentima, a posebno njegovim mladim kolegama-bivšim studentima koje je nesebično pomagao i usmjeravao, a koji su uspješno preuzeli, nastavili i proširili započeto. Oni su ga “držali”. Otišao je za-dovoljan, već pomalo umoran, ali s još puno planova.
[…] A thank you goes out to all employees of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, professors, friends and students, and especially to his young colleagues – former students to whom he gave selfless sup-port and guidance, and who picked up, continued, and expanded on what was started. It was they who kept him going. He left content, even if already somewhat tired, but still with many plans for the future.
A heartfelt thank you to Dubravko’s family, his wife Ljiljana and his daughters Mirna and Zvončica, for their kind words and for “sharing” him with us all those years.
A special commemorative issue of our journal Jezikoslovlje is going to be published today. We invite everyone to read this very fine collection of papers, most of which have come from the pen of Dubravko’s closest friends and colleagues from home and abroad (https://hrcak.srce.hr/broj/21087).
Gabrijela Buljan, with members of the English Department
(portions of the text have been adapted from the 2008 and 2021 In Memoriams published in Jezikoslovlje)
From Dubravko’s biography
Dubravko was born on 13 August 1950 in Bjelovar. He graduated from the double-major program in English language and literature and German language and literature at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (Zagreb University) in 1976. Three years later he joined as an assistant the newly formed English Department at what is today known as the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Osijek (FFOS). Since then he taught various linguistic courses at FFOS’s English Depart-ment. Soon after obtaining his MA degree from the University of Zagreb in 1982, Dubravko received a predoctoral grant to study at the University of Sheffield (1983) and shortly thereafter spent an academic year at the University of Antwerp (1986/87) as a Maystadt Fellow. This experience led to his long-lasting friendships with some of the key names in functional linguistics and no doubt cemented his career and charisma as a devoted functionalist with a soft spot for syntax. It was not a smooth career or life path for Dubravko. He experienced a number of serious health setbacks, but always managed to bounce back. He earned his PhD from the University of Zagreb in 1998, with a dissertation on clausal subjects in Croatian and English. His academic appointments as Assistant Professor and Associate Professor of English Linguistics at FFOS came in 1999 and 2003. Dubravko held a number of administrative positions at his home institution. He was also president (1988 to 1993) and a member (2003 and 2006) of the regional branch of the Croatian Applied Linguistics Society, and a member of a number of professional organizations like the International Pragmatics Association (IprA), Societas Linguisticae Europaea (SLE), Association for Linguistic Typology (ALT), Croatian Society for English Studies and the European Society for the Study of English (ESSE).
Dubravko will mostly be remembered for his five-star publications. He was the pioneer of the Dikkian Functional Grammar type of functionalism in Central Europe and a keen aficionado of typology and contrastive linguistics. Much of his most insightful work in syntax came from his own two research projects viz. Primary Grammatical Relations (1988 to 1990) and Syntactic Functions in English, German, Croatian and Hungarian (1991 to 1995), but extended into the period beyond. Even when he started on his exploratory journey toward the then still young Cognitive Linguistics movement, his work remained soberly grounded and guided by the same critical eye that had made him stand out as the sentinel of research excellence from day one.