Although he had graduated in Chemical Engineering from the Barcelona School of Industry (1890) and held the chair in Chemistry at the Bilbao School of Industrial Engineering for ten years (as of 1902), Fabra was nevertheless drawn strongly to linguistics, ever since the day when, at the age of 15, he realised that he was unable to express himself in Catalan in a letter to his cousins; unconsciously, he started writing in Spanish, and just after the greeting he stopped...
His crucial contribution to Catalan grammar started, then, with that event, in the 1880s, and took shape though his link with the magazine L’Avenç as of 1889. In 1890 and 1891 he promoted a landmark campaign for spelling reform, together with Jaume Massó and Joaquim Casas. Fabra’s main idea was clear: it was necessary to spread the correction of the Catalan language.
L’Avenç, founded in 1881, was initially a magazine dedicated to literary, artistic and scientific progress; its full title was L’Avenç Literari, Artístic i Científic. Revista mensual il·lustrada. Later on, however, L’Avenç became also a publishing house; in fact, it was considered the most important Catalan-language publishing house of its time, as it published as many as seven magazines of its own and more than 500 book titles. The L’Avenç publishing company also brought together a large group of writers and intellectuals with a common goal: to carry out cultural initiatives along the lines of the modernista movement. This made it a crucial institution in the evolution of contemporary language and culture. The friends Fabra had in the institution, especially Jaume Massó and Joaquim Casas, were involved in his first major publications, the main aim of which was to lay the foundations for a thorough spelling reform that would enable Catalan to stand on a par with the other languages of culture in its vicinity.
On another note, it was Pompeu Fabra who founded, in 1911, the Philology Section of the Institute of Catalan Studies, and was its President from 1917 to 1948, after Antoni M. Alcover had held the position for the first years. Pompeu Fabra was also President of the Institute of Catalan Studies, intermittently, between 1921 and 1935. Furthermore, Fabra was a professor at the University of Barcelona, and when the University became autonomous he was Chairman of the University Board (1933).
Because of his position, after the 1934 insurrection known as the Fets d’Octubre, Pompeu Fabra was imprisoned on the steamship Uruguay. Nevertheless, he continued his linguistic studies, and during the six weeks and a day he was imprisoned on the ship he prepared a lecture on the evolution of words.