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Artturi Kannisto

Born May 12, 1874, Kylmäkoski. Died March 10, 1943, Helsinki.

Bachelor of Arts, 1899, Master of Arts, 1900, Licentiate of Philosophy, 1919, Doctor of Philosophy, University of Helsinki

Docent teacher, Finno-Ugrian Languages, 1920–1907, Supernumerary Professor, 1927–1943, University of Helsinki

Finnish Language Teacher, Faculty of Jurisprudence 1910–1921, Imperial Alexander University (University of Helsinki)
Amanuensis, Finnish Language Seminar Library 1900, Imperial Alexander University
Research Trips to Russian Tobolsk and Perm Governorates 1901–1906

Member, Hungarian Academy of Sciences 1931
Member, Finnish Academy of Science and Letters 1922
Member, School Examination Board 1920–1943
Secretary, Finno-Ugrian Society 1919–35, Director 1935–1943
Founder and Board Member, Suomen Sanakirjaosakeyhtiö (Finnish dictionary Co) 1916–1924
Minutes Secretary, Society for the Study of English, Deputy Chairman, 1907–1909 and Chairman 1919–1920

Commander of the Hungarian Order of Corvinus, 1942
Hungarian Order of Merit, 1939
Honorary Member, Society for the Study of Finnish
Honorary Doctor of Philosophy, University of Budapest, University of Debrecen, 1935
Knight, Order of the White Rose of Finland, 1934

Named after Kannisto
Artturi Kannisto street, Helsinki, 1952

Photo: National Board of Antiquities
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by John Calton

Five years with the Mansi people

Soon after completing his Master’s degree, Artturi Kannisto went on a research trip to western Siberia in 1901. His goal was to get to know the culture of the Mansi people and to study their various dialects. According to Päivi Kannisto, the underlying concern was that the small populations of Finno-Ugrians in Russia and their languages would soon disappear and become assimilated into the mainstream Russian culture.

Kannisto threw himself into the task of gathering in-depth data. He collected an enormous amount of Mansi dialect words, texts, folk poems and culture, songs, and ethnological artefacts. Kannisto’s trip extended across almost every Mansi village in western Siberia. The fieldwork lasted a long time: altogether, Kannisto stayed in the Mansi region until the spring of 1905 when he came back to Finland for a few months to handle his affairs and rest. He soon returned to Siberia, however, and finally came back to Finland for good in December 1906.

The Mansi region is shown in red. Kannisto’s trip to the region lasted five years. Source: Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0.​
The Mansi region is shown in red. Kannisto’s trip to the region lasted five years. Source: Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0.​

Upon his return Kannisto got straight down to drawing up the first phonetic history of the Mansi language based on his research material. The material gathered on the research trip also formed the basis of his dissertation, which he completed in 1919. He edited the collection of folk poetry with his student Matti Liimola, to whom the task of publishing fell after Kannisto’s death. Edited and translated into German, Wogulische Volksdichtung appeared in seven volumes published between 1951 and 1982.

According to Ulla-Maija Kulonen, Kannisto’s research methods were somewhat flawed. The amount of material he collected, however, was so great that it has been possible to provide an accurate analysis of the Mansi dialects after the fact. The Kannisto archive, which is stored in the Finnish Literature Society’s literary archives, is still a valuable source for language and folklore studies, according to Susanna Virtanen.

Kannisto himself believed that his research was being carried out at the last possible moment. In a way he was right because a large part of the Mansi were Russified or became assimilated into their neighbouring communities after he left. According to Päivi Kannisto, only about one per cent of the Finno-Ugric population which was studied still lives in the region. Artturi Kannisto’s collected material forms one of the best sources and research on Mansi dialects today.

Artturi Kannisto and his family. Photo: Finland’s National Board of Antiquities.​​
Artturi Kannisto and his family. Photo: Finland’s National Board of Antiquities.​​

Sources (in Finnish):

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