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Arvid Genetz

Arvid Oskar Gustaf Genetz (pen name Arvi Jännes)
Born July 1, 1848, in Impilahti, Died May 3, 1915, in Helsinki

BA (Finno-Ugrian Linguistics) 1871, MA 1873, licentiate and doctorate 1877 from the Imperial Alexander University in Finland

Study trip to Budapest 1878–1979

Professor of Finno-Ugrian Linguistics 1893–1901, Imperial Alexander University

Finnish language and literature docent 1877, professor 1891–1893
Lecturer in Finnish and Swedish languages at the Hämeenlinna lyceum (renamed the Helsinki lyceum in 1887) 1878–1891
Finnish language reviewer on the Bible Translation Committee 1886–1915
Church assemblyman 1903
Senator, Chair of the Senate Committee on Ecclesiastical Affairs 1901–1905
Clergy representative in parliament 1891
Director of the Society for Finnish Literature 1892–1902
Director of the Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation 1890–1906

The Finnish Society for Sciences and Letters National Award 1888 (for Kuolalapin sanakirja, ‘Kola peninsula dictionary’)

Photo: SKS / kirjallisuusarkisto
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by Joe McVeigh

A fierce contest for the professorship

The Impilahti-born Arvid Genetz completed his bachelor’s degree at the Imperial Alexander University in 1871. He majored in Finno-Ugrian linguistics under professor August Ahlqvist. He defended his doctoral dissertation on western Finnish dialects in 1877. The work, titled Lautphysiologische Einführung in das Studium der westfinnischen Sprachen, is considered the first proper phonetic study in the subject.

The start of Genetz’s career was not ideal for working in academia. He worked as a lecturer in Finnish and Swedish languages at the Hämeenlinna lyceum until 1891. Although his scholarly career remained in the background for some time, Genetz did get to strongly influence the education of the new generation of nationalist intellectuals. Thanks to Genetz, one of his most gifted students, Emil Nestor Setälä, became interested in issues of linguistics and nationality. People say that Setälä used to visit his teacher so many times to ask for advice that Genetz’s wife Eva eventually lost her temper with the young man.  

Genetz moved back to Helsinki when the lyceum was transferred there in 1887. A few years later professorship in Finnish language and literature opened up at the university. The main competitor for the position was Genetz’s former student, the recently graduated PhD Setälä. The hiring process for the professorship was highly politicized because of the pro-Finnish Genetz and the pro-Swedish Setälä. Genetz won in the end by a narrow vote of 14 to 12 and began his professorship in 1891. But the battle for the professorship soured relations between the former teacher and student.

Genetz served in the professorship for just two years before it split up into two. In 1893, Genetz became the professor of Finno-Ugrian linguistics when it separated from the subject. Setälä became the professor of Finnish language and literature. Genetz’s new professorship was, however, right in his area of expertise. His research and work focused on the Finnish language family. He made research trips to places such as Russia and Hungary, worked on bringing Standard Finnish and Standard Estonian closer together, and strongly supported the initiative to translate the Kaleva into Hungarian.

Besides researching language families, Genetz was a proponent of grammatical correctness and he sought to promote consistency in standard languages. He served as director of the Finnish Literature society from 1892–1902 and as a Finnish language reviewer on the Bible Translation Committee from 1886 until his death. Genetz’s scientific achievements were overshadowed by Setälä’s for a long time, but they have since been restored.  

Photo credit: Finnish Literature Society / literature archives.​
Photo credit: Finnish Literature Society / literature archives.​


  • Suutari, Toni and Merja Salo (eds.). 2001. Castrén’s heirs. Professors of Finnish and related languages at the University of Helsinki 1851–2001. Helsinki, 18–20.
  • Vares, Vesa. ‘Genetz, Arvid’. National Biography of Finland online, The Finnish Literature Society. Accessed June 17, 2015 (Available for free at the Nelli portal).
  • Harmaja, Harri. Arvid Genetz (1848–1915). Online publication. Accessed June 17, 2015.
  • Wikipedia. Arvid Genetz.
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