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Axel Olof Freudenthal

Born December 12, 1836, Siuntio. Died June 2, 1911, Helsinki.

Bachelor of Philosophy, 1859, Master of Philosophy, 1860, Doctor of Philosophy, 1865, Imperial Alexander University
Studies in Uppsala, 1861–1862, Copenhagen 1862–1863

Professor of Swedish Language and Literature, 1878–1904, Imperial Alexander University

Acting Professor of Swedish Language and Literature, 1876–1878, Imperial Alexander University
Lektor, Swedish 1868–1878, Helsingfors svenska lyceum (Swedish-medium school)
Docent, Medieval Scandinavian Languages and Antiquities, 1866, Imperial Alexander University

Member, Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters, 1876; Chairman, 1888–1889
Founder member, Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland (Swedish Literature Society in Finland), 1885
Founder member, Svenska Folkskolans Vänner (Friends of Swedish elementary schooling), 1882
Founder member, Svenska Landsmålsföreningen (Swedish student cultural body), 1874
Curator 1868–1880, Nyländska afdelningen (Uusimaa student nation), Inspector, 1884–86

Nyländska afdelningen memorial, 1913
Riemumaisteri (honorary master’s degree conferred fifty years after a first degree), University of Uppsala, 1910
Honorary member, Svenska Litteratursällskapet i Finland (Society of Swedish Literature in Finland), 1909
Cross of the Order of St Anna, 3rd class, 1904
Honorary member, Svenska Landsmålsföreningen (Swedish student cultural body), 1900
Cross of the Order of St Stanislaus, 3rd class, 1897
Honorary member, Nyländska afdelningen, 1880, Imperial Alexander University
Honorary Doctor of Philosophy, University of Uppsala, 1877

Photo: Nylands Nations konstsamling
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by John Calton

The first professor of Swedish at Helsinki University

Axel Olof Fredenthal enrolled at the Imperial Alexander University in 1854 to study Classical Philology and Archaeology. He graduated with a master’s degree five years later. In spite of his main subject, he was increasingly drawn to the study of the Swedish language and the Swedish-speaking population of Finland.

Freudenthal’s interest in the Swedish-speaking rural population of Finland first arose when he made two research trips to small villages in the Uusimaa region in Southern Finland in 1860 and 1861. Going from village to village, he collected Swedish folklore such as songs and stories and studied relics found in the area. He later made a similar trip to Swedish-speaking parts of Ostrobothnia.

In 1861, Freudenthal moved to Uppsala, Sweden, to pursue studies in Nordic Philology. The following year, he moved to Copenhagen to study archaeological museology.

On returning to Finland he devoted himself to the study of languages, which culminated in a doctorate in 1865 with a thesis entitled Einar Skålaglams Vellekla öfversatt och förklarad (‘ ‘ ). Freudenthal was appointed Docent of Old Scandinavian Languages and Antiquities in 1866.

: A. O. Freudenthal’s doctoral dissertation ”Einar Skålaglams Vellekla öfversatt och förklarad” (1865).​
: A. O. Freudenthal’s doctoral dissertation ”Einar Skålaglams Vellekla öfversatt och förklarad” (1865).​

In the 1870s, Freudenthal studied the Swedish dialects of Finland and Estonia. The establishment of a chair in Swedish language was already being planned at the University, but the initiative met with strong resistance in the Diet of Finland. In the end, Freudenthal was appointed the first Acting Professor of Swedish Language and Literature in 1876. His position was made permanent two years later after Freudenthal published his professorial thesis Über den Närpesdialect, concerning the Swedish dialect found in the Ostrobothnian coastal town of Närpes-Närpiö. He retired in 1904.

Freudenthal promoted the teaching of Swedish even outside of the University. He published a new orthography of the language in 1881, striving to model writing on pronunciation. It was accepted quite widely and many schools adopted his model in their teaching.

Freudenthal was very active in numerous academic societies and organisations that supported Swedish-language culture. He was appointed as a member of the Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters in 1876 and acted as its chair in 1888/9. He was also a founding member of several cultural associations that remain active, including Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, the Society of Swedish Literature in Finland, and Svenska Folkskolans vänner, ‘friends of Swedish schools’.


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