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Fred Karlsson

Fred Göran Karlsson
Born February 17, 1946, Turku

Master of Arts 1969, Åbo Akademi University (Finnish language) and University of Turku (phonetics)
Master of Arts 1972 (linguistics), University of Chicago
PhD 1974 (phonetics), University of Turku
Docent in Finnish language 2012–, University of Helsinki

Emeritus professor of general linguistics 2012–, University of Helsinki
Professor of general linguistics 1980–2012, University of Helsinki
Research fellow 1976–78, Academy of Finland
Acting associate professor of Finnish language 1975, Åbo Akademi University
Lecturer in phonetics 1973–74, University of Gothenburg
Acting professor of phonetics 1973, University of Turku
Research associate 1969, University of Jyväskylä

Research areas: phonetics, morphology, syntax, automatic syntactical analysis, linguistic complexity, corpus linguistics, the history of linguistics, Finnish grammar

Membership of scholarly societies
The Finnish Society of Science and Letters 1984
Academia Europaea 1988
The Royal Society of Sciences at Uppsala 2005
The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities 2008

The Finnish Information Processing Association prize for best computing product of 1988 (together with Kimmo Koskenniemi)
Oskar Öflund Foundation prize 1988
Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters’ E. J. Nyström prize 1996
‘Professor of the year’ 1998, Finnish Union of University Professors
Commander of the Order of the lion of Finland 2003
Finnish Cultural Foundation award of merit 2013
A Man of Measure. Festschrift in Honour of Fred Karlsson on his 60th Birthday. Special Supplement to SKY Journal of Linguistics, Volume 19, 2006. Urho Määttä and Jussi Niemi (eds.) Turku: The Linguistic Association of Finland

Photo: Sylvi Soramäki-Karlsson
Written by Fred Karlsson (Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta, ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

My Best Memories from the University of Helsinki

As a professor in a small field, you have to stretch yourself thin. The most important thing is the success of your students and their finding suitable employment.

I have been involved in supervising over 25 doctoral dissertations. Many of the authors are (or have been) professors or university lecturers in Finland or abroad, for example Marja Leinonen in Slavic philology, Martti Nyman in Classical philology, Kimmo Koskenniemi in computational linguistics, Anneli Pajunen and Tapani Kelomäki in Finnish, Kari Pitkänen in English, Liisa Tiittula in German, Matti Miestamo in general linguistics, Irmeli Helin in translation studies, Lotta Aunimo in the Bantu languages, and Antti Arppe in quantitative linguistics.

One of the central aims of general linguistics is the documentation of endangered languages. It is a rewarding pursuit to help preserve and study the languages of minorities and fragmentary national groups. Doctoral dissertations on these issues have been written by, among others, Liisa Berghäll on Mauwake in Papua New Guinea, Chris Pekka Wilde on Rajbhasha in Nepal, and Päivi Rainò on Finnish Sign Language.

For 30 years, Kimmo Koskenniemi and I conducted interdisciplinary research together. With the help of our colleagues, we engendered the rise of computational and corpus linguistics. Koskenniemi has told his side of this story for his 375 Humanists profile, published on October 26, 2015. Two Centres of Excellence in Research funded by the Academy of Finland and the University of Helsinki were active at the Department of General Linguistics: the computational linguistics research unit between 1985 and 1994 and the multilingual language technology research unit between 1995 and 1999. The Centres of Excellence accounted for at least 150 man years.

Photo: Juha Jarva.

When I became a professor in 1980, I had decided to focus on raising consciousness about sign language. An interpreter for the Finnish Association of the Deaf, Raili Ojala, came to interpret my inaugural speech at the Small Hall of the University Main Building into sign language. Furthermore, he also signed (without preparation!) a lecture given by the new professor of astronomy, Kalevi Mattila. Among the audience was the Consistorium (senate) of the University of Helsinki, which essentially means all the University’s professors. Years later, many of them still mentioned that it was that day that they understood sign language to be a proper language in its own right.

I fondly remember a student whom I met one late winter night at Central Railway Station in the early 1990s. He said to me, “you know, although I never completed my intermediary studies, general linguistics has come in handy when teaching drumming at the Theatre Academy.”


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