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Juha Janhunen

Juha Antero Janhunen
Born February 12, 1952, Pori

Master of Arts 1976, PhD 1986 (Finno-Ugrian studies), University of Helsinki

Docent in North Asian Studies 1986–94, University of Helsinki
Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures 1994–, University of Helsinki
Honorary professor at the Inner Mongolia University 1998–
Docent in ethnohistory 2011–, Åbo Akademi University

Research themes:
Comparative linguistics, ethnohistory, field linguistics, endangered languages and their revival

Research projects and working groups:
HALS (Helsinki Area and Language Studies)
Manuscripta Castreaniana (M. A. Castrén’s manuscripts)
Corpus Scriptorum Chitanorum (Khitan language and writing)
UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger
ElCat (Endangered Languages Catalogue)
Revitalisation of the Nivkh language on the Amur and on Sakhalin

Publications, research projects and other academic activity

Professor E.J. Nyström prize (Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters)
Tuhat Award for high-level publications and exemplary use of the system (University of Helsinki) 2015

Membership of scholarly societies:
Royal Asiatic Society 1986
Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters 2003
Academia Europaea 2008
Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Magyar Tudományos Akadémia) 2013
International Eurasian Academy of Sciences 2015

Photo: Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Written by Juha Janhunen (Kaija Hartikainen, ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

Scholar and champion of languages

Ethnolinguistics, i.e. the study of languages in relation to their ethnic, regional and historical contexts, plays a central role in my research. Ethnolinguistics concentrates particularly on the study of little-known forms of language in the field among their speakers.

Mongolia 2010. Taken on Mount Bogdo Ula, in the background Ulan Bator. Photo: Corrado Molteni

My field trips have gravitated towards Siberia, Mongolia, Manchuria, Western China and Northeast Tibet, among others. In recent years the Russian Far East has also become an important research area. As a result of my fieldwork, I have published grammatical descriptions and overviews of the state of languages and their history in various target areas.

Little-known languages are often also little spoken, and they are rapidly disappearing in a globalising world. I have participated in mapping out disappearing languages, among others, in a UNESCO project that produced an atlas of endangered languages and an accompanying website.

The areas circled in red are where I have performed fieldwork and/or studied local minority languages.

Languages often become endangered because of political change and uncontrolled migration. Against this background, I have attempted to defend both the position of Swedish in Finland and the rights of Tibetan speakers in the Tibetan regions governed by China.

In many ways, languages that have already disappeared but have been preserved in written form are even more fascinating. In Asia one such language is Khitan, whose speakers founded in Manchuria the mighty but short-lived Liao Dynasty (907–1125). Khitan had been preserved in 50 longish texts written in two different writing systems. Modern scholars are able to read one of these systems, and I have participated in the publication work for the texts. Khitan is a distant relation of modern Mongolian, and through it we are able to glean new knowledge of ancient Central Asia.

A sample of a Khitan text, an extract from an epigraphic text from 1091


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