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English Philology belongs to the Department of Modern Languages.

P.O. Box 24 (Unioninkatu 40 B)
FI-00014 University of Helsinki

Presentation > 160 Years of English Studies

lindelofThe first Professor of English Philology at the University of Helsinki was Uno Lindelöf (1868-1944), who was appointed to the newly created chair in 1921. But this was not the beginning of the teaching of English: Lindelöf had held the position of a professor extraordinary in English since 1907, and the first English lecturer, John Wellmer, was appointed as early as 1831. At the beginning of the 20th century, this lecturer’s post was occupied by the famous Shakespeare scholar, John Dover Wilson.

Uno Lindelöf was first and foremost an expert in the ancient Northumbrian dialect, and some of his studies are still standard works of reference. It is illustrative of the ways of thinking in those days that he wrote his famous history of English in German. It was obviously never felt necessary to translate it into English, although it was for decades included in the English syllabus, first as compulsory reading, afterwards as an alternative text book.

reuterLindelöf retired in 1938. His successor, Ole Reuter (1906-2003), was a Renaissance scholar and the holder of the English chair for three decades. For the first twenty years he was the only full professor at the Department. In the 1950s, the annual intake of students was around 400 and the number of staff members less than half of what it is today!

mustanojaIn 1961, another chair of English Philology was created, and Tauno F. Mustanoja (1912-1996) was appointed to it. His Middle English Syntax is still the best and most often cited overall survey on the structure of Middle English (i.e. English from the 12th to the 15th century).

Lindelöf’s, Reuter’s and Mustanoja’s tradition in the study of the history of English was continued and diversified by Reuter’s successor, Auvo Kurvinen (1916-1979), and after her by Saara Nevanlinna, who is still active in a group of editors of medieval English texts. Ossi Ihalainen succeeded Saara Nevanlinna upon her retirement in 1985 and held the position until his untimely death in 1993.

Matti Rissanen was appointed to the chair left vacant by Mustanoja in 1977, and Terttu Nevalainen to that previously held by Ihalainen in 1997. In the 1980s, a major research project was launched by Matti Rissanen, Ossi Ihalainen and other language-oriented scholars of the Department, to compile and publish a structured collection of historical and dialectal English texts in electronic form. The first outcome of the project, The Helsinki Corpus of English Texts, was published in 1991 and soon became the hallmark of the Department all over the world.

The number of English lecturers in the Department grew steadily until the early 1970s when the peak of fourteen lectorial posts was reached. It is no exaggeration to say that thousands of English graduates gratefully remember the inspiring teaching of Kingsley Hart (1923-1995), Tim Andrews, Diana Webster, and Lotte Troupp, who all came to the Department in the 1950s and retired only in the late eighties or early to mid-nineties. These and many other lecturers have played an important role in introducing the English language, literature and culture to Finnish society in the post-war decades.

In the 1970s, too, a lectureship in English was created at the Faculty of Education; its holder has been working within the Department of English since then. In the last ten years the increasing pressure for postgraduate research posts and the restriction in the annual intake of first-year students have motivated the change of two lectureships into senior assistant’s posts.

Topics of research have changed, now covering a wide range of English studies. The flagship of research is the Research Unit for Variation, Contacts and Change in English, which was awarded the status of a National Centre of Excellence in 1998. An important development in improving lecturers’ research possibilities was the new arrangement in 1998 which allows counting research time as part of a lecturer’s duties. This system meant a considerable increase in our research output, particularly in the fields of literature and translation and other contrastive studies. This opening gave our lecturers further motivation for maintaining and further improving their high scholarly competence.

The atmosphere of openness, informality and loud laughter which has always been characteristic of the Subject is no doubt largely due to the international composition of our permanent staff, successfully supplemented by visiting scholars, including Fulbright lecturers and British-Council-funded writers-in-residence.

The students are a highly selected group. Students graduating from the Subject have good career prospects in the teaching profession and in various other fields, both in Finland and abroad.