Matti Rissanen was a pioneer in English historical corpus linguistics, and the director of the project that produced the Helsinki Corpus of English Texts, which covers a thousand years of the history of English and has been used widely since its publication in 1991. Matti Rissanen was one of the rare scholars to command the history of the English language from its early stages to the present, beginning with his PhD thesis (1967) on the Old English numeral ONE. His wide range of publications includes a number of original articles and several co-edited volumes of corpus-based research, such as Early English in the Computer Age (1993), English in Transition and Grammaticalization at Work (1997), as well as the much cited chapter on Early Modern English syntax in The Cambridge History of the English Language (vol. 3, 1999). Also taking an active interest in early American English, he was one of the international team that re-edited the Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt (2009).
Active in numerous professional organizations, Matti Rissanen served as president of the Societas Linguistica Europaea and chaired the Board of the International Computer Archive of Modern and Medieval English (ICAME). He was the founder and first director of the Research Unit for Variation, Contacts and Change in English (VARIENG), an Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence from 2000 to 2011. He was also a driving force in the foundation of the Finnish Institute in London and the Language Centre of the University of Helsinki. In recognition of his achievements Matti Rissanen received many awards, including an honorary doctorate of the University of Uppsala, Sweden, and being elected to the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. He was an Honorary member of the Modern Language Society, the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists, and the Japan Association for English Corpus Studies.
Unfailing optimism was the most striking characteristic of Matti’s. He was a supervisor to generations of students, and his amiable and good-humoured encouragement and support to undergraduate and doctoral students as well as colleagues both in Finland and abroad were beyond compare. Matti’s retirement in 2001 did not mark an end to his research activities. His philological expertise made an instrumental contribution to the publication project that resulted in a new Finnish translation of all Shakespeare’s works. One of his long-lasting research interests was the history of English connectives, on which he was working to the very last days of his life.
Matti Rissanen will be greatly missed by his wide circle of friends and colleagues. We invite all who would like to share their memories and recollections of him to do so (in English or Finnish) by adding them as comments to the VARIENG blog post at https://variblog.wordpress.com/.