In me­moriam: Matti Ris­sanen

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Matti Rissanen, Professor Emeritus of English Philology at the University of Helsinki, at the age of 80 on 24 January 2018. If you would like to share your memories of Matti (in English or in Finnish) you are welcome to do so by adding them as comments to this VARIENG blog post.

Matti Rissanen

Added 28.3.2018:

Pitkän uransa aikana Matti ehti syventyä moneen aiheeseen. Matin tähän blogiimme kirjoittamista postauksista saa varsin hyvän käsityksen hänen kiinnostuksen kohteidensa kirjosta.

Matti oli ennen kaikkea kielitieteilijä, ja hän kirjoitti mm. väitöskirjansa aiheesta, mutta myös pohti eri kielten erilaisia tapoja suoriutua samoista tehtävistä, sekä etenkin sanaston lainautumista (aihe, johon hän palasi myös Shakespeare-postauksissaan):

Matti kirjoitti myös historiallisten tekstien litteroijana ja editorina tekemästään työstä:

Tieteentekijä on tieteentekijä vapaa-ajallakin, ja niinpä Matti mietti toisaalta naapurustonsa paikannimien etymologiaa, ja perehtyi myös varhaisiin ulkomaalaisten kirjoittamiin Suomi-kuvauksiin:

Mutta eniten Matti kirjoitti tänne Shakespearesta. Matti oli mukana WSOY:n Shakespearen näytelmien uudelleensuomennoshankkeessa, ja suurin osa hänen blogikirjoituksistaan käsitteleekin Shakespearen suomennoksia:

9 kommenttia

Kategoria(t): Matti Rissanen

9 responses to “In me­moriam: Matti Ris­sanen

  1. It’s a nice idea to give people a chance to express their thoughts here. I knew Matti’s name before I first went to Finland, in 2003. I never agreed with the argument of his early article ’The Theme of Exile in The Wife’s Lament’, Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 70 (1969): 98-104, but I’d read it with care and I was excited to meet the author in person.

    Matti chaired one of the first meetings I found myself in in Helsinki, which led eventually to Change in Meaning and the Meaning of Change: Studies in Semantics and Grammar from Old to Present-Day English, ed. by Matti Rissanen, Marianna Hintikka, Leena Kahlas-Tarkka and Rod McConchie, Mémoires de la Société Néophilologique de Helsinki, 72 (Helsinki: Société Néophilologique, 2007). Keen not to impose, I said people shouldn’t feel they had to talk in English on my account. To his credit, Matti took me at my word, and although I didn’t understand much of the meeting, without acts like that I wouldn’t have learned much Finnish! I remember noting that he kept saying ’tutkimus’*, and swiftly learned that the appropriate thing to do at that point was to look serious; and that whenever he said ’tutkimus’, he would within a few sentences say ’eteenpäin’**, at which point everyone had to nod sagely. Obviously it was only when I got home and looked these up that I knew what was going on, but I think it’s fitting that I learned these two words from Matti, and they are also fitting words by which to remember him!

    But I also knew him as a jovial, optimistic, friendly man, and I am very grateful to him for the way he shared all those qualities too! Even though I haven’t seen him in years, I will miss him.

    * ’research’
    ** ’forward’

  2. The public announcement by VARIENG is right to stress Matti’s optimism. Many impressions of Matti come to mind from countless encounters over more than three decades: positive, shrewd, kind, energetic, sometimes even impish, serious-minded, authoritative but never in my experience authoritarian, friendly, welcoming, encouraging – a fixture as a scholarly ’good citizen’. Perhaps more than descriptive words, what strikes me still, even after the crossing of our paths became a little less frequent, is that Matti is so very THERE in my memory: his person, his voice, his way of speaking and his values come to mind instantly. And somehow that makes it the more shocking that he can no longer contribute to scholarly life, that the present tense has become odd. Matti is – was – someone you could rely on, in every way. I wish I could thank him. It is such sad news.

  3. This is how I will always remember you: joyful, caring, positive, so generous and encouraging with young scholars. A true ’Maestro’ in life and in scholarship. Kiitos, Matti.

  4. jjs1y

    I was so very sad to hear this news. As one of the first scholars in the humanities to embrace the digital world Matti introduced corpora to English historical linguistics – a real break-through – but he also showed with verve how such powerful new tools could be harnessed to produce fascinating new insights. He did so with authority based on deep knowledge. He was passionate about his subject, and communicated that passion so powerfully. In Matti’s case the terms ‘world-leading’ and ‘transformative’ are wholly true. If you seek his monument, look around.

    He was also such a lovely fellow! I met him first when I was a very junior lecturer struggling with my first publications, and he couldn’t have been more encouraging. David’s comments struck a real chord with me – spot on. Like David, I can still hear him talking. He will be hugely missed by all his friends.

  5. Javier Pérez-Guerra

    A great scholar, man, friend of his colleagues. I have unforgettable memories of his (always kind) expert advice when (very long ago) I was writing my dissertation using data from the Helsinki corpus, and later in conferences (also in Vigo in our SELIM conference). We miss you, Matti. Levätä rauhassa.

  6. Ruth Carroll

    I want to echo Alaric’s words, ”jovial” and ”friendly”, and add ”enthusiastic”. I first met him at the Selim conference in Vigo, where he was so gracious to me as a young academic. May he rest in peace and rise in glory!

  7. Paluuviite: In Memoriam Matti Rissanen – The Philological Society Blog

  8. Marina Dossena

    Matti has always been a source of inspiration, and it has been an immense privilege to know him. May his example continue to live long in our memories and in our lives.

  9. Olga Timofeeva

    There is an old anecdote that Matti was once mistaken for an elf. Maybe he resembled one outwardly; for me, his personality always seemed incredibly positive, lively, magical. He was also so supportive and encouraging. A great scholar and a great man. A wonderful rhetorician, too, with extraordinary sense of humour. I will always remember his Vappu toasts. And who hasn’t heard his ”there are perfect projects and finished projects”! Well, let’s hope there are perfect projects, too, which, by Matti’s definition, should be left unfinished and carried on by others!


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