Castren Matthias Alexander

(02.12.1813 - 07.05.1852)


Russian philologist of Finnish origin, researcher of Finno-Ugric and Samoyed languages, Finnish and Sami folklore; founder of comparative uralistics.

Born in the small town of Tervola, the Grand Duchy of Finland, the Russian Empire in a family of Finnish Swedes. He received his first name in honor of the pastor’s uncle, and the second in honor of Emperor Alexander I. The family was quite large - except for Matthias, the parents had 5 more children. Despite the death of his father and the difficult financial situation, at the age of 16 Matthias entered the University of Helsinki. Schoolmates noted that Katren was a thoughtful and somewhat absent-minded student who had few friends. In the first summer holidays, he left Helsinki for his mother and gave private lessons to local schoolchildren to help his family. At the university, Castren placed emphasis on learning languages. On this path he was pushed to read the books of Rasmus Rask - a Danish linguist who specialized in oriental languages.

In 1830, Castren re-entered the University of Helsinki. In 1836 he received the degree of candidate of philosophy. While still a student, he became interested in Finnish language and folklore.

In the summer of 1838, Castren made his first scientific trip to Finnish Lapland, where he studied Sami, as well as Sami folklore and Sami mythology. Kastren used the collected materials for his dissertation “On the Relationship of Declinations in Finnish, Estonian, and Sami Languages”, which he prepared in 1839.

In 1839, Castren traveled around Karelia, and in 1841, together with Elias Lennrot, went on a three-year trip to the Urals. This trip was preceded by the publication of the Swedish translation of Kalevala by Castren. Upon his return, Castren published monographs on Mari and Komi languages.

In 1845, Castren defended his doctoral thesis, in which he proposed a hypothesis about the genetic relationship of the Ural and Altai languages. In the same year, his article in Swedish “On the Meaning of Emphasis in Sami” was published.

In the same 1845, Castren, on behalf of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, went to Siberia to further study local languages. During his expedition, he visited the cities of Tobolsk, Berezov and Obdorsk and explored the basins of such rivers as the Irtysh, Ob and Yenisei. He also traveled around the Achinsk and Minusinsk steppes, as well as the Sayan Mountains and the Baikal region.

From a trip to Siberia, he returned in 1849 with a completely undermined health and materials for subsequent works.

From 1851, Castren was a professor at the University of Helsinki for the first time at the Department of Finnish Philology and worked on a dictionary of Samoyedic languages.

He died of tuberculosis in Helsinki, buried in the Khetaniemi cemetery.

Two small islands east of the island of Northkapp, north of the island of Northeastern Land, Svalbard. The coordinates are 80° 20'N   20° 00'E.


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