LINGUIST List 9.1810

Sat Dec 19 1998

All: Pentti Aalto (1917-1998)

Editor for this issue: Scott Fults <>


  1. Robert Whiting, PENTTI AALTO (1917-1998)

Message 1: PENTTI AALTO (1917-1998)

Date: Sat, 19 Dec 1998 10:53:36 +0200 (EET)
From: Robert Whiting <>
Subject: PENTTI AALTO (1917-1998)

Attached is the obituary for the distinguished Finnish philologist and
comparative linguist Pentti Aalto written by Harry Haln for Studia
Orientalia and posted here with his permission.

Messages of sympathy and condolence may be sent to:

 Mrs. Pirkko Aalto
 Topeliuksenkatu 21 B 41
 F i n l a n d

For further information contact Harry.HalenHelsinki.Fi.

Robert Whiting
- ----------------------------------------------------------------------




Professor Pentti Aalto died in Helsinki on November 30, 1998, at the age 
of 81. His heart, weakened by attacks of illness, finally failed. He was 
born on July 22, 1917, in Pori.

 Pentti Aalto was a philologist of exceptionally wide range. In his 
Phil.Lic. (Doctoral Candidate) degree in 1949 he had the highest mark in 
four subjects: Roman Literature, Greek Literature, Sanskrit and 
Comparative Indo-European Philology, and Altaic Philology. The same year 
he defended his doctoral dissertation on the complex question of the 
Latin gerund and gerundive. His lectio praecursoria dealt with the use 
of statistics in linguistic research.

 According to his mates in the reserve officers course of 1939, Pentti 
Aalto was tranquility personified. In the war in 1941-44 he rose to the 
rank of lieutenant and worked in the intelligence department as a code 

 In 1953, he applied for an assistant professorship in classical 
philology. From a general point of view, he was found the most competent 
of the three applicants, but, unfortunately, his production fell for the 
most part outside the scope of classical philology. This was due to the 
fact that he had been a pupil and collaborator of G. J. Ramstedt and 
thus directed his interests more on the lines of his great master, i.e., 
to Mongolian and generally Central Asian studies. After Ramstedt's death 
in 1950 he had had to edit for publication numerous unfinished works by 
Ramstedt. Aalto's own text editions and researches in the field of 
Altaic studies continued with distinction the glorious tradition of this 
branch of the Finnish national science, established by M. A. Castrn 

 In 1958, Pentti Aalto was appointed Professor Extraordinarius of 
comparative linguistics at the University of Helsinki. When Martti 
Rsnen, Professor of Turkic Philology, retired in 1963, Pentti Aalto 
began to take care of Altaic Philology in addition to his own chair. He 
lectured on numerous ancient Indo-European languages as well as on 
Mongolian, Ancient Turkic, Chuvash and even Tibetan. His teaching 
career, initiated in 1949 when he was a new docent, continued to 1980. 
On request he continued to manage the examinations in Altaic Philology 
until 1982.

 Aalto educated the present generation of renowned Finnish Indologists. 
The year 1969 brought lively international attention, when the Finnish 
team, to which Aalto also belonged, made public its first announcement 
concerning the interpretation of the script of the ancient Indus 
civilization. The team was led by Asko Parpola, Aalto's pupil and 

 Pentti Aalto acted as the secretary of the Finnish Oriental Society 
from 1947 to 1956, and of the Finno-Ugrian Society from 1956 to 1965. He 
was elected a member of the Finnish Academy of Sciences in 1962. He made 
study tours from 1945 onwards to various European countries, Mongolia, 
the USA and India. In 1963, he, assisted by his pupil Tuomo Pekkanen, 
arranged the 6th Permanent International Altaistic Conference (PIAC) for 
the first time in Finland. As for Ramstedt, Mongolia and the Mongols 
were especially close to his heart.

 For the large scale enterprise entitled The History of Learning and 
Science in Finland 1828-1918 Aalto wrote three volumes, which treat the 
history of Oriental studies (1971), classical languages (1980), and 
modern languages (1987). His great learning is reflected in his balanced 
and penetrating interpretation.

 Pentti Aalto was the grand old man of Finnish Oriental studies and a 
honorary member of the Finnish Oriental Society. The Society published 
three anniversary volumes in his honour, the last being that for his 
80th birthday. His extensive scholarly production comprises more than 
350 items (for a preliminary bibliography, see Studia Orientalia 47, 
1977, 287-311 and 59, 1987, 260-265).

 In his summer place in Kimito Vstanfjrd Pentti Aalto fished and 
examined with his two sons, interested in nature, plants from remote 
countries growing up in ballast heaps, thrown on the beach during the 
period of the great sailing-ships.

 His classical refined personality and inexhaustible stories about 
academic notables of the past conjured up fascinating sound-pictures, 
which now go on among his pupils as his heritage. His incomparable 
humour, unpretentious and warm-hearted character together with an 
incomprehensibly wide learning made him an unforgettable personality, a 
real living treasure. 


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