Biography

Matthias Alexander Castren was born in the village of Tervola near the Arctic Circle (the county of Oulu in northern Finland) on December 2, 1813. In 1821, his family moved to Rovaniemi. After the death of his father Christian Castren in 1825, his mother Susanna Sofia (born Fellman) together with her eight children settled in Kemi. Castren's education at Oulu (1825-1830) was financed by his paternal uncle M. Castren (a clergyman and botanist) and uncle J.A. Fellman (a merchant). He attended the University of Helsinki in 1830 studying classical and oriental languages, adding Finnish language in 1834. Castren, who had lived the greater part of his life in poverty, earned money for his studies by working as a private teacher.

In 1836, Castren translated the epic Kalevala into the Swedish language (published in 1841). In 1836, under the influence of C.R. Ehrstrom, a district physician in Tornio, Castren began to study the Lappish language. In 1839, he earned a doctorate for the study of the declensions in the Finnish, Estonian, and Lappish languages, and in 1840 he became a docent of the

Finnish and Old Nordic languages at the University of Helsinki.

In 1841, Castren and Finnish linguist E. Lönnrot traveled to Lapland (Finnish, Norwegian, and Russian) and to Russian Karelia. Concurrently, he completed his doctoral dissertation in 1844 on the comparison of the Finno-Ugric, Samoyed, Turkic-Mongolian, and Tungus languages, De affixis personalibus linguarum Altaicarum (published in 1849). This eventually led to an 1850 appointment as professor of Finnish language and literature at the University of Helsinki.

Castren received a grant that enabled him to carry out an extensive expedition to western and central Siberia and to Trans-Baikal land in 1845-1849. He traveled with the Finnish linguist J.R. Bergstadi and studied the Khanty, Sel'kup, Ket, Nganasan, Siberian-Tatar, Tungus, and Buryat languages and their ethnologies. In the years 1849-1851, Castren was an adjunct at the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences and was allowed to live in Helsinki. In 1850, Castren married 19-year-old Natalia Tengström. In 1851, a son was born. Castren died of duodenal ulcer as a complication of tuberculosis in Helsinki on May 7, 1852.

Erki Tammiksaar

See also Lapland; Northern Altaic Languages; Northern Uralic languages

Further Reading

Korhonen, M., Finno-Ugrian Language Studies in Finland

1828-1918, Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica, 1986 Schiefner, A., "Ocherk zhizni i trudov Kastrena." Vestnik imperatorskogo Russkogo geograficheskogo obshchestva, 7 (1953): 100-133

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