New Academician keen to promote Swedish

16 May 2023

“It was perhaps no great surprise that a Scandinavian linguist would be chosen,” but I personally was certainly not expecting it to be me. says David Håkansson, Professor of Swedish Language.

In December this year, David Håkansson will become a member of the Swedish Academy. As professor and researcher in linguistics at Uppsala University, he is keen to enhance efforts to promote the Swedish language.

How does it feel to be elected to the Swedish Academy?
I feel happy and honoured, though also rather dazed. I’m still in a bit of a state of shock about it. I received a phone call in my office on a normal working day, from Mats Malm, the Permanent Secretary of the Academy. He gave me time to think about it. It was a big decision, primarily because I have a full-time job here at Uppsala University and it was important to me to reconcile these roles.

How will that work?
The basic idea is that I will continue full-time at the University and my role in the Academy will be an official assignment. It will involve a fair bit of work, but of course there are other professors in the Academy, such as Tomas Riad and Åsa Wikforss at Stockholm University. Keeping a position at a university is not an unusual combination.

You will replace Sture Allén in Chair No 3. What are your thoughts about that?
Several linguists have occupied this chair, Sture Allén being the most recent. I met him, but I can’t say I knew him. His primary contribution was taking linguistics into the computer age. Many of the digital opportunities we have today are a result of his foresight.

What will you personally be able to contribute to the work of the Academy?
As yet, I know too little about the work of the Academy to say what I can contribute, but I hope my expertise in linguistics will be an asset. The Academy plays a major and important role in promoting the Swedish language, and I am very keen to contribute to that.

One example is the Academy’s involvement in Svenska Akademiens ordbok, the comprehensive historical dictionary of the Swedish language that is one of the largest research projects in the humanities and has been in progress for many years. The first volume came out in the 1890s and the final volume will be published this autumn. Thanks to the Academy’s commitment to the dictionary, to glossaries and grammar, Swedish is one of the best described languages.

Why do you think you personally were elected?
There have always been professors of Swedish or Scandinavian languages in the Academy. It was perhaps no great surprise that a Scandinavian linguist would be chosen, but I personally was certainly not expecting it to be me. It’s pleasing for Uppsala University, which has not had a Scandinavian linguist in the Academy since the 1950s. The latest was Bengt Hesselman, who was a professor of Scandinavian languages and a member of the Academy from 1935 to 1952.

The Swedish Academy is widely associated with literature, of course. What are you reading right now?
Actually, I’m about to start Anna-Karin Palm’s biography of Selma Lagerlöf. She was elected at the same time as me, and my wife has just read her book. So it seems appropriate for me to read it too. I’ve been elected for my expertise in linguistics, of course, but will now have to read more literature than I have done in the past. That will be an interesting aspect of the role.

Facts about David Håkansson

  • David Håkansson, born in 1978, is Professor of Swedish Language and Linguistics at Uppsala University.
  • He earned a PhD from Lund University in 2008, with a thesis entitled Syntaktisk variation och förändring. En studie av subjektslösa satser i fornsvenska (Syntactic variation and change. A study of subjectless clauses in Old Swedish).
  • His current project is entitled Hur skönlitteraturen gjorde svenskan modern. Fiktionsprosa, författare och språkförändring 1830–1930 (How literature modernised Swedish. Prose fiction, authors and linguistic change 1830–1930) and is supported by a grant from the Swedish Research Council.
  • David Håkansson has held various senior positions at Uppsala University and he is currently Dean of the Faculty of Languages.

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Last modified: 2022-12-22