Anders Ahlqvist (1945 – 2018)

We regret to announce the unexpected death on 23 August 2018 of Professor Anders Ahlqvist, who was President of the Societas Linguistica Europaea from 2002 to 2003 and a regular participant in the SLE annual meetings for many years. He was one of the leading Celticists of our time and taught at the Universities of Galway (Ireland), Helsinki (Finland), Utrecht (the Netherlands), and after retiring from Galway, in the University of Sydney in Australia, where he developed yet another career as the first Sir Warwick Fairfax Professor of Celtic Studies from 2008 to 2013.

His research covered a wide area, ranging from Old Irish to historical syntax, the history of linguistics and the sociolinguistics of Celtic and other Western European languages. Of particular interest to him in recent years were questions pertaining to language contacts, especially those between Celtic and English. Just a little less than a year ago, he sent to me and a colleague of mine two offprints of articles which had been published in the 2017 issue of the Australian Celtic Journal (Volume 14). One of them was on the possible Old Irish rather than Welsh contact influence on the Old English ne bi […] bið construction; the other was a review of The English Language: A Linguistic History by Laurel J. Brinton and Leslie K. Arnovick. In both papers, he presented a convincing case for Celtic influence on English, which according to him deserved greater attention than had been the case in previous research and textbooks on the history of English.

Throughout his scholarly career Anders Ahlqvist contributed actively to the work of numerous academic institutions and organisations. Apart from his lifelong participation in the activities of SLE, he was delegate of the International Congress of Celtic Studies to the Comité International Permanent des Linguistes (CIPL) and chairman of the Nominating Committee of CIPL. He was Secretary-General of the Permanent Bureau of the International Congress of Celtic Studies since 2003 and President of the Henry Sweet Society for the History of Linguistic Ideas from 2002 to 2005. Anders was also a founding member and first President of the Finnish Society for Celtic Studies from 1991 to 1995. Studia Celtica Fennica and the Australian Celtic Journal are two journals that owe their existence to Anders’ active role as first editor and contributor of scholarly articles.

A particularly important institution for Anders was for many decades the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS), where he had conducted postdoctoral research after completing his PhD in Celtic Studies at Edinburgh in 1974. He was a regular participant at Tionól, the annual conference of the School of Celtic Studies. In 2008, he became Chairman of the Governing Board of the School of Celtic Studies of DIAS and continued in that position up to the time of his death. He also organised many international congresses and scholarly meetings in Ireland and Australia. Among these, a particularly memorable one to myself was the Fifth International Conference on the History of Language Sciences (ICHoLS V), held in Galway in 1990. It led to the publication of Diversions of Galway, Papers on the history of linguistics from ICHoLS V, edited by Anders Ahlqvist and published by Benjamins in 1992. On occasions like the Galway conference, Anders Ahlqvist exhibited his charismatic leadership and enviable linguistic abilities. Apart from his native Finland Swedish, he spoke perfect Finnish and had an unusually wide repertoire of other languages, among them, of course, Irish and English and their earlier varieties.

The academic community has lost a fine scholar and a true gentleman who was always ready to share his knowledge and experience. I myself and my colleagues benefited greatly from his expert advice in relation to our research project on “English and Celtic in Contact” in the early 2000s and the subsequent book on the same topic, published by Routledge in 2008.

Anders will be greatly missed by his friends and colleagues in SLE.
Our heartfelt sympathy goes to his wife, his son, and his wider family.


Markku Filppula
Professor Emeritus
University of Eastern Finland