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Vilhelm Thomsen

Vilhelm Ludwig Peter Thomsen (25 January 1842 – 12 May 1927) was a Danish linguist and Turkologist. He initially began studying theology at the Danish University in 1859, but soon switched his focus to philology.[1] He learned Hungarian and Finnish, and received his doctoral degree in 1869 with a dissertation on Germanic loanwords in Finnic. He taught Greek at the Borgerdyd school in Copenhagen before becoming a professor at the University of Copenhagen; among his students at the university was Otto Jespersen.

Thomsen made a number of important contributions to linguistics, including his work on the Germanic, Baltic, and Indo-Iranian influences on Finnic.[2] In 1893, he deciphered the Turkic Orkhon inscriptions in advance of his rival, Wilhelm Radloff.

According to an article on "The history of Uralic linguistics" by Bo Wickman (1988:808),

The Danish scholar Vilhelm Thomsen (1842-1927) was one of the greatest linguists of all times. He was active in an astoundingly great number of linguistic disciplines, and he was equally masterful in all of them.


Thomsen is honored on a stela set up in central Copenhagen along with three other Danish pioneers of modern linguistics, Rasmus Rask, N.L. Westergaard, and Karl Verner.

Thomsen was President of the Danish Academy from 1909 until his death, and was an honorary member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.[3]

A street is named after him in Ankara, Turkey, Wilhelm Thomsen Caddesi ("Vilhelm Thomsen Street"), on which the National Library of Turkey is located. This is apparently because Thomsen's deciphering of the Orkhon inscriptions was perceived as an important contribution during the formative period of modern Turkish national identity at the turn of the 20th century.

Selected publications

  • The relations between ancient Russia and Scandinavia and the origin of the Russian state. Three lectures delivered at the Taylor Institution, Oxford, in May, 1876, in accordance with the terms of Lord Ilchester's bequest to the University
  • 1896: Inscriptions De L'Orkhon Déchiffrées
  • Ueber den Einfluss der germanischen Sprachen auf die finnisch-lappischen. Eine sprachgeschichtliche Untersuchung


  1. ^ Konow, Sten. 1927. Vilhelm Thomson. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, No. 4 (October 1927): 929-934.
  2. ^ Konow 1927
  3. ^ Konow 1927


  • Brøndal, Viggo. 1927. "L'œuvre de Vilhelm Thomsen." Acta philologica scandinavica 2:289-318. København.
  • Wickman, Bo. 1988. "The history of Uralic linguistics." In The Uralic Languages: Description, History and Foreign Influences, edited by Denis Sinor. Leiden: Brill.

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