Terje Lohndal's speech at the Nils Klim Prize award ceremony 2014

Your Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon, Minister, the Holberg Board, Nils Klim Committee, ladies and gentlemen

It is a tremendous honor to stand before you today on the occasion of receiving the Nils Klim prize. I am deeply grateful to all of you for being able to share this wonderful occasion with me.

The study of language enjoys a particular prominence among the humanities. For centuries, scholars have been puzzled by the intricate structure of language and how it distinguishes humans from all other animals. In my own work, I have been especially interested in identifying the building blocks of language. The hypothesis is that these building blocks will enable us to partly explain the ways in which humans and other animals differ. This requires extensive comparative work across a wide range of languages, combined with intense theoretical work to distill the basic operations that take place in all human languages.

Language plays a central role in our lives. We use it to communicate, to think, to write, and to read. Ludvig Holberg was a master wordsmith, which we all recognize from his remarkable plays and novels, including Nils Klim’s Subterranean Journey. Holberg was a child of the enlightenment, a period where rational thought and inquiry were at the forefront. In my own academic journey, I have been very much inspired by the enlightenment, as my research projects are all rationalist at heart.

It is sometimes argued that linguistics does not really belong to the humanities. Our methods are too greatly inspired by the natural sciences, and our level of formal sophistication outranks all other traditional disciplines within the humanities. However, the humanities are essential in order to understand basic questions about life: Who are we? Why are we who we are? Language provides a unique insight into these fundamental questions, and as such, linguistics is firmly placed within the great tradition of the humanities, a tradition that I am very pleased that the Holberg Prize and the Nils Klim Prize recognize and celebrate.

I would like to extend my profound gratitude to a few of the many individuals who have contributed to making me the scholar I am today. Professor Jan Terje Faarlund at the University of Oslo has been a mentor and supporter since I was in high school; without him I would probably have become a mathematician or physicist. Professor Marit Westergaard at the University of Tromsø has also been an important mentor and friend since 2006.

I am grateful to the Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies at the University of Oslo, especially Professor Kristian Kristoffersen who hired me as a research assistant when I started my BA. The linguistics department at the University of Maryland provided me with a terrific graduate education, and I am especially indebted to my outstanding supervisor, Professor Paul Pietroski. At NTNU, I am tremendously grateful to the leadership and most notably my Dean Anne Kristine Børresen, prorector for research Kari Melby, and rector Gunnar Bovim for their invaluable support.

There are two individuals who have been important for me in ways which words fall short of expressing. The first I met in a Sami tent in Northern Norway in 2007. Since then we have been good friends and colleagues, exchanging numerous emails on a daily basis on everything from dogs to vocabulary insertion. Thank you, Professor Artemis Alexiadou, for our invaluable and exciting collaboration and friendship. The second person is my father, who at a crucial moment during my undergraduate years provided the moral support I needed to continue studying linguistics. He has always been there for me, regardless of how far away I have been. Tusen takk!

Thank you, and thank you all for your attention.

Professor Terje Lohndal Nils Klim Prize Laureate 2014

Nils Klim Prize 2014

Terje Lohndal

Professor of English linguistics, Department of Language and Literature, Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

The Nils Klim Interview:

"My current intellectual project is (still) to understand the human language faculty. That is, I want to know whether there are any language-specific mechanisms at work, and what the interplay between the language faculty and general cognition is." Read more.

Events with Terje Lohndal