Kendra Willson

Areas of expertise
Old Norse; Modern Icelandic; sagas; runes; personal names; grammaticalization; historical syntax

Academic positions
2015-2017 Collegium researcher, Turku Institute for Advanced Studies/Nordic languages, School of language and translation studies. Project: Finno-Ugric elements in runic inscriptions.
2012-2014 Research fellow, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Study. Project: Control of personal names: language, citizenship and identity.
2011-2012 Fulbright fellow, Finno-Ugric languages, University of Turku. Project: Finnish non-finite constructions in an emergent system.
2007-2011 Assistant professor in residence, Scandinavian Section, University of California, Los Angeles.
2003-2004 Instructor, Icelandic department, University of Manitoba.
2007 Ph.D., Scandinavian languages and literatures, University of California, Berkeley. Dissertation: Icelandic nicknames.
1999 M.A., Scandinavian languages and literatures, University of California, Berkeley.
1993 A.B. magna cum laude, Germanic languages and literatures, Harvard University.
2007 B.A., Icelandic for foreign students, University of Iceland.


In general I am interested in questions that connect historical linguistics with a broader cultural context.

My current research project concerns Finland's relationship to Scandinavian runic culture, including possible Finnish and Sámi words in runic inscriptions, as well as use of and beliefs about runes in Finland over time.

I have worked extensively on Icelandic personal names. My dissertation discusses nickname formation and use in Old and Modern Icelandic. Collecting nicknames - unofficial names - led to an interest in name law: how it is decided which names can have official status.

I am also interested in aspects of saga style and narrative technique in Old Norse-Icelandic literature, continuity and change in Icelandic language, beliefs, and narrative practices, and the modern reception of the Old Norse literary heritage.

Another area of focus is historical syntax and grammaticalization; I have worked on examples from both Germanic and Finnic languages, including Icelandic word order, coordinating conjunctions attested in early runic inscriptions, and the Finnish TUA-converb (second temporal construction).


At the University of Turku, I have taught courses in English on Old Icelandic literature and mythology and an Old Norse reading course conducted in Finnish.

Other teaching experience includes Modern Icelandic and Swedish language instruction as well as courses in Modern Icelandic literature, Vikings, and Nordic folklore.

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Last updated on 2021-11-03 at 11:01