The scholarly field of Old Germanic studies has lost one of its most distinguished practitioners, through the recent death of Tette Hofstra (22 February 2023). This is true not only of the Netherlands but also of many other countries, and the respect with which Hofstra was everywhere regarded by specialists in the field is attested by the range and the international character of the tributary contributions to his Festschrift: Northern Voices (2008).
To his profound knowledge of the history and development of the early stages of Germanic languages, Hofstra added a particular specialisation in contacts between the Germanic and Finnish language families – seen in his very first publication (with T. Niskanen), in Ural-altäische Jahrbücher (1971). This was the area in which he promoted, and it was that of his chef d’oeuvre (with S.-L. Hahmo, A.D. Kylstra and O. Nikkilä): the Lexikon der älteren germanischen Lehnwörter in den ostseefinnischen Sprachen (1991, 1996, 2012). However, Hofstra also published on such central concerns of Old Germanic studies as: language-change, toponymics, Runes, Edda, Vikings, Gothic, Heliand. His publications – in an impressive number of languages – were judiciously considered and meticulously executed, and they have remained of lasting value.
Born in Lutkewierum, Hofstra attended school in Sneek, and in 1961 proceeded to the university of Groningen to study German, with subsidiaries in Old Norse and Old Saxon (1968). In 1972 he graduated in Old Germanic, with Middle High German and Old Church Slavonic. At the university of Kiel he studied Frisian and Swedish. In 1985 he gained his doctorate at Groningen, under Prof.dr. A.D. Kylstra, with a thesis on Ostseefinnisch und Germanisch. Frühe Lehnbeziehungen im nördlichen Ostseeraum im Lichte der Forschung seit 1961. All these achievements were accorded the honour of cum laude.
Hofstra’s professional career was spent at the university of Groningen, where he duly rose to a Senior Lectureship. When Kylstra retired, the Faculty changed the chair to one of Finno-Ugric studies, and Old Germanic was reduced (1987) to a subsidiary subject under the responsibility of Prof.dr. A.A. MacDonald. In 1995 Hofstra was appointed to a Personal Chair in Old Germanic, but in the latter capacity he was not granted a successor. While Old Germanic, as a specialised subject of study, proved vulnerable in the modern university, interest on the part of the students did (and does) happily continue, and those teaching in that area tend now to make contributions to the programmes of subjects such as English, German, Dutch, Frisian, Medieval History, and Scandinavian Studies. From the beginning, Hofstra was an enthusiastic participant in the Groningen ‘Germania Latina’ initiative, which aimed to situate Old Germanic studies within a wider European medieval perspective, and he co-edited several of the resulting volumes.
Hofstra was always willing to teach wherever there was a need, and his scholarly expertise and his calm humanity made him popular with students. By his colleague academics he was no less respected and appreciated, especially since they could sense the humour that lurked behind what was often mistaken for an austere habit of formality.
Alasdair A. MacDonald