Professor Profile: Ditlev Larsen, a Bob Dylan aficionado

Kellen Brandt, features reporter

What might a professor of linguistics have in common with Bob Dylan? A way with words. And that is true for Winona State University professor, Ditlev Larsen.

Larsen is the director of English as a Second Language (ESL) and teaching English as a second language of foreign language (TESOL) at Winona State with interests in linguistics and Duluth-native Bob Dylan.

“What I’m interested in is linguistics, workings of language and the field called sociolinguistics, which is all about how we use language in society in everyday life and all those different kinds of things,” Larsen said.

Larsen is originally from Denmark but moved to St. Cloud, Minnesota as part of an exchange program while he was earning his degree in English.

Between Denmark and the United States, Larsen earned his undergraduate degree and then his doctorate.

Prior to working at Winona State, Larsen began teaching during his graduate work at St. Cloud State University, then moved on to teach for a year at an Intensive English program at Southern Illinois University. Larsen then came back to Minnesota and earned his doctorate at the University of Minnesota, both studying and teaching English.

“I’ve always been fascinated with languages and language in general and how it operates and all those kinds of things, so that’s kind of what drew me into it,” Larsen said.

Larsen speaks fluent Danish and English but understands Swedish, Norwegian and many other languages as well due to his knowledge of language.

“I don’t pretend to be able to speak them very much,” Larsen said. “Which I don’t really have to, because Scandinavian, Norwegian, Swedish and Danish [people], we can have a conversation with each other, where each of us speaks our language, and the other ones will generally understand what’s going on, so that’s obviously the base of information and language.”

After earning his doctorate in 2003, Larsen was hired as a professor at Winona State University. Larsen said he was drawn to the Midwest.

“After I married my wife who is from Iowa, we wanted to stick around here for good,” Larsen said.

Larsen has been a professor at Winona State for 18 years and plans to continue at Winona State until retirement.

Ryanne Mikunda, a fourth-year student majoring in ESL (English as a Second Language) teaching and spanish teaching, spoke of her coursework experience with Larsen.

“Dr. Larsen is the kind of teacher who is well-respected,” Mikunda said. “I wouldn’t say he is exactly strict or relaxed, he’s pretty balanced. He is well-prepared for class and plans in advance according to the syllabus but at the same time, he is flexible with plans.”

Outside of teaching, Larsen has two teenaged children in high school that keep him busy running around watching their sports games. Larsen said he is also fond of running around for miles on end himself.

“I was a competitive runner in my youth and played soccer but relatively soon found out that my talent was elsewhere, so I started running middle distance and got involved with that a lot,” Larsen said.

Larsen said he was “close to qualifying” for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as an 800-meter runner.

Larsen still runs daily as he enjoys it casually.

Mikunda said she loves Larsen’s dry sense of humor in class.

“The first day of ENG 481, he introduced himself and said, “I’m Dr. Larsen, I’m from Denmark, and no, we are not selling Greenland.” Some people got quite the laugh out of that,” Mikunda said.

Aside from teaching and running, Larsen is a Bob Dylan aficionado. Larsen said he went to his first Dylan concert when he was about 18 years old and has gone to 42 concerts since.

“Some people call it an obsession, I just call it a fascination,” Larsen said.

Mikunda said the Bob Dylan memorabilia in Larson’s office is a giveaway to his interest in Dylan’s music.

Larsen has a few of his own publications exploring Bob Dylan’s music and pairing it with the world of academia, including one titled, “You Who Are So Good With Words: Peeking into Dylan’s Linguistic Toolbox.”

“The thing about Bob Dylan, it’s almost become a little bit of a field itself. I mean there are journals that focus on Bob Dylan and his music and poetry and all of these different kinds of things,” Larsen said.

Mikunda said her core classes in her program including ones with Larsen have been her “favorite classes ever.”

“So, consider this a shameless plug to check out the TESOL program and Dr. Larsen’s classes if you haven’t already,” Mikunda said.