"The Times" on Otto Jespersen

Professor O. Jespersen, Ph.D., D.Litt., LL.D., formerly Professor of English at Copenhagen University, has died in Copenhagen, reports our Stockholm Correspondent. He was the most prominent Danish philologist, with a world-wide reputation. Nearly all language instruction in his native country - and not a little outside Denmark - is based on his ideas, and he was one of the highest authorities on the growth and structure of the English language.

Otto Jespersen was born near Randers in Jutland on July 16, 1860, son of Judge Jespersen. He began by studying law, but his heart was not in his work - though he became a doctor of law - and he passed over to philological studies. His first book, published in 1885, was a concise English grammar for Danish readers. A slim volume, yet in virtue of its sound system it may be said to have introduced modern language teaching in Denmark. Jespersen became more and more engrossed in his English studies, the more so as a possibility arose of securing a professorship in English. Having obtained his doctorate in 1891 with an excellent dissertation on English cases, he succeeded Professor Stephans two years later in the Chair of English at Copenhagen University, a post he retained for 32 years, resigning voluntarily in 1925.

Jespersen's main work was concerned with the living elements of language: sound, as opposed to letters, and he thus became a leading advocate of the phonetic system. Though naturally retiring, he did not shrink from expressing his idealistic views at the risk of unpopularity. When addressing a gathering of French philologists in Paris shortly after the last war, he made an earnest appeal to them to resume cooperation with their German colleagues; a brave thing to do at that time. International language was a subject which he passionately advocated, and he helped to form Ido and later invented Novial. It was a source of bitter disappointment to him that the rising tide of nationalism dispelled any immediate hope of their universal adoption. His books number nearly 400, and include Progress in Language (1894), A Modern English Grammar (four parts, 1909, 1914, 1927, and 1931), Language, its Nature, Development and Origin (1922), and, perhaps the most stimulating, The Philosophy of Grammar (1924). Most of his chief works were written in or translated into English and are standard works for students of English grammar. Jespersen often visited England.

(3rd May, 1943).

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