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Otto Jespersen

Otto Jespersen (July 16, 1860-April 30, 1943) was a Danish linguist who specialized in the grammar of the English language. He was born in Jutland and attended Copenhagen University, earning degrees in English, French, and Latin. He also studied linguistics at Oxford.

Jespersen was a professor of English at Copenhagen University from 1893 to 1925. Along with Paul Passy, he was a founder of the International Phonetic Association. He was an vocal supporter and active developer of artificial international languages such as Esperanto. He was also involved in the delegation that created the artificial language Ido and later developed the Novial language, which he considered an improvement.

He was most widely recognized for some of his books. His Modern English Grammar concentrated on morphology and syntax. His Growth and Structure of the English Language is a comprehensive view of English by someone with another native language, and still in print, over 50 years after his death and nearly 100 years after publication.

More than once Otto Jespersen was invited to the U.S. as a guest lecturer, and he took occasion to study the country's educational system. His autobiography (see below) was published in English translation as recently as in 1995.

Jesperson was a proponent of phonosemanticism and wrote: “Is there really much more logic in the opposite extreme which denies any kind of sound symbolism (apart from the small class of evident echoisms and ‘onomatopoeia’) and sees in our words only a collection of accidental and irrational associations of sound and meaning? ...There is no denying that there are words which we feel instinctively to be adequate to express the ideas they stand for.”