Otto Jespersen (1860-1943)


  • Preliminary stage of structuralism

Research Interests

  • Phonetic alphabet, auxiliary languages

Notable Ideas

  • The Prominence Theory


Otto Jespersen was a Danish linguist who specialized in the grammar of the English language. He attended Copenhagen University, earning degrees in English, French and Latin. He also studied Linguistics at Oxford.

From 1893 to 1925, Jespersen was a professor of English at Copenhagen University.

Contribution to Linguistics

The Danish linguist grouped common theories about the origins of language into 4 types, and added a fifth of his own.

In his last year as a student at Copenhagen University, Jespersen published his first important paper on phonetic laws. He also established the Scandinavian Association for the reform of language education.

Central Knowledge

  • Jespersen was the first to propose the idea of establishing a phonetic alphabet in 1886. The first version, IPA, was published in 1888.
  • He developed the Prominence Theory, which defines the syllable in auditory terms, arguing that some sounds (vowels) are intrinsically more sonorous than others and that each peak of sonority corresponds to the center of a syllable.
  • He was involved in the 1907 delegation that created the auxiliary language Ido. In 1928, he developed the Novial language (New and International Auxialiary Language), which he considered an improvement to Ido.

Main Publications

  • How to teach a foreign language. 1901.

  • Growth and Structure of the English Language. 1905.

  • Essentials of English Grammar. 1933.

  • Modern English Grammar I-VII. 1940-1949.

Categories: People