Otto Jespersen – Patron Saint of February, 2019

Welcome to the month of February, dear followers! This is the first weekend of a new month and you know what that means! Let us introduce you to another Patron Saint!

As you know, our Patron Saints are individuals that have contributed a lot to the field of historical linguistics and today is certainly no different! Let us introduce you to Otto Jespersen!

The famous Danish linguist is the author of the spectacular encyclopaedic work of 7 volumes called “Modern English Grammar” but that is far from everything that Jespersen accomplished during his career as a linguistic scholar.

Born in 1860, professor Jespersen was reportedly inspired by Rasmus Rask, another famous Danish linguist (we’ll get there, don’t worry!), and became a professor of English at Copenhagen in 1893 (he also had a masters in French and knew both Spanish and Icelandic).

Professor Jespersen not only focused his efforts on linguistic study, in the field of which he published extensively on language structure, linguistic evolution and phonetics, but also on how to properly teach it! During his years at Copenhagen, he led a movement for basing foreign-language teaching on the use of conversational speech rather than on textbook study of grammar and vocabulary. He published on theoretical considerations of language teaching in 1901, a little number called “How to Teach a Foreign Language” and wrote a good number of textbooks which were used both in Denmark and abroad.

On top of all this, he also devised his own language! Meant to work as an international language for speakers who did not share a native tongue, the vocabulary of the language itself, called Novial, is based on a mix of Romance and Germanic words and its grammar is influenced by English. Unfortunately, the language didn’t really catch on and in 1943, when professor Jespersen passed away, the language became dormant. Thanks to the internet though, some rediscovered it in the early 90s.

From revolutionising language teaching to devising your very own language, professor Jespersen did it all and his (still very influential) linguistic works means that we simply had to make him February’s Patron Saint!

Want to know more? Check out our source for this little piece as well as Omniglot’s post on Novial! Enjoy!

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