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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.

Jesperson 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 Grammer 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.


  • 1905: Growth and Structure of the English Language (A 1999 reprint is ISBN 0226398773.)
  • 1909ff: A Modern English Grammar (in seven volumes; the title should be understood as 'A grammar of Modern English')
  • 1922: Language: Its Nature, Development, and Origin
  • 1924: The Philosophy of Grammar
  • 1928: An International Language (the introduction of the Novial language)
  • 1930: Novial Lexike (dictionary for Novial)
  • 1995: A Linguist's Life: an English translation of Otto Jespersen's autobiography ... edited by Arne Juul [et al.]. Odense, 1995.

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