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Jespersen, Otto. Progress in Language – T02


This volume is to a certain extent an English
translation of my Studier over Engelske Kasus,
med en Indledning: Fremskridt i Sproget
, which
was submitted to the University of Copenhagen
in February, 1891, as a dissertation for the
Ph. D. degree, and appeared in print in April
of that year. In preparing this English edition
I have, however, altered my book so materially
as to make it in many respects an entirely new
work. 11 In the first place, what was originally
only an introductory essay has been enlarged
and made the principal part of the book, as
already indicated by the altered title. Consequently,
I could only retain those chapters of
the special investigation on the history of
English cases which had some bearing on the
central idea of “Progress in Language”, viz.,
chs. vi. and vii. (formerly i. and ii., on “the
vEnglish Case-Systems” and on “Case-Shiftings
in the Pronouns”), while the last chapter,
dealing with the history of voiced and voiceless
consonants, was of too special a nature to be
inserted in this volume. I shall probably find
an opportunity of reprinting part of this investigation
in the introduction to the edition of
Hart's Orthographic, which I am preparing for
the Early English Text Society; and I may
here provisionally refer the readers to Dr.
Sweet's New English Grammar, §§ 731, 861,
862, 863 (cf. also §§ 810, 813, 997, 999, 1001),
where I am glad to say that the eminent author
has accepted even those of my results which
run counter to his own previous views. 12 By
leaving out this chapter I have found place for
the last two chapters of the present volume, of
which one (viii. “The English Group Genitive”)
is entirely new; while the other, on the “Origin
of Language”, was read in a somewhat shorter
form before the Philological Congress in Copenhagen,
on the 21st of July, 1892, and printed in
the Danish periodical Tilskueren, in October of
the same year.vi

Secondly, I have left out whatever seemed
to me little likely to present any interest to
English readers, especially the numerous
instances of Danish developments parallel to
those mentioned in chapter vii.; in the new
chapter viii. I have refrained from giving such
parallel cases, but I hope some day to find an
opportunity of publishing my Danish collections

Thirdly, I have taken due notice of those
reviews of my Danish book in which reasons
were given for dissenting from my views; I
must especially thank Professors Herman
Möller and Arwid Johannson for opening my
eyes to some weak points in my arguments,
even if I have not been able to make their
opinions mine; on the contrary, a consideration
of their objections has only strengthened my
belief in the progressive tendency of languages
at large. In the linguistic literature which has
appeared since my Studier, I have found little
to learn with regard to my own subject; if G.
von der Gabelentz's Die Sprachwissenschaft
(Leipzig, 1891) had appeared before instead of
after my Studier, it would probably have influenced
my exposition, as I should have been
viiable from that admirable work to draw many
arguments in favour of my hypothesis; but as
it is, I have thought it the wisest plan to leave
the main structure of my work as it was, and
only once for all refer the reader to Gabelentz's
great work, which no one can read without great
profit. My attention was not drawn to Misteli's,
Charakteristik der hauptsächlichsten Typen des
(Berlin, 1893) till nearly the whole
of my book was ready for print in its English
shape; the reader will there find good, if somewhat
abstruse and rather too “philosophical”
summaries of the distinguishing features of
many languages.

Such of my readers as are not specially
interested in the history of the English
language will perhaps do well to read of
chapters vi.-viii. only those sections which deal
with problems of a more general character (§§
138-150, 209-215, 216-218, and 240-247); I
myself look upon these three chapters as
specimens of the manner in which I hope, by-and-by,
to treat the most important points in
the development of the English language; a
few more chapters of the same description are
nearly ready, dealing chiefly with the relations
viiibetween adjectives and nouns (or first parts
of compounds) and those between nouns and
verbs (cf. § 65).

As the term “Old English” is still sometimes
used in different senses by different authors, it
is not superfluous to remark that throughout
this book it means the English language till
about 1150, called by many scholars “Anglo-Saxon”.
In the very few places where I have
used a phonetic transcription, the sign ˙ indicates
that the preceding vowel is long.

I shall conclude this Preface by mentioning
the difficulty I have often felt in expressing my
thoughts adequately in a language which is not
my own; if my English is not too awkward
and clumsy, this is to a great extent due to my
friend G. C. Moore Smith, M.A., of St. John's
College, Cambridge, who has been kind enough
to read my manuscript very carefully and to
emend my style in not a few points; I seize
this opportunity of thanking him most heartily
for his extremely valuable assistance. I must
also thank Cand. E. Lennholm, of this city,
who translated most of chapter vi. for me from
the Danish original.

Otto Jespersen.ix

11 The small numbers in parentheses refer to the paragraphs
of the Danish book; they will enable the reader to judge of
the changes made in revising the work for this edition.

21 §§ 1076-87 of the same Grammar will be found to cover
nearly the same ground as my ch. vii. (ii. in the Danish edition).