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Information in this page copyright 2001 Brigham Young University Department of Linguistics. Permission to duplicate this material for non-commercial academic purposes is freely given, provided BYU is noted as the copyright holder.

This page last updated March 22, 2001 at 10:45 p.m. MST by Daniel Roundy, dqr@ttt.org


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People, I-M

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Jakobson, Roman

Born in Moscow in 1896, Roman Jakobson was a poet in addition to his great contributions to the field of linguistics. Jakobson grew up in pre-revolutionary Russia, beginning his high school studies at the Lazarev Institute of Languages at age ten and going on to teach at the University of Moscow. It was there that he, at age 19, and six other students started the Moscow Linguistics Circle. While in Russia, Jakobson associated with many Russian poets, and his associations with them affected his later philosophies on language.

In 1920, Jakobson went to Prague as a translator, and stayed there to study. He helped form the Prague Linguistics circle in 1926. Jakobson was well known for his anti-Fascist feelings, and with the Fascist invasion of Czechoslovakia, Jakobson hid for several months and then fled to Denmark. He fled Denmark and Norway as the Fascists invaded those countries, with some very close calls. Jakobson finally escaped to America in May of 1941, where he lived for the remainder of his life.

Jakobson was a Structuralist in his viewpoints; however, he differed from the structuralism of Bloomfield and his colleagues in America and from Saussure, in that he integrated all aspects of linguistics as being important to the field. In contrast to Bloomfield, he even included meaning as an important concept for linguistics. In the same way as he included all aspects of linguistics with linguistics, Jakobson also integrated linguistics with all other fields, looking for philosophies and theories that would apply to all fields of science.

Information gathered from:

  • Richard Bradford. 1994. Roman Jakobson: Life, Language, Art. New York: Routledge.
  • Jakobson, Roman. 1997. My Futurist Years. Introduction by Stephen Rudy. New York: Marsilio.
  • Elmar Holenstein. 1976. Roman Jakobson's Approach to Language: Phenomenological Structuralism. Translated by Catherine and Tarcisius Schelbert. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press.

Some Useful Web Sites:

Jesperson, Otto

Otto Jesperson was born at Randers, Jutland, Denmark in 1860. He attended Frederiksborg School, Zealand and Copenhagen University. He began as a law student, but later changed his focus. He was a shorthand reporter for the Danish Parliament for seven years. In the field of linguistics, he was first interested in the Romance languages, earning a degree in Latin, English, and French. He studied phonetics under Henry Sweet in Oxford for a year after his undergraduate work. He had linguistic discussions with Paul Passy in Paris, and worked closely with him to found the International Phonetic Association. He also worked with J. Zupitza at Berlin University, and corresponded a great deal with Felix Franke. In 1891, Jesperson received his Ph.D. at Copenhagen University, and in 1893, he joined the faculty at Copenhagen as a professor of English, where he continued until he retired in 1925. He continued to work on research in the linguistics field after his retirement. Jesperson died in 1943.

Jesperson was a contemporary of Leonard Bloomfield, and is best known for his work Modern English Grammar, much of which was written after his retirement. This work discusses phonetics, morphology, and a great deal of syntax. Child language was especially interesting for Jesperson, who believed that we were moving toward a better and more effective language, and that child language would have a big influence in language change toward this more effective language. In addition to helping found the International Phonetic Association, Jesperson also helped devise the international phonetic alphabet. He also favored the developing of an IAL (international auxiliary language), in order to bring different countries closer. He helped in the creation of Ido, an IAL that comes from Esperanto, in the early 1900's. In 1928, he introduced Novial, which was an IAL he had created. Jesperson was clearly involved in a variety of different facets of linguistics.

Information gathered from:

  • Asher, R.E., Editor in Chief. 1994. The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. New York: Pergamon Press.
  • Bright, William, Editor in Chief. 1992. International Encyclopedia of Linguistics. New York: Oxford University Press.
Jones, Daniel

Born in London on September 12, 1881, Daniel Jones was a prominent British phonetician. He had become interested in languages at a young age. He studied at Tilly's Marburg Language Institute in Germany in 1900. Jones received a degree in Mathematics at Cambridge in 1903. His father later convinced him to study law, which he did for a time, but he didn't continue in it. He studied with Paul Passy, founder of the International Phonetics Association, in France from 1905 to 1906. Passy encouraged him to get involved with the association, and to take the examination for it. He would later marry Passy's niece in 1911. Jones also studied under Henry Sweet. In 1907, turning down a call to the bar, Jones joined the faculty of University College, London, as a phonetics lecturer. The material was popular with the students, and in 1912, Jones became head of the first department of phonetics in Great Britain. Retiring from University College in 1949, Jones served as president of the International Phonetics Association beginning in 1950 until his death. Jones died at Gerrards Cross, England, in 1967, continuing, even though he was very ill, to publish until the end of his life.

The main focus of Jones' work was phonetics. He was the first English writer to use the word phoneme in its present sense. Jones played a prominent role in the International Phonetics Association, and was influential in spreading the International Phonetic Alphabet throughout the world. Jones wrote several works on British received pronunciation (see a list of his works below). The influence of this work extended to linguists in many places, including Leonard Bloomfield and the American Structuralists. Jones also researched Cantonese, Tswana, Sinhalese, and other non-Indo-European languages. He did a detailed analysis of tones in his studies of these languages.

Jones is especially well known for his theory of cardinal vowels. He notes four positions-open-front, open-back, close-front, and close-back, and the rounded and unrounded versions of vowels produced in these four areas constitute the eight cardinal vowels. These vowels are not actually intended to be actual vowels in any language, but theoretical vowels produced in these locations. The secondary cardinal vowels then fit between them. Even though recent work has found that these points of articulation are not actually accurate for the production of these vowels, Jones' cardinal vowels have been very influential in phonetics teaching for many years.

Some major works:

  • Pronunciation of English (1909)
  • Outline of English Phonetics (1918)
  • A Phonetic Dictionary of the English Language (1913) coedited with H. Michaelis
  • English Pronouncing Dictionary, or EPD (1917)
  • The Phoneme (1950)



Information gathered from:

  • Asher, R.E., Editor in Chief. 1994. The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. New York: Pergamon Press.
  • Bright, William, Editor in Chief. 1992. International Encyclopedia of Linguistics. New York: Oxford University Press.
Jones, Sir William

Born in London in 1746, Sir William Jones is best known for his statement regarding the strength and qualities of the Sanskrit language and its strong relation to the Latin and Greek languages. Although historical linguistics was not completely unknown as a field at this time, Jones realized an important relation between these languages, and did it by using a method much more systematic than the ones used at the time. Jones found the relations between these languages by studying the morphology and phonology of cognates in the languages. In this process, he not only found relationships between Sanskrit, Latin, and Greek, but also brought linguistics more away from religion and mysticism and more toward a possibility of scientific study.

Information gathered from:

  • Asher, R.E., Editor in Chief. 1994. The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. New York: Pergamon Press.
  • Bright, William, Editor in Chief. 1992. International Encyclopedia of Linguistics. New York: Oxford University Press.

Some Useful Web Sites:

Leibniz, G.W.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1646. He made many advances in the area of mathematics, including helping to invent calculus. Leibniz took a great interest in developing a mathematical model of language. His dissertation The Arte Combinatoria, written when he was 20 years old, already showed this interest. After being rejected for a position at the University of Leibzig, he left the University setting (although he had been offered a position in Law in Altdorf), and spent the remainder of his career in the service of the German nobles, advising them politically and as a diplomat, engineer, librarian, and historian. Leibniz did not publish very much, and most of the works we have by him now are letters and unfinished manuscripts published after his death.

Leibniz proposed a Characteristica Universalis, which, like many projects of his day, was a proposal for the creation of a universal language. Leibniz' Characteristica Universalis differed from the other projects, in that it proposed representing the parts of the language as numbers, so that one only had to add up the numbers to determine meaning. Leibniz also did not agree with the idea that the meanings of words are completely arbitrary. He felt that in older languages there was always a connection between the word and the object it represented, and that although some changes may occur in languages over time, the link between word and object still remained. He also believed that the meaning of any word could be found by looking at the meanings of its component parts.

Information gathered from:

  • Asher, R.E., Editor in Chief. 1994. The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. New York: Pergamon Press.

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