Otto Jespersen and "The Woman", then and now

Thomas, Margaret
October 2013
Historiographia Linguistica;2013, Vol. 40 Issue 3, p377
Academic Journal
Danish linguist Otto Jespersen's (1860-1943) Language, its Nature, Development, and Origin was published more than 90 years ago, in 1922. This article focuses on Jespersen's often-cited Chapter 13, entitled "The Woman", a text that has served since the 1970s as a touchstone for feminist narratives of the history of discussion of language and gender. The author of the present article shows that modern treatment of the chapter sometimes misconstrues Jespersen in casting him into the role of mouthpiece for ideas about women and language that contemporary scholars have discredited. She suggests instead that "The Woman" deserves a new reading, which neither apologizes for Jespersen's views, nor diminishes his importance to the history of feminist linguistics, but rather recognizes the intricacies of this text and seeks to better understand its position in relation to present-day scholarship on language and gender.


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