From the early years of Phonology. The Roman Jakobson – Eli Fischer-Jørgensen correspondence (1949-1982). Edited and introduced by Viggo Bank Jensen and Giuseppe D'Ottavi. Published by The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 2020. Scientia Danica, Series H, Humanistica, 8, vol. 20. 402 pp. Paperback. Price: 200 DKK.


For more than 30 years, from 1949 till 1982, the two influential linguists Roman Jakobson (1896-1982) and Eli Fischer-Jørgensen (1911-2010) regularly exchanged letters. Now, almost 40 years after the last letter of the correspondence was signed, The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters is publishing the entire collection of preserved letters in which we are introduced to two strong personalities: the Russian born linguist Roman Jakobson and the Danish phonetician and general linguist Eli Fischer-Jørgensen, both members of the Royal Academy, Eli being the first ever Danish woman elected a member.

They were both leading representatives within the field known as phonology, and their letters are no doubt to be considered important documents in the history of international linguistics. Moreover, reading the letters provides a personal dimension to a field in which the usual scholarly articles are often devoid of personal content.

The letters show the tension between Roman Jakobson’s visionary approach and Eli Fischer-Jørgensen’s insistence on staying true to phonetic facts, just as they show how the discussions of the relationship between phonology and phonetics are inescapably related to the linguistic community’s life and its way of evolving in congresses and academic institutions. Furthermore, the correspondence reflects on the connections between Roman Jakobson and the competing Louis Hjelmslev-dominated structuralism seen in Copenhagen which is thought to be of interest to a wider spectrum of readers.  

Besides the interesting background information concerning the general development of society at the time, the book also provides a thorough introduction to the people behind the correspondence as well as a contextualization of the letters both as to the early days of Jakobsonian phonology and as to the early structure of linguistics as a system including social circles, journals and congresses. The edition is of course fully annotated and contains a variety of useful indexes.

By bringing these letters to the public, particularly to researchers concerned with the history of structuralist linguistics, we hope to stimulate interest in the ever-present legacy from this generation of impressive scholars and eminent personalities. And – let us not forget – the letters also provide a peek into the course of a beautiful friendship from beginning to end.

ISSN 1904-5492 · ISBN 978-87-7304-432-2

The book can be purchased at The Royal Academy's publishing house