“A Good School”

Johan Storm and his disciples


Andrew R. Linn

University of Sheffield


The serious study of English as a university subject began outside the British Isles in Germany and Scandinavia, as part of the “new philology”.  It was expected that traditional historical concerns should be at the heart of university-level modern language studies, but the new philology was different from the old philology in that it also dealt with the contemporary languages and their dialects.  Firmly based in the new science of phonetics, the new philology also addressed such issues as language-teaching methodology and non-standard varieties.  Journals, such as Phonetische Studien and Anglia, were set up to support the fledgling enterprise.  Otto Jespersen is probably the best known of this new breed of English linguists, but the real pioneer was Jespersen’s mentor, Johan Storm, the first professor of English and Romance philology in Norway. 


Nineteenth-century Norway was geographically and culturally far removed from English metropolitan life, but Storm established in Kristiania an internationally renowned power-house of research into the English language.  Henry Sweet was a great admirer of Storm and his disciples, extolling their virtues in the Philological Society and in a range of journals.  More surprising even than the fact that the professor at Norway’s only university should have been in the vanguard of scientific research into the English language is the fact that this work was carried on by two of his pupils, August Western and Knud Brekke, both of whom worked as schoolteachers in the provinces.  Storm’s Engelsk Filologi (1879) appeared in two German-language editions (Englische Philologie 1881 & 1892/1896) and was the last word on the English language at that time; the second German edition runs to 1100 pages.  Western published respected studies of English phonetics and syntax, and Brekke published teaching materials that were translated into a number of other languages and reprinted and used up to the 1960s.


In this paper I will present the contributions made to Anglistik by this band of Norwegian linguists and evaluate what it meant for the scientific study of English to be pioneered to a large extent by non-native speakers.