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EH 408/508: History of the English Language

This course aims to illustrate, as much as it can in a compressed format, the development of the English language from the Anglo-Saxon period to the present. We will be concerned with the whole history of the language, its phonological and morphological development, as well as its cultural, political, and economic impact. We will look significantly at literary and other social textual examples of English across time in order to see both how the language changes and how aware authors are of that change. We will discuss English as a cultural, economic, political, and religious force. We will see English as a language of the British Isles, as an American language, and as a global language.



Course In-Class Links


Aug. 20- syllabus, course materials; American English dialect; The OED

HW: Read Crystal “Introduction”; Read Cable Ch. 2 “The Indo-European Family of Languages” (CANVAS)


Aug. 25- Discuss first OED assignment; The Indo-European Family of Languages; listen to world languages and then speakers of “Global English”;

HW: Read Crystal Ch. 1 “The origins of Old English”; “Interlude 1: The Celtic Language Puzzle”; Ch. 2 “The Old English Dialects” and “Interlude 2: The rise and fall of West Saxon”

Aug. 27- Old English; “The Dream of the Rood” in OE and ModE

HW: Read Crystal Ch. 3 “Early lexical diversity” and “Interlude 3: Understanding the Danes”


Sept. 1- Influence of the Church, Latin, Danes; King Alfred’s “Preface to the Pastoral Care” in Anglo-Saxon and Alfred’s language policy

HW: Read Crystal Ch. 4 “Stylistic variation in Old English” and “Interlude 4: Grammatical transition”; “The Wanderer” (link here)

Sept. 3-  Style in Old English poetry, “The Wanderer”

HW: Read Crystal Ch. 5 “The Transition to Middle English” and “Interlude 5: Two Peterborough Chronicles”


Sept. 8- Middle English introduction; Peterborough Chronicle excerpts

HW: Read Crystal Ch. 6 “A trilingual nation” and “Interlude 6: Lay Subsidy dialects”; Read "Middle English Phonetics" and Lawman’s Brut "Arthur's Birth" (both on CANVAS))

Sept. 10- Old English, Middle English, Anglo-Norman; Lawman’s Brut (excerpt)

HW: Read Turville-Petre,  excerpts from England the Nation (CANVAS);  Sir Orfeo; excerpts of Guy of Warwick, look at Auchinlek MS website via National Library of Scotland (link)


Sept. 15- The flourishing of English; the Auchinleck MS

HW: Read Crystal Ch. 7 “Lexical Invasions” and “Interlude 7: The first dialect story”; read Chaucer’ s The Reeve’s Tale

Sept. 17 French Invasion; The Reeve’s Tale

HW: Read Schiff, excerpts from Revivalist Fantasy (CANVAS); read Wynnere and Wastoure (intro and text)


Sept. 22- The Alliterative Revival

HW: Read Crystal Chapter 8 “Evolving Variation” and “Interlude 8: Well well”; read excerpts from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Northwest West Midlands), Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (London-East Anglian); excerpts from the Wycliffite Bible (read Luke “Cap. 10” http://wesley.nnu.edu/fileadmin/imported_site/wycliffe/Luk.txt)

Sept. 24-   The flowering of English

HW: Read Crystal Ch. 9 “A dialect age” and “Interlude 9: Where did the –s ending come from?”; attempt to discern dialect of select texts (handout)


Sept. 29-Dialect in Middle English; discuss dialect findings

HW: Read Crystal Ch. 10 “The Emerging Standard” and Fisher, “A Lancastrian Language Policy”

Oct. 1-  Standardization?

HW: Prepare for mid-term


Oct. 6 - no class

Oct. 8- no class, Fall Break


Oct. 13- Mid-Term Exam

HW: Read Crystal Ch. 11 “Printing and its consequences” and “Interlude 11: The first English dictionary”

Oct. 15- examples from early dictionaries; excerpt from William Bullokar’s “Books at Large” treatise on English phonetics

HW: Read Crystal Ch. 12 “Early Modern English Preoccupations”; “Interlude 12: Choosing thou or you”; Ch. 13 “Linguistic Daring”


Oct. 20- A changing language

HW: Exercise using OED—Who was the real language liberal, who was using the newest words according to the OED?)

Oct. 22- Innovators: Shakespeare vs.

Read Crystal Ch. 15 “Stabilizing Order”; “Interlude 15: Delusions of simplicity”; Ch. 16 “Standard Rules” and “Interlude 16: Glottal Stops


Oct. 27- Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary; Novel’s impact; Print innovations

HW: Read Cable “English in America”

Oct. 29-Discuss map of American Dialects (http://www.ling.upenn.edu/phono_atlas/NationalMap/NationalMap.html)

HW: read Charles Chestnutt, “Po’ Sandy” (CANVAS); Irvine Welsh "Granny's Old Junk" (CANVAS); Mark Twain, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog” (linked here)


Nov. 3- Dialect and literature

HW: John Rickford, “Suite for Ebony and Phonics” and Ebonics material (CANVAS); James Baldwin, “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?” (CANVAS)

Nov. 5-Annotated Bibliography Due; Race and Language

HW: Ana Celia Zentella “The Hows and Whys of ‘Spanglish’” and Gloria Anzaldua, “How To Tame a Wild Tongue” (CANVAS)


Nov. 10- English and Spanish and Spanish and English

Nov. 12- Presentations    


Nov. 17- Presentations

Nov. 19- Presentations


Nov. 24- no class (go hear Alain Badiou’s talk)

Nov. 26- no class due to spread of the English language to indigenous cultures across the Atlantic Ocean (or Thanksgiving)

HW: David Crystal, “Why a Global Language?” and Shashi Tharoor, “A Bedeviling Question in the Cadence of English” (CANVAS); "English As Global Language" (CLICK HERE FOR ARTICLE )


Dec. 1- Global English

Dec. 3- Final Paper Due