An examination of the history of the English language from its beginnings to the present, this course will treat in detail, and with equal emphasis, the English of the middle ages, the Renaissance, and the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as the English used in the Americas and elsewhere in the world today. Our focus will be on language in its social context, and so we will develop a picture of English as it functions in the real world of people communicating: speaking, writing, reading, and using language as a social, political, literary and economic instrument. We will consider as well what happens when when languages come into contact, both more violently, in terms of wars and colonial conquests, and more peacefully, in terms of trade, globalization, cultural exchange, tourism, and the Internet.
We will concentrate on relationships between language and literature; dialect and the process of language standardization; the social implications of linguistic variety; and the nature of World Englishes. We will also study new word formation, the impact of technology on language, and the attempts, over the past four centuries, to reform English spelling, grammar, and usage.
This course should be of particular value to students of language and literature who seek a greater understanding of the linguistic forces at play in the texts they study, and to prospective teachers hoping to show their students that language is a living, ever-changing, user-friendly part of their lives. No previous background in language study is necessary, although such experience will not be held against you.
For the "language in the news" report, a daily feature of the class, each presenter/group is allotted no more than 10 minutes at the start of class to summarize a current issue related to what we're studying this semester, and lead a short discussion on their topic. Language in the news instructions can be found here.
Week 1 - Introduction to the course:
Mon Aug. 22 • What is language? Why does it change? Is it changing now?
Michelle Bachmann coins hombre-ette
Michelle Bachman on chutzpah:
Sarah Palin coins "refudiate" on Fox News
Language and the London riots: Ghetto grammar robs the young of a proper voice
Read: Defining our language for 100 years
Some new words in the latest Oxford Concise English Dictionary
Dictionary compilers create endangered words list
And here is a list of some of the new words added to Merriam-Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary for 2011
If you were the boss of English, what would you change?
Wed Aug 24 Yola! The changing English language – from its prehistory to the present
Read S&L 1: English -- the working tongue of the global village
Hungary may discourage citizens from learning English because it's too easy.
Yola: one person's shot at fame and glory
Merriam-Webster reports on made-up words submitted by users;
also read about one school's take on linguistic assimilation: Court rules "talking while Spanish" grounds for expulsion
Arthur, IL: English only on the schoolbus
Week 2 English -- the early years
Mon Aug 29: Must language change? How do we feel about that?
Read: Immigrants no longer changing names
Better Speech Week Pledge for Children (1918)
the Better Speech pledge
Wed Aug 31: History of your own language compared with history of "the" language
How would you go about researching the history of your own language development?
How complete and how reliable are the sources, documents, memories of your language history?
How complete and how reliable are the sources, documents, and memories of the history of English?
Week 3 Early history of the individual and the language
Mon Sep 5: Labor Day -- no class
Weds Sep 7: Read S&L 2: The first 500 years
The two histories of English: standard and real.
The Pre-history of English. View the slides here.
A brief history of writing. (view the Powerpoint presentation here)
Mon Sep 12 Old English -- the first 500 years, continued (they took 500 years to happen, we can spend two days on them!)
Some characteristics of Old English (view the Powerpoint here)
Weds Sep 14 Old English No language is a pure language
Week 5 Old English
Mon Sep 19: Polonius told Hamlet, "Neither a borrower nor a lender be." But he was wrong. Why do we borrow words?
Reading Old English prose and poetry: Apollonius
Language in the news: Adina Mann, Jeanne Zeller
Wed Sep 21: Reading Old English
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: The Coming of the Angles
Abraham and Isaac
Language in the news: Bridget DiGioia, Elizabeth Morgan
Week 6 Old English
Mon Sep 26: Caedmon's Hymn and 2 Old English Riddles
for Weds, do the Old English Dictionary exercise
Language in the news: Shoshanna Shaoul, Megan Cavitt
Wed Sep 28: Reading OE-- Selection from Beowulf
Language in the news: William Mahoney, Lawrence Henderson
Week 7 Middle English
Mon Oct 3: the beginnings of ME
Read S&L 3: 1066 and all that –
When does Middle English start?
Why is it so much more familiar?
A Middle English chronology
The structure of Middle English (link to the online materials)
Reading Middle English: The Death of King Arthur
Language in the news: Tabitha Jou, Kim Tracewski
Weds Oct 5: The relative status of English and French in the Middle English period
Reading ME: The Canterbury Tales
Language in the news: Elizabeth Lipowski, Zoe Regalado
Week 8 Middle English
Mon Oct 10: ME
Reading ME: the Paston Letters ME workshop
Language in the news: Robin Johnson, Claire Wilmsen
Wed Oct 12: Readings comparing OE, ME, and Early Modern English:
The Lord’s Prayer
The Prodigal Son
Language in the news: Rebecca Fundator, Jessica Hourigan
Week 9 Recapping and Assessing Old and Middle English
Mon Oct 17: Review for the midterm (link to the study guide)
Weds Oct 19: Midterm Exam
Week 10 Early Modern English
Mon Oct 24: EMnE
Read S&L 4 Modern English in the Making
Early Modern English: The Great Vowel Shift
features of EMnE grammar and vocabulary
Reading Early Modern English: Shakespeare
Language in the news: Mark Schmudde, John Sheehan
Wed Oct 26: Early Modern English:
Sidney on the double negative
Prescriptive rules in EMnE
Language in the news: Michael Piccoli, Jessica Marovich
Week 11: Standardizing English
Mon Oct 31: The age of dictionaries
Cawdrey,Bailey, and Johnson, Early English dictionaries
Inkhorn terms and archaisms
100 Commonest English words
Language in the news: Ari Kravetz, Elizabeth Hult
Weds Nov 2: Language standardization in EMnE: Where do the rules come from?
Stuff white people like: grammar
Your usage panel
Language in the news: Jason Peterson, Rachel Buccieri
Week 12: English exported
Mon Nov 7: Read S&L 5: English goes to the New World
Nineteenth-century English in the OED
Noah Webster's spelling
Noah Webster's 1806 dictionary
Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary
Noah Webster's sanitized and corrected Bible
Sir James A. H. Murray on "the dictionary says..."
How Oxford decides whether to add a word to its dictionaries
Language in the news: Grant Garland, Brittany Chen
Wed Nov 9: Read S&L 6, English Transplanted
Learning to curse: Aspects of linguistic colonialism in the 16th century
American dialect maps
Flight of the Conchords: He maybe did . . .
Accent reduction in Arizona . . .
. . . and in Bangalore
"Take anything you want!" -- a Japanese English lesson
Language in the news: Kaitlyn Henaghan, Jeremy Lin
Week 13: Separated by a common language
Mon Nov 14: No class today
Wed Nov 16: Read S&L 8: American and British English
Language in the news--Two groups report today--: Penny Paraskis & Sarah Marie Pascual
Nick Guerrero &Brian Siemann
Writing in dialect
How much English do you really need to communicate?
-- FALL Break --
Week 14 English Today
Mon Nov 28: Read S&L 10: The standard language today: myth or reality?
Language in the news: Ethan Feldman
Wed Nov 30: Read S&L 11: Linguistic change in progress
Read: Saraceni, Reflections on the rhetorics of the (re)locations of English
Language in the news: Ellie Goldrick, Alan Newman
Week 15 English Today
Mon Dec 5: AAVE, Black English, or Ebonics.
Read: What happened in Oakland? (on the web)
Read: "If Black English isn't a language, then tell me, what is?" by James Baldwin
Wed Dec 7: Laws and language • Making English Official?
Read: Official English from the school house to the White House
Read: The Babel Proclamation (1918)
final exam study guide
FINAL EXAM essay due by email Friday, Dec.9, at 10 pm. Early submissions will of course be welcome.
Click here for your final exam