Midterm Review

FALL 2011

Readings in the textbook: Svartvik and Leech, chs. 1 - 3

other links:

Old English -- general

OE texts:

Middle English -- general

ME texts:

Topics to prepare, based on the assigned readings and the links above and in the syllabus -- the test will consist of three essay questions selected from the topics below. Most likely format: One general question about language change. One question on OE. One question on ME. Backing up each of your claims with specific examples is essential for a successful essay.

  1. The mechanisms of language change: is it possible to introduce intentional changes into language? What are the obstacles involved in such an attempt? What are the mechanisms for introducing intentional change? To what extent can top-down language change be successful? Use specific examples from the links and readings.
  2. What problems are there in trying to recover language history? Referring to what we know about Old English and Middle English, as well as your attempt to recover some of your own language history, discuss the kind of linguistic record that is preserved, and what kinds of language use are not accounted for. Again, use specific examples to illustrate all of your claims.
  3. Is language change growth, progress, decay, or just change? Why do you suppose people invest so much emotion in propagating or resisting particular changes? Use specific examples to illustrate all of your claims.
  4. Language change sometimes leads to language endangerment or death. Is this a natural process, the inevitable result of "survival of the fittest" Darwinism? Is it something to try to reverse in order to preserve the cultural treasures that can never be translated? Use specific examples to illustrate all of your claims.
  5. English has become the working tongue of the global village, and demand for English comes both from grass-roots sources and, sometimes, from the top down. Is it possible that English might displace other, local languages, the way that it replaced the Celtic languages of Britain? Or can local languages resist the juggernaut of English the way that English resisted the inroads of French during the ME period?
  6. How did English, an unimportant language spoken on a tiny, rainswept island off the coast of Europe, become the master of the universe that it is today? What does a language need for it to become a "World Language"? What historical, political, economic, social, and accidental factors underlie the current status of English in the world? Use specific examples to illustrate all of your claims.
  7. In the early 1800s, John Adams predicted that English would become a world language “because the increasing population in America . . . will . . . force their language into general use, in spite of all the obstacles that may be thrown in their way.” Adams claimed that in a democracy like the U.S., excellence in the use of the English language, rather than accidents of birth and class, would serve to distinguish merit. Adams argued that republics had purer and more perfect languages than other forms of government, and he predicted that “eloquence will become the instrument for recommending men to their fellow-citizensm and the principal means of advancement through the various ranks and offices.” What does Adams' argument tell us about his view of language? He was right that English would go global, but was he right for the right reasons? Use specific examples to illustrate all of your claims.
  8. Now that English exists in so many parts of the globe, where does "ownership" of English reside? What is the role of the various circles of English in determing what is good, acceptable, colloquial, standard English, and what is not? Use specific examples to illustrate all of your claims.
  9. Is the history of English a history of invasions? Is language history that simple? Use specific examples to illustrate all of your claims.
  10. Discuss the impact of the Roman, Germanic, Scandinavian, and Norman settlements on the linguistic landscape of the British Isles. Use specific examples to illustrate all of your claims.
  11. To speakers of Modern English, Old English is like a foreign language. It has a strange vocabulary, and seems to prefer expressing new meanings by using compounds instead of borrowing. OE uses grammatical case and grammatical gender; in OE, for example, adjectives must agree in case, gender, and number with the nouns they modify. The OE pronoun system is different in a couple of significant ways from Middle and Modern English. And many OE words died out by the Middle English period. And yet, despite these differences, a good chunk of the core of English -- its grammar and its most commonly used words -- has come down to us through the centuries, surviving massive change in vocabulary, the loss of case (in most instances) and grammatical gender, the shift to a more fixed word order, and some pretty massive systematic changes in the pronunciation of the language. What are we to make of the fact that some aspects of language are more changeable than others; that modern English seems a different language from Old English, and yet in many ways it hasn't changed that drastically at all? How different are OE and ME? Use specific examples to illustrate all of your claims.
  12. The "incident at Hastings" signals 300 years of French influence on the English language. In many ways, the Normans brought, not change, but continuity. When the Germanic settlers came to Britain, they planted their language and it grew, taking over much of the "big island," as we might call England, turning the native Celtic into a minority language and in many cases "disappearing" it entirely. But when the French came along, while English absorbed a chunk of French vocabulary, and a lot of native words disappeared, English, not French, remained the undisputed main language of England. What reasons can you give for the failure of French to become general over England, not to mention Scotland, Wales, and Ireland?

    Refer to the English / French historical time line and use specific examples to illustrate all of your claims. This timeline traces indicators of the relative, and frequently changing, status of English and French from the 12th to the 15th centuries.
  13. Multilingualism is a feature of the modern world, just as it was a feature in older periods. What does the presence of language minorities in England and the U.S. today suggest about how language minorities co-existed and interacted in the Old and Middle English periods? Use specific examples to illustrate all of your claims.
  14. MIddle English seems to us to be a lot closer to Modern English than OE does. Why? Some of the key differences between Old English and Middle English: loss of case accompanying the disappearance of unstressed final syllables of many words. Replacement of Gmc vocabulary by Latinate words, through the influence of French and the Catholic church. "Seeds" of standardization planted as London grows in economic and political importance during the ME period, and the central government sends civil servants outward to communicate with the rest of the country. BUT wait: does ME seem more familiar because we often read Chaucer but seldom read Beowulf? Because while we only have about 3 million words of text in OE, we have ten times as much ME material that has survived? Because looking back at OE is like looking through the wrong end of a telescope?

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