The History of English


This course offers an introduction to the history of the English language, from its genesis to modern contexts in the United States. We begin with a broad approach to language study and proceed then to a survey of the major periods, from Old English to Modern English, with attention to key features at each stage. We’ll also review some general trends, including (selectively) written versus oral communication, language death, ASL, regional/dialectical variation, pr*f@nity, and changes relevant to the sounds (phonology), the forms of words and their endings (morphology), the sentence structure (syntax), the spelling (orthography), the meanings of words (semantics), and the vocabulary of English (lexicon).

Classes include lectures and discussions based on old and new features of the English language. I’ll use a number of resources to make various features of the language visual and audible, including images of primitive communication (e.g. cuneiform), manuscript facsimiles, reproductions of early books (e.g. Bibles and dictionaries), short films on features of language, occasional forays into Youtube, and clips of Medieval English and Modern English accents to emphasize the importance of sound in the development of English.


Sample Syllabus


Outline 1 on "Language Origins"

Outline 2 on "Writing & Alphabet"

Outline 3 on "Proto-Indo-European"

Outline 4 on "Germanic Runes"

Outline 5 on "Old English, Basically”

Outline 5a on Anglo-Saxon England

Outline 6 on "Conquest and Transition"

Outline 7 on "Middle English Grammar"

Outline 8 on "Early Modern English"

Outline 9 on "Modern English"

Outline 10 on "American English"


The History of Engish, 1943

The Adventure of English, Episode 1

David Crystal Talks about the Influence of the King James Bible

Anti-prescriptivist invective

David Crystal and his son talk about Shakespearean Pronunciation

Adventure of English Episode 4: The Early Modern Period