Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

Forward to Navigation

English 3901: History of the English Language (Spring 2007)

Posted: Dec 02, 2006 10:12;
Last Modified: Feb 07, 2007 10:02


About this course

Why don’t we spell knight nite?

Where does ‘silent e’ come from?

Why is it book and books but not sheep and sheeps?

Do we say somebody is six foot or six feet tall?

All of us have asked questions like these about the English language. This course will teach you how to find the answers. It covers the history of the English language from its pre-historic beginnings to its current position as the lingua franca of the modern world.

We begin with a brief survey of some important linguistic and methodological concepts. We then cover the major periods in the History of English paying particular attention to aspects that affect the way we now speak and write. In doing so we will cover the historical development of English sounds, spelling, grammar, vocabulary, and rhetoric. We will also be looking at changes in the attitude of speakers of English towards their language’s position and importance in daily life.

The course is of general interest. It may be particularly useful for students considering further study in language art education, linguistics, medieval or classical languages and literature, or English history. No special training in linguistics, foreign languages, or grammar is required.

Learning goals

By the end of this course you should have an understanding of the principles of linguistic change, particularly as this applies to the English language. You should be able to recognise the major external and internal influences on the development of the English language and know how to research interesting forms and constructions using standard reference works.



Assignment Value
Exercises (6×) 24%
First test (Concepts) 25%
Second test (Pre-history and Old English) 25%
Final Exam (Comprehensive) 26%

General policies

Students are expected to familiarise themselves with my academic policies. These can be found at and are to be considered part of this syllabus. Failure to comply with these policies will result in your grade being lowered.

Grade scale

The University of Lethbridge uses a letter and grade point system to record student performance (see section 4 of the University Calendar). Instructors assign students a letter grade for each course at the end of each semester (the University does not issue or keep track of mid-term grades). These letter grades are converted to a numerical value (a Grade Point) for assessing overall academic performance (a Grade Point Average or GPA). The University does not record percentage-type grades and does not have a fixed scale for conversion from percentage scores to letter grades and grade points. Each instructor is responsible for determining their own methodology for determining students’ final letter grade.

In my classes, I use the following letter-grade to percentage correspondences:

  Excellent Good Satisfactory Poor Minimal pass Failing
Letter A+ A A- B+ B B- C+ C C- D+ D F
Percent range 100-94 93-90 89-86 85-82 81-78 77-74 73-70 69-66 65-62 61-58 57-50 49-0
Conventional value 100 92 88 84 80 76 72 68 64 60 56 49-0
Grade point 4.0 3.7 3.3 3.0 2.7 2.3 2.0 1.7 1.3 1.0 0

How your grade is determined depends on the type of work being assessed. Tests of specific skills or knowledge (such as identification questions in literature classes, or fact-oriented tests in my grammar and language classes) are usually assigned a numeric score which is easily converted to a percentage. Essays, presentations, and other performance-oriented tests are usually graded by letter. I convert letter grades to percentages by taking the median value in each grade-range, and rounding up to the nearest whole percent. The only exceptions are A+, which is converted to 100%, and F, which is converted to an arbitrary percentage between 0% and 49% based on my estimation of the work’s quality. These scores can be found in the conventional value row of the above table.

In marking work I try to keep the University’s official description of these grades in mind (a description can be found in the University Calendar, Part IV.3.a). If you get an A it means your work is excellent; a B means your work is good; a C means it is satisfactory; a D that it is poor; and an F that it is failing to meet University-level standards.

Academic offences

I treat academic offences such as cheating and plagiarism very seriously. I will assign a 0% for the term to anybody caught cheating in any way on any assignment, quiz, test, or exam in my class. You will also be reported to the Dean of Arts and Science.

Late penalties

My usual late penalty is 1/3 of a letter grade for each day a piece of work is late. This works out to approximately 3~5% per day. I reserve the right to increase or decrease the late penalty for specific pieces of work. If your work is late due to a family or medical emergency, please let me know and I will waive the late penalty.

Missed classes

I usually do not take attendance in my classes. If you miss a class, it is your responsibility to make sure you are up-to-date. Unless your absence was due to a family or medical emergency, I will not repeat lectures or announcements for students who missed hearing them in class. If you miss a quiz, your grade for that quiz is 0% unless you absence was caused by a family or medical emergency.

Tentative class schedule

The following schedule is intended to help you plan your work for the semester. I reserve the right to make changes.

Week Date Topic Readings Recommended Exercises1
1 4/1 Syllabus and Administrative Questions
2 9/1 Turn and Face the Strange: Recognising Historical Language Change
  • Chapter 1: Studying the History of English
  • Chapter 3: Causes and Mechanisms of Language Change, pp. 55-64
  • Exercise 1.2: Periods of English (pp. 11-13)
  • Exercise 1.3: Analyzing Shakespearean English (p. 15)
  • Exercise 1.4: The Nature of Linguistic Change (p. 19)
11/1 Elements 1: Basic Phonology
  • Chapter 2: The Sounds and Writing of English
  • Chapter 3: Causes and Mechanisms of Language Change, pp. 64-70.
  • Exercise 2.1: Consonants (pp. 37-39)
  • Exercise 2.2 Vowels and Transcriptions of Words (pp. 44-45)
  • Exercise 2.3: Stress (p. 47)
  • Exercise 3.2: Mechanisms of Phonological Change (pp. 69-70)
3 16/1 Elements 2: Basic Morphology and Syntax
  • Exercise 1.1: Morphological and Semantic Concepts (pp. 8-9: Questions 1 and 2 only [skip question 3])
  • Exercise 3.3: Mechanisms of Morphological and Syntactic Change (pp. 75-76)
18/1 Elements 3: Basic Semantics Chapter 3: Causes and Mechanisms of Language Change
  • Exercise 1.1: Morphological and Semantic Concepts (pp. 8-9: Question 3 only)
  • Exercise 1.6: The Oxford English Dictionary (pp. 24-25)
  • Exercise 3.4 Semantic Change (pp.85-86)
4 23/1 Elements: Exercise/Review
25/1 Class cancelled due to grass fire
Test 1 Available (29/1-4/2)
5 30/1 Pre-History 1: “And none had lived before you!” Language Classification and the Comparative Method
  • Chapter 4: The Indo-European Language Family and Proto-Indo-European
Exercise 4.3: Proto-Language and Reconstruction (pp. 108-109)
1/2 Pre-History 2: Proto-Indo-European
  • Chapter 4: The Indo-European Language Family and Proto-Indo-European
  • Exercise 4.1: Classification of Languages (pp. 93-94)
  • Exercise 4.2: Indo-European Language Family (pp. 103-104)
  • Exercise 4.4 PIE Linguistic Features (p. 114)
  • Exercise 4.5: PIE Society and Homeland (p. 118)
  • 6 6/2 Pre-History 3a: Germanic: morphology and syntax
    • Chapter 5: Germanic and the Development of Old English, pp. 121-129
    • Exercise 5.1: Proto-Germanic (pp. 125-126)
    • Exercise 5.2: Grammatical and Lexical Changes from Proto-Indo-European to Germanic (pp. 128-129)
    8/2 Class Cancelled due to Administrative Duty
    7 13/2 Pre-History 3b: Germanic: phonology
    • Chapter 5: Germanic and the Development of Old English, pp. 130-143
    • Exercise 5.3: Germanic: Grimm’s Law (p. 136)
    • Exercise 5.4: Germanic: Verner’s Law (p. 139)
    • Exercise 5.5: Germanic: Grimm’s Law and Vowel Changes (p. 141)
    Pre-History: Exercise/Review
    15/2 Old English 1: Anglo-Saxon Attitudes: An Overview of Anglo-Saxon History and Culture
    • Chapter 5: Germanic and the Development of Old English, pp. 143-151
    • Chapter 6: The Sounds and Words of Old English, p. 154 (The orthographic system), pp. 165-176 (The Word Stock of the Anglo-Saxons)
    • Exercise 6.4: OE Word Stock (p. 171)
    • Exercise 6.5 OE Word Formation (p. 176)
    Reading Week (No classes)
    8 27/2 Old English 2: Phonology, Sound Changes, and Semantics
    • Chapter 6: The Sounds and Words of Old English (except pp. 154, 165-176)
    • Exercise 6.1: Transcription of Old English Consonants (p. 159)
    • Exercise 6.2 Transcription of OE Vowels and Consonants (pp. 161-162)
    • Exercise 6.3: Sound Changes in Old English Vowels (p. 165)
    • Exercise 6.6: Stress in Old English (pp. 177-178)
    1/3 Old English 3: Old English Grammar
    • Chapter 7: The Grammar of Old English
    • Exercise 7.1: Pronouns (pp. 186-187)
    • Exercise 7.2 (pp. 191-192)
    • Exercise 7.3: Demonstratives (pp. 194-195)
    • Exercise 7.4: Adjectives and Adverbs (pp. 199-200)
    • Exercise 7.5: Agreement and Case Usage (pp. 204-206)
    • Exercise 7.6: Verbs
    • Exercise 7.7: Syntax and Word Order (pp. 222-223)
    9 6/3 Old English: Exercise/Review
    8/3 Middle English 1: “I don’t wanna talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough wiper!”: English after the Norman Invasion
    • Chapter 8: The Rise of Middle English: Words and Sounds (pp. 229-250)
    • Exercise 8.2: Word Stock of Middle English (p. 241)
    • Exercise 8.3: Orthography (p. 250)
    Test 2 Available: Pre-History and Old English (5/3-11/3)
    10 13/3 Middle English 2: Phonology
    • Chapter 8: The Rise of Middle English: Words and Sounds (pp. 251-end)
    • Exercise 8.4: Consonant Changes (p. 253)
    • Exercise 8.5: [Phonemic] Transcription (p. 256)
    • Exercise 8.6: Vowel Changes (pp. 261-262)
    15/3 Middle English 3: Grammar and the Perfect Storm
    • Chapter 9: The Grammar of Middle English and Rise of a Written Standard (pp. 265-299)
    • Exercise 9.1: Adjectival and Nominal Forms (p. 273)
    • Exercise 9.2: Pronominal Forms (pp. 278-280)
    • Exercise 9.3: Verbal Forms (pp. 285-286)
    • Exercise 9.4: Syntax and Word Order (p. 292)
    11 20/3 Middle English: Exercise/Review
    22/3 Early Modern English 1: The Rise of Standards, or Why you shouldn’t leave things up to the professors
    • Chapter 9: The Grammar of Middle English and Rise of a Written Standard (pp. 299-end)
    • Chapter 10: The Sounds and Inflections of Early Modern English (pp. 323-324)
    • Chapter 11: Early Modern English Verbal Constructions and Eighteenth-Century Prescriptivism (pp. 357-end)
    Exercise 10.4: Renaissance Respelling (pp. 324-325)
  • Exercise 11.3: Eighteenth-Century Prescriptive Rules
  • 12 27/3 Early Modern English 2: Changes in Phonology and Grammar
    • Chapter 10: The Sounds and Inflections of Early Modern English (pp. 308-322; 324-end)
    • Chapter 11: Early Modern English Verbal Constructions and Eighteenth-Century Prescriptivism (pp. 345-356)
    • Exercise 10.1: Great Vowel Shift (pp. 313-314)
    • Exercise 10.2: EModE Vowels (p. 318)
    • Exercise 10.3: EModE and ModE Pronunciation (p. 322)
    • Exercise 10.5: EModE Nominal and Pronominal Forms (pp. 336-337)
    • Exercise 10.6 EModE Verbal Forms (p. 342)
    • Exercise 11.1 EModE Syntax (p. 356)
    29/3 Early Modern English 3: Borrowing and the Development of Modern English
    • Chapter 12: Modern English (pp. 386-391)
    • Exercise 12.2: Modern Borrowings (pp. 391-392)
    13 3/4 Early Modern English: Exercise/Review
    5/4 Modern English: O Brave New World!: English as World Language
    • Chapter 12: Modern English (esp. pp. 392-end)
    • Exercise 12.3: British vs. North American English (pp. 405-406)
    • Exercise 12.4: Vocabulary of National Dialects (pp. 422-423)
    • Exercise 12.5: American Regionalisms (pp. 430-431)
    • Exercise 12.6: Neologisms (p. 438)
    • Exercise 12.7: Grammatical Change in Progress (p. 442)
    14 10/4 Modern English: Exercise/Review
    12/4 Conclusion
    Final Exam Available (TBA)

    1 This list focuses on exercises that test your ability to apply material covered in the text as these are the most suitable for in-class review. The textbook also contains exercises designed to test your knowledge of specific names, definitions, and periods or movements; knowledge of this factual information is less suitable for review in class, though students are expected to know it for tests, exams, and exercises.





    Textile help

    Back to content

    Search my site


    Current teaching

    Recent changes to this site


    anglo-saxon studies, caedmon, citation, citation practice, citations, composition, computers, digital humanities, digital pedagogy, exercises, grammar, history, moodle, old english, pedagogy, research, student employees, students, study tips, teaching, tips, tutorials, unessay, universities, university of lethbridge

    See all...

    Follow me on Twitter

    At the dpod blog