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

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English 3901a: History of English (Spring 2011)

Posted: Jan 12, 2011 08:01;
Last Modified: Jan 04, 2015 13:01


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
Participation (attendance, in-class assignments, note taking) 5%
Weekly blog entries (Moodle) 10%
First review (Moodle) 20%
Second Review (Moodle) 20%
Essay Proposal (Turnitin) 5%
Essay (Turnitin) 15%
Final Exam (Moodle) 25%

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

Week Date Topic Assignments and Reading
1 Mon. 10/1 Snow Day (no class)
Wed. 12/1 Welcome Syllabus and assessment
Fri. 14/1 The phenomenon of language change: patterns and evidence  
2 Mon. 17/1 How languages change: the stages of English Read Chapter 2, The Flux of Language; Review Chapter 1: “What is Language”
Wed. 19/1 How Languages Change: Mechanisms  
Fri. 21/1 How Languages Change: Language Families  
3 Blogs start this week: please have your blog written each week no later than Wednesday at 11:59
Mon. 24/1 Some basic skills: Phonemic transcription; recognising language change Reread Chapter 1, what is language.
Wed. 26/1    
Fri. 28/1    
4 Mon. 31/1 Pre-History of English I Read 3: The Indo-European Languages
Wed. 2/2    
Fri. 4/2    
5 Mon. 7/2 Pre-History of English II Read 4: The Germanic Languages
Wed. 9/2    
Fri. 11/2    
6 Mon. 14/2 Old English Read 5: Old English
Wed. 16/2 Instructor Absence: No class
Fri. 18/2
Mon. 21/2-Friday 25/2: Reading Week (No classes)
7 First Review: Basic Skills and Pre-history 28/2-6/3 (Moodle)
Mon. 28/2 Old English (con’t) Read 5: Old English
Wed. 2/3    
Fri. 4/3    
8 Mon. 7/3 Top down and bottom up: From Old to Middle English Read 6: Norse and Normans
Wed. 9/3    
Fri. 11/3    
9 Sun. 13/3 Essay Proposal due on Turnitin (23:59)
Mon. 14/3 Middle English Read 7: Middle English
Wed. 16/3    
Fri. 18/3    
10 Second Review: Old and Middle English 28/2-6/3 (Moodle)
Mon. 21/3 The Renaissance Read 8: Early Modern English
Wed. 23/3    
Fri. 25/3    
11 Mon. 28/3 Present Day English 1 Read 9: English in the Scientific Age
Wed. 30/3    
Fri. 1/4    
12 Mon. 4/4 Present Day English 2 Read 10: English as a world language
Wed. 6/4    
Fri. 8/4    
13 Mon. 11/4 What will become of us? Read 11: English Today and Tomorrow
Wed. 13/4    
Fri. 15/4    
Sun. 17/4 Essay due on Turnitin (23:59)
Final Exam runs throughout exam period

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