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 2015)

Posted: Jan 04, 2015 15:01;
Last Modified: Aug 17, 2015 15:08


This is the syllabus for English 3901: History of the English Language.


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.


Times and location

Office and Office Hours

My office is B810B (8th floor, University Hall).

My official office hours are:




  1. All exercises under this category are of equal weight. I reserve the right to add or subtract participation exercises during the year.
  2. All exercises under this category are of equal weight. Exceptional work may be eligible for badges. Students may submit one piece of “Inappropriate” work for regrading, provided they accompany this with a letter explaining what changes have been made to the resubmission. Students who resubmit work for grading will receive a 2.5% penalty on their final grade.
  3. Students may earn up to five badges. All badges are “Pass/Fail” and are applied to the final grade. Badges may not be combined on any one exercise (i.e. you cannot have a “distinction” and “great distinction” badge on the same piece of work, or a “distinction” and “resubmission.” At the end of the semester, the total value of all badges will be added together.


The following policies will be followed in all my classes unless otherwise announced. You are expected to be familiar with the policies reproduced here and in the more general section on my website. These additional web pages are to be considered part of this syllabus for the purposes of this course.

Grade scale

The University of Lethbridge keeps track of student performance using a letter and grade point system (See section 4 of the University Calendar). Instructors assign students a letter grade at the end of each course (the University does not issue or record 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

Submitting Work

Tests, Exams, and Quizzes

Tests and Exams will be written in the University’s Testing Centre on Moodle.

Essays and Reports

Essays and reports will normally be collected using Turnitin. Information on our account (URL, ID number, and Password) will be made available in our class space on Moodle.


This course uses plagiarism detection software. Any plagiarism will be treated very seriously: you can expect to receive a grade of 0 on the assignment as well as other penalties depending on the seriousness of the offence. In most cases, the penalty for plagiarism is an F on the course.

Class schedule

Class schedule
Week Date Topic Reading
1 Tue Jan 6    
Thur Jan 8 Welcome Syllabus and Assessment
2 Tue Jan 13 Guest Lecture
Thur Jan 15 Guest Lecture
3 Tue Jan 20 Language Change Chapter 1
Thur Jan 22 Germanic Grim’s and Verner’s Law
4 Tue Jan 27 Old English Chapters 2 & 3
Thur Jan 29 Old English  
5 Tue Feb 3 Old English  
Thur Feb 5 Middle English Chapters 4 & 5
6 Tue Feb 10 Middle English  
Thur Feb 12 Middle English  
Reading Week No Classes
7 Tue Feb 24 Early Modern English Chapter 6
Thur Feb 26 Instructor Absence
8 Tue Mar 3 Spread of English Chapter 7
Thur Mar 5 Instructor Absence
9 Tue Mar 10 Pidgins and Creoles Chapter 9
Thur Mar 12 Pidgins and Creoles  
10 Tue Mar 17 English in Great Britain and Ireland Chapter 8
Thur Mar 19 English in North America Chapter 10
11 Tue Mar 24 English in North America  
Thur Mar 26 English in the Global South Chapters 11 and 12
12 Tue Mar 31 English in the Global South  
Thur Apr 2 English as a World Language Chapter 13
13 Tue Apr 7 English as a World Language  
Thur Apr 9 Conclusion and Posters





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