ENG367Y: Research paper #1, some starting points


Due:             Tuesday, January 14thth --a week's extension, 2003.

Warning: this is not a paper that you can do the night before!

Length:         About 10 250-word pages

Format:         The usual (student number only; appealing title; paper clip)

If you like, submit a separate title page that links student # and title to your name.

Late penalty: The usual (2% off per working day to a maximum of 20%; not accepted thereafter without medical documentation).


The following suggestions are for subjects: you’ll need to focus them into topics, and to

find appropriate primary and secondary sources. If you want to work on a topic that is not

on this list, you'll need to submit a proposal (thesis, methodology, and primary sources) to

me by December 3 – no exceptions. I’ll be happy to help you with all of this, though

will not be on campus or on email from December 8-18.


Most of these topics will exercise your ability to identify and to account for patterns of

linguistic variation. In particular, I’m assessing your ability to

·         collect and select appropriate primary source material

online OED? http:///dc1.chass.utoronto.ca/oed/

EMEDD? http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/english/emed/emedd.html

          Our class userid is eng367@utoronto.ca. Ask me for the password.

Literature online? http://lion.chadwyck.com

          Bible translations: click on “Individual literature collections”

          Search for key words in literary texts:  use the “advanced search” option of “SEARCH TEXTS”

·         synthesize meaningful patterns in your data

·         interpret, draw conclusions from those patterns in your data

·         your ability to contextualize your findings in a critical consideration of appropriate secondary sources

(the e-index Linguistics & Language Behavior has abstracts – good way of getting a fast overview of issues pertaining to a topic)

          From the U of T library home page, click on “e-indexes” and then type in “Linguistics &”



PLAGIARISM. It is an academic offence “to represent as one’s own an idea or expression of an idea or work of another in any academic ... work” (Faculty of Arts and Science Calendar). If I encounter plagiarism I must report it to my department chair, who must report it to the Dean. The U of T Writing Home Page has invaluable advice on “How not to plagiarize.” Please consult me at any time if you remain in any doubt about if and/or how to acknowledge the assistance of others.


1.      Describe and analyze patterns of lexical expansion and semantic change in an area where there has been significant change in recent centuries: technological change (cars?), scientific change (sub-atomic particles?), fashion (underwear?), social or racial attitudes (terms for specific racial groups? women? homosexuals? mental illness? words denoting sexual intercourse?).

2.      Write a history of the suffix –ess or the suffix ­–ist in English!

3.      “About 80 per cent of the text of the Authorized Version” (1611) of the English Christian Bible “shows the influence of” William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament (Crystal 59). Using the translations on Literature online, make a case for the 20 per cent that doesn’t! (I.e. are there any consistencies in the 1611 translators’ decision to change Tyndale?) Focus on two or three specific sections.

4.      For what it’s worth, you can get the online OED2 to spit out a list of words “first attested” in a particular year. Pick a year or decade that you’re interested in, and interpret the data. (How) do these words reflect “reality”? You might get preoccupied with a very specific topic (and see the next question for further methodology). For instance, for the 1550s – what kind of loans from Latin were appearing at the time of the “inkhorn controversy” (Crystal 61)? For instance, for the 1770s – how do loanwords reflect cultural contact with France? (how) does natural history terminology reflect early imperialism? developments in scientific terminology?

5.      You can use the online OED2’s “quotation search” mode to generate lists of quotations from a particular time period (e.g. looking for “177” will get words from the 1770s), from particular authors (“Wedgwood”), or containing particular strings of words (“slav” will pick up words pertaining to slavery). Carefully generating your data, write an essay that interprets the terminology of a specific historical topic: the language used in (anti-) slavery debates in the late eighteenth century; Josiah Wedgwood’s techniques for naming his products and processes, etc.

6.      You can use the online OED2’s “etymology” field to generate lists of headwords containing a specific string in the etymology field (e.g. looking for “Afric” in the etymology field will get you many words that come from Africa, though also many words that don’t). Write an essay interpreting the influence on English since 1600 of one of the following: languages of the Indian subcontinent; languages of North America; languages of the African subcontinent; German (this might be too hard to filter out). (You may well need to narrow this further!)

7.      There are various good online editions of Shakespeare’s corpus. Can you identify any patterns in the use of the word English to denote language? You’ll probably have to narrow down – a history play or two? (Remember that different characters may have different reasons for using a word!)

8.      To what extent did the recommended spellings in Samuel Johnson’s dictionary reflect existing practice? change it? Trinity College library has his dictionary on CD-ROM – you might get a sense of contemporary spellings from the OED, or, though the editions on it are often crappy and not contemporary, from Literature Online (you can use its “Advanced search” function to filter words by date of publication, i.e. 1755).

9.      Identify and interpret linguistic variation in the poetic corpus of one author: Robert Burns or Robert Fergusson, Langston Hughes, Louise Bernice Halfe, Lorna Goodison.

10.  Get an anthology of (e.g.) Commonwealth poetry. Identify and interpret the literary (and other?) effects of “non-standard English”: e.g., non-English words (in italics? not?).

11.  Write a critical history of the functions of font or typeface since c.1500: narrow it down (e.g. italics? italics and/or capitalization in eighteenth-century poetry? the format of dictionaries?). You’ll have to use facsimiles or real rare books for this one!

12.  What assumptions about language and lexicography condition the compilation of dictionaries at any one period (Renaissance, C18th, C19th, C20th)? If you focus on the early modern period, use Professor Ian Lancashire’s online Early Modern English Dictionary Database (remind me to get a class password). You might compare the entries for specific words, and/or focus on dictionaries’ treatment of a particular subject (words denoting language, women, etc.)

13.  Use Ian Lancashire’s EMEDD (remind me to get a class password) to construct and analyze a specific semantic field in early modern English – words for diseases, for instance. Are there layers of “Latinate” vs “native” words?

14.  Describe and interpret evidence for the competition between English and one other language (Latin, English) as international languages in and after the sixteenth century. You may wish to focus on particular contexts (science, education, diplomacy).

15.  What are the differences between “manuscript” and “print” and what literary and cultural issues are raised by these differences? Focussing on a particular poet (Philip Sidney, Mary Sidney, John Donne, Anne Finch) or coterie, write an essay that considers the implications of “manuscript publication” of poetry in the age of print.

16.  Write an essay that describes and interprets the use of the second-person singular pronoun (thou, thee) in early modern literature. (You’ll certainly have to narrow this down: in poetry? in the eighteenth century? in the works of Shakespeare?) You might get your data from Literature online.

17.  Write a history of the marking of possession (singular and plural, nouns and pronouns) since the sixteenth century, paying particular attention to the rise, use, and misuse of the apostrophe. You might want to focus on and to account for patterns in usage at particular periods in time, culminating in an explanation of methodically-collected PDE data. Be methodical.

18.  It is not generally well known that in the eighteenth century a variety of people undertook to translate the Christian bible into English. After you have done some secondary reading (there are various histories of the bible in English), pick a translator other than Webster who interests you, and support your argument for their motivations with your interpretation of their translation of two or three specific passages (e.g. 1 Corinthians 13). You can find translations on Literature online.

19.  Different terms have been used to denote “Black English”, “Ebonics”, “African American Vernacular English”. What implications do these terms have? Why have they been used? Write a critical history of the semantic field of “terms for AAVE”.

20.  Write a history of the codification of Canadian English: you might compare and contrast some well-selected entries from past and present dictionaries of Canadian English.

21.  Using Avis and Kinloch’s bibliography of Writings on Canadian English, analyze their primary sources (lots of newspaper articles on microfilm, I bet!) to determine attitudes to Canadian English earlier in the twentieth century – the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s.

22.  Attempt this topic only if you can spell well. Compile a list of public spelling errors: what do these errors reflect about modern English spelling system? Or, compile a list of “acceptable spelling variation” in printed contemporary English, and account for this.

23.  Identify and interpret conventions in the spelling of foreign proper names since 1600. You might want to focus your topic –e.g. on words from Chinese, for instance.

24.  Explore how and why one literary author reflects and/or rejects and/or exploits the linguistic resources available to her/him. You might consider Shakespeare, Milton, Fergusson, Wordsworth, Dickens, Lear, Hopkins, Hardy, Tennyson, Pound, Rushdie...