Instructor: Prof. C. Percy
Location: Wilson Hall 523, New College
Classes: Tuesdays 10-12, Thursday 10-11
Office location: Wetmore Hall 125, New College
Office hours: TWR12-1
Office telephone: 416 978-4287 (voice mail)
This introductory course studies the English language in reverse chronological order – that is, from its many modern voices to its Germanic origins in the Anglo-Saxon period. Basic terms and concepts will be illustrated early in the year with examples from Present-Day English (PDE). Topics to be treated include vocabulary (lexis, semantics), spelling, writing, grammar, pronunciation, language variation and change, and the codification of English in grammars and dictionaries. We will use specific texts as a basis for lectures and discussion: this year I plan to give a little extra emphasis to the use of language in literature. By the end of the year, you’ll be able to describe and interpret language structure, variation, and change.
This is an introductory course. It has always attracted people with very different intellectual backgrounds and interests. Most of you will be new to the study of language: I’ve organized the course so that it begins with standard PDE, a register that we may all have in common. I’ve designed the course and the assignments so that you’ll get familiar with some good resources for the study of Englishes, past and present. Even if you don’t remember specific details from the course in the future, you’ll remember what resources you’ve found helpful.
You’ll also be applying what you’ve learned in two research papers: I will be expecting and helping you to focus and investigate research projects of your own choice in each term. Past student papers, just to mention a few, have explored subjects like … French words in English cookbooks and their social significance … names for religious holidays … competition between native and borrowed pejorative suffixes in Middle English … the extent to which Malay textile terminology borrowed into English reflects the interaction between the two cultures … variation and change in terms used to describe people of African descent in the twentieth century … tension between Latin and English in the fields of popular and professional botany .. the social history of words like knight and woman… the extent to which adopting nonsexist language has changed people’s attitudes to women’s ability and potential … the history of the letter "C".
I hope that by the time the course has finished, you’ll be able to apply what you have learned – in literature courses, teaching ESL, or when somebody asks you at lunch in 2035 whether the lock in wedlock has sinister implications, or why adjectives like asleep and alive can’t premodify their nouns.
Late penalty: 2% off per day. All work must be handed in by
the last day of term (April 12).
The course texts have been ordered to the U of T bookstore. They are David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language and (strongly recommended Celia Millward, A Biography of the English Language. Millward is also available on short-term loan at Robarts (9th floor, PE 1075 M64). Once the class size has stabilized, I’ll be collecting a few dollars for incidental handouts.
In second term, we’ll be using George Rigg’s The English Language: A Historical Reader: you can either buy a custom publishing package, or use the online version.
Why not download the list of secondary readings and references: for essays or just for interest.
There are some very good resources online for this subject. Many of them are in HELL ("History of the English Language Links").