Location: New College, Wilson Hall 523ENG367Y1Y (L0101): The History of the English language
(or, histories of Englishes)
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 Standard English (PDE). Topics to be treated include vocabulary (lexis, semantics), spelling,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 class discussions 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 to be 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 … terms for sexual intercourse in Old and Middle English … French words in English cookbooks and their social significanced … names for religious holidays … competition between native and borrowed pejorative suffixes in Middle English … the extent to which Malay textile terminology reflects the interaction between the two cultures … variation and change in terms used to describe people of African descent in the twentieth century … terms for epilepsy in the history of English …tension between Latin and English in the fields of popular and professional botany… the social history of words like knight and woman ... terms denoting insanity in the history of English… the history of the letter C.
I hope that by the time the course has finished, yhou’ll be able to apply what you’ve 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.
Readings and resources
Lectures and discussion often arise from regular handouts, for which I’ll be collecting a fee of $5 once enrolment has stabilized later in the term. It’s your responsibility to make sure that you’ve got the handouts from each class, or to get a friend to collect them for you if you’ll be away. You might find it useful to have a binder for this course!
We’ll be using various online resources like the Oxford English Dictionary. It is essential for you to have easy and frequent access to the internet and to online resources that are often restricted to U of T users: if you don’t have a proxy server account, get one THIS WEEK. See
The required course texts have been ordered to the U of T bookstore at St George and College. They are David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English language and Celia Millward, A biography of the English language. Millward is also available on short-term loan at Robarts library (3rd floor, PE 1075 M64), where you can also find many other useful resources. There’s an online bibliography that you might find helpful at
There are some very good online resources for this subject. Many of them are in “HELL”:
In second term, we’ll be using George Rigg’s The English Language: a historical reader: the custom publishing package will be available at the bookroom January.
Methods of evaluation
Short report introducing you to some reference books, due Thursday October 10th (5%), essay on modern English vocabulary, due Thursday October 31st (15%), two quizzes, one on Thursday October 24th (5%), the other on Thursday December 5th (5%), first term research paper, due Tuesday January 14th (20%), Old English assignment, due Thursday February 27th (15%), second term research paper, due Friday April 4th (20%), test, Thursday April 10th (15%).
ENG367Y: Course outline and readings for first term