ENG367Y (Histories of Englishes): Second term research paper


Due:             Tuesday 8th March 2005 (6pm).

Length:         About 10 250-word pages (2500 words)

Late penalty: The usual (2% off per working day to a maximum of 20%; not accepted thereafter without a reason that is reasonable and that can be documented by your registrar or by a detailed and dated medical note).


The point of this paper is to get you working on a topic that interests you and that

involves the early and/or later modern English language.


Pick one of the following subjects. As and after you begin working on it, focus the subject into a topic that raises interesting and important issues. Aim to write a paper that does more than just describe patterns: interpret, argue. I’ll be assessing your ability to




1. Compare and contrast descriptions (especially metaphorical ones) of the English language in prefaces to dictionaries and/or grammars from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries. Are there changes through time that you can account for?


2. Compare and contrast the title pages and prefaces of at least four eighteenth-or early nineteenth-century grammar books: e.g. Fisher, Lowth, Buchanan, Priestley (get 1768 edition too), Fenn, Murray, Cobbett. Do the authors agree about why and how English grammar should be studied? How do they ‘market’ their grammar? To what extent do the contents of the grammars reflect the emphasis in their prefaces? (See what they say about the subjunctive, or about irregular past participles such as He has wrote). You may further focus the paper by considering one of these authors in more detail.


3. Some early modern poetry was circulated in manuscript rather than in print. What are the differences between ‘manuscript’ and ‘print’ and what literary and cultural issues are raised by these differences? You should focus on a particular poet (e.g. Philip Sidney, Mary Sidney, John Donne, Anne Finch) or coterie.


4. 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 a few specific passages. You can find translations on Literature online and editions on ECCO.


5. Write a review essay that explains different scholars’ opinions about the origins and development of one of the following: BE + -ing; DO-support; variation in the meaning of modals, e.g. “Can I go to the bathroom?” “Yes, you may.” [Start with Cambridge History of the English Language.]



6. There are various good online editions of Shakespeare’s ‘history’ plays.

Can you identify any patterns in the use of the word English to denote language? You’ll probably have to narrow this down a lot: e.g. Henry IV and Henry V. (Remember that different characters may have different reasons for using a word).

Describe and interpret the use of the second-person pronouns in a few well-chosen plays (e.g. the ‘Henry’ plays; Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra). Try to make your essay illuminate your interpretation of the plays!


7. 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 LEME online (remind me to announce the student password for it). This will need to be focused sharply: you might compare entries for specific (and well-chosen) words within a particular subject area (e.g. words denoting language, women, etc.)


8. Use Prof Lancashire’s LEME to construct and analyze a specific semantic field in early modern English – words for sexually transmitted diseases, for instance. (Look up ‘pox’ and see what glorious words it glosses.) Think especially about ‘latinate’ and ‘native’ words.


9. Describe the competition between English and at least one other international/non-native (e.g. Latin, French, Arabic) language in the later modern period (eighteenth-century onwards). Focus on particular contexts – education, science, diplomacy, etc. (This is an interesting but relatively uncharted topic: Bailey’s Images of English is one place to start.)


10. For what it’s worth, you can get the online OED to spit out a list of words “first attested” in a particular year. (The OED2 lets you focus on a ‘sample 100’; see below.) Pick a year (or decade) that you’re interested in, and interpret the data. (How) do these words reflect ‘realit’? You might get preoccupied with a very specific topic (and see the next question for further methodology). For instance, for the 1550s – what kinds of loans from Latin were appearing at the time of the ‘inkhorn controversy’? For the 1770s, how do loanwords reflect cultural contact with France? (how) does natural history terminology reflect early imperialism? developments in scientific terminology?


11. You can use the online OED’s “advanced search” mode to generate lists of quotations from a particular time period, from particular authors (e.g. “Wedgwood”), or containing particular strings of words (“slav” will pick up words pertaining to slavery). Carefully generating your data from your OED ‘corpus’, 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. You may find that you have to go beyond the OED to answer questions that your research raises.


12. You can use the online OED’s “advanced search” mode to generate lists of headwords that might come from a particular source (e.g. looking for “Afr” in the etymology field will get you many words that come from various African languages, as well as from Anglo-French). Weeding out irrelevant hits, write an essay interpreting the influence on English since 1600 of language(s) from one of the following: China; Japan; Indian subcontinent; indigenous North American languages. (How) do these reflect cultural contacts between English-speakers and the other culture(s)? Also, assess the usefulness of the OED for investigating this topic.


13. How has English spelled foreign words since the sixteenth century (e.g. Peking -> Beijing). You may want to focus on one language, e.g. Chinese.


14. Compare and contrast two comparable regional varieties of English (e.g. American, Canadian, Australian) with respect to the influence of indigeneous languages.


15. Write a critical history of the codification of ‘Canadian English’. As well as assessing the rhetoric of prefaces to dictionaries, you might want to compare and contrast entries for a number of ‘key words’—don’t forget ‘colour’—from past and present dictionaries of Canadian English (or dictionaries of English published in Canada…).


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


17. Write a history of the suffix –ess in English. Consider its competitors. As well as using data from dictionaries and Marchand, do some research of your own on some of the more loaded words (e.g., hostess, poetess).


18. Adjectives in –y (see, e.g., Gorlach 173) seem particularly typical of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Write a history of this suffix, focusing on the post-1500 period.


19. Do a close analysis of the functions of different varieties of English in the poetic corpus of one author: e.g., Robert Burns or Robert Fergusson; Langston Hughes; Louise Bernice Halfe; Kamau Brathwaite; Lorna Goodison.


20. Chart the development from OE to PDE of terms of address/titles for women (e.g. “Goody”, “Mistress”).


21. “African American Vernacular”, “Ebonics”, “Black English” are some of the many different terms that have been used to denote the same variety. Write a history of this semantic field (i.e. the different terms), interpreting the motivations for and implications of the use of each term.


22. Pick a field in which there has been significant change in the last century: household technology (cars?), scientific change (sub-atomic particles?), social or racial attitudes (terms for homosexuals?), fashion. Describe and interpret patterns of lexical expansion and/or semantic change.


23. Attempt this topic only if you can spell well. Compile a list of spellings errors in public places: e.g. notice-boards, letters, your own essays, the media, the internet, and so on. Identify recurrent patterns in the errors and see if you can provide a motivation for the mistake occurring. What do these errors tell us about the modern English spelling system?


24. Write a history of the marking of the possessive case (singular and plural, nouns and pronouns) since 1600, 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. (One student selected examples from grammars!)


25. A topic of your own choice, cleared with me in writing by February 4th.




Unless otherwise indicated, these are all e-resources accessible from the library’s home page.



You can use the OED as a ‘corpus’ as well as a ‘dictionary’. Its ‘advanced search’ function (bottom left) has lots of potential, though not for etymologies. You can select a ‘sample 100’ from the second edition using a less sophisticated interface: http://dc1.chass.utoronto.ca/oed/

LEME, Ian Lancashire’s database corpus of early modern dictionaries, is now online. Ask me for the password. http://link.library.utoronto.ca/leme/

Many ‘early dictionaries’ have also been digitized: books up to 1700 can be found on EEBO and books from 1700-1800 on ECCO; see below.

Samuel Johnson’s dictionary is also available on CD-ROM, for instance at Trinity. Check the catalogue.


Electronic/digital texts.

          U of T subscribes to a monster database of literary texts and criticism called Literature Online: go here for (e.g.) parallel biblical translations. It’s got a fairly sophisticated search facility – interesting to see how many Irish poets wrote about Byzantium before Yeats did…

          Relatively recently, digitized images of early printed books have been made available on two major collections: EEBO (Early English Books Online) and ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collections Online). I believe that EEBO awards essay prizes every year for student essays that use this resource! So, if you are tracking the spelling of (e.g.) Chinese place names in English geography books or travelogues, or looking for early English grammars, you are likely to be able to look at the original books.

How to identify potential titles of primary sources (e.g. travel books, grammar books, etc.)? Generally, I like the (now old) New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, but if you’re working on a specific topic, come and ask me.


Secondary sources

          Reference books can get you quickly up to speed. McArthur’s Oxford Companion to the English Language (PE 1625 O85 GENR UNIV TRIF VUPR) has great entries on topics like “China”, “Oxford English Dictionary”, etc. The relevant volume of the Cambridge History of the English Language will put linguistic topics in context and guide you to scholarly sources.

          You can use journal indexes (e-indexes) to find titles of articles and books that might help you learn about language, literature, or culture. There are different indexes for different subjects. The library homepage will guide you to these (or if you know which one you want, choose ‘e-indexes’ and type in a key word or two). E.g.,

Linguistics: Linguistics & Language Behavior (has abstracts, too)

Literature: ABELL, MLA

Education: ERIC

History: Historical Abstracts


ACADEMIC HONESTY. 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 Professor Reibetanz, who must report it to the Dean. It is always a distressing and sometimes a drawn-out process. The U of T Writing Home Page has invaluable advice on “How not to plagiarize”, but please consult me at any time if you remain in any doubt about if and/or how to acknowledge the assistance of others.