ENG6361F: History and structure of the English language I

|| Class web encyclopedia||

||Updated schedule|| ||Resources||

||Evaluation|| ||OE assignment|| ||ME assignment|| ||Encyclopedia article|| ||Take-home test||

Course administrivia

        Location: University College 256 (east wing, ascend 'dragon stair', turn right).

        Times:Wednesdays 4:10-6.

        Instructor: Professor Carol Percy

        Office: New College, Wetmore Hall 125 (Huron & Willcocks).

        Office hours:  Mondays 3-4, Tuesdays 4:15-5, Thursdays 11:15-12, or by appointment.

Mailbox: Submit work to me in person, or to the Wetmore Hall porter, New College

        (Call 978-2477 for hours: current meal breaks 11:30-12:30, 6:30-7:30)

        Web: http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~cpercy/teaching.htm


        Email: cpercy”at sign”chass.utoronto.ca

Course overview

This introductory course will study the language from its Germanic roots through its earliest recorded  forms  to  the  first  printed texts of 1476. We  will spend approximately equal time on Old English (6 weeks) and Middle English (6 weeks), emphasizing vocabulary, spelling, and grammar. In the Middle English section, some time will be spent on the influence of foreign languages, multilingualism in medieval England, and the rise of English and of standard English.

Each class will consist of a lecture from me, and then of a collective analysis of the text of the day, found in the Millward workbook. I’ll be guiding you to find specific examples in the texts of whatever I’ve been lecturing about most recently.

There are 4 short assignments. Indeed, the workload for this course is notoriously heavy, but each of the brief assignments has been selected in order to introduce and to exercise specific content and skills.

          The course focusses on the ‘internal’ history of Old and Middle English: you’ll be comparing the structures of Old English and PDE; telling a story about lexical changes within a semantic field between Old and Middle English; and applying all of your linguistic knowledge in a brief take-home test.

However, you will have an opportunity to conduct research on an aspect of the ‘cultural’ history of early English and to disseminate the results of your research as a ‘web encyclopedia article’. For examples of work by your predecessors, see


I will be suggesting topics very soon (some derived from your responses on the ‘questionnaire’!), but am happy to work with you to come up with one that suits us both.

By the end of the course I hope you will be in confident command of

I hope that you will be able to apply what you have learned in ways that I cannot imagine– in other courses, when teaching ESL, or during and after odd conversations. If somebody ever asks you whether the lock in wedlock has sinister implications , or why things that are flammable and inflammable are equally likely to burst into flame, or why adjectives like asleep and aloft can’t premodify their nouns (*the asleep students), you will know where and how to look f or the answers.

Readings and resources

There is no course pack this year. The required course texts have been ordered to the U of T Bookstore at St George and College. They are

You must read the assigned chapters carefully in order to come to class prepared to ask questions and participate in class discussion. The class discussion will not be intelligible without a prior reading of the assigned material. If the material seems particularly daunting, go to short-term loan and read the section from Crystal’s Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 2nd ed. (2003).

There’s an online booklist for the course if you get really hooked, at http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~cpercy/courses/367book.htm

Many of these books (ones you will need for assignments 1 and 2) are on short-term loan (Robarts library, third floor) under ENG367Y (the full-year undergrad HEL course I teach). Choose ‘short-term loan’ from the ‘catalogue options’ on the left-hand side of the web page for the online U of T library catalogue:


You may wish for more advanced information at some times during the course. TheCambridge History of the English Language, vols. 1 (OE) and 2 (ME) [PE 1072 C36 STL] is usually your best bet for leads on further research. The e-index to conjure with is Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts, though the MLA and ABELL aren’t too bad.

For your assignments, it is essential for you to have easy and frequent access both to the internet and to online resources that are often restricted to U of T users. The Oxford English Dictionary and many other resources can be found in “HELL”:


or for Netscape users


Methods of evaluation

You’ll get more information about each assignment.

Because the workload in this course is equally noxious for all, I do not generally give extensions. (Of course, if the reasons are extraordinary, then I will. Talk to me.)

Assignments are due by 6pm on the due date, to the Wetmore Hall porter or to me in person.

The late penalty is 2% off per weekday, to a maximum of 20%; not accepted after 2 weeks.
ENG 6361F: Schedule


Millward = A Biography of the English Language, 2nd ed. 1996. [Course text]

Crystal = Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 2nd ed. [PE 1072 C68 STL]

Crystal is optional: its broad overview complements Millward’s riddling analysis, and there are pretty pictures.





September 15



Friday 17th September

Hart House Library

(2nd floor), 730 PM

Canadian English

A talk by Katherine Barber, the editor of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary

September 22nd

Indo-European and

Germanic roots

Millward ch. 4: 44-73

MW 4.5 and 4.6

September 29th

Old English:

outer history, dialects


Crystal ch. 2, ch. 3: 8-17, 28-29

Millward ch. 5: 76-82, 89-93, 132-3, MW5.5, 5.21

Old English Aerobics

October 6th

OE lexicon: wordformation and loanwords

Crystal ch. 3: 22-27
Millward ch. 5: 115-32
HW MW 5.16, 17, 19

October 13th

OE semantics

OE phonology

Crystal ch. 3: 18-19
Millward ch. 5: 82-89
HW MW 5.4

Old English Aerobics: i-mutation

October 20th

OE morphology: pronouns and nouns

Crystal ch. 3: 20-21
Millward ch. 5: 94-106
HW MW 5.8, 5.10 (6-10 only), 5.11 (1-4 only)

Old English Aerobics: elements of the sentence

October 27th

OE morphology: verbs

MWHW 5.15 (A, B 1-10)

November 3rd

OE morphology: prepositions, adverbs, conjunctions

OE syntax and (not covered in class, but have a look anyway because it's interesting and perhaps even useful) poetic syntax

Millward ch. 5: 107-115

Further reading/follow-up questions: Bruce Mitchell, Old English Syntax; and various volumes of the Cambridge History of the English Language.

November 10th

Middle English:
outer history, lexicon, semantics: pig vs pork

Crystal ch. 4: 30-31, 46-9, 54-55.

Millward ch. 6: 142-6, 195-211

NOVEMBER 10th: OE transcription and commentary due

November 17th

ME dialects, morphology (nouns and verbs)

Crystal ch. 4: 32-3, 44-5, 50-3

Millward ch. 6: 162-181, 211-216. MWHW: 6.8 (1-7, correcting green to grene in #5); 6.10 (1-3, just to get the point); and read the texts in 6.16 carefully for next week.

November 24th

ME phonology, and reading Chaucer.
Not covered: graphics

Resources for phonemic transcription: charts and exercises

Crystal ch. 4: 40-3

Millward ch. 6: 146-162

MWHW: 6.3 (#7-10), 6.4 (I, first column).

December 1st

ME syntax

Millward ch. 6: 181-195

DECEMBER 3rd (6pm)-5th (1pm): ME semantic field story due

DECEMBER 1st: Take-home test received (in class)

December 8th

ME syntax continued.
Chaucer, "The Reeve's Tale"
(My principal task: can we infer the function of his famous representation of northern dialect?)


DECEMBER 15 th: Last due date for ‘draft’ of the web encyclopedia article

DECEMBER 15th: Take-home test due (no extensions)

JANUARY 5th Final version of ‘Web’ encyclopedia article due.

Please bring the Millward workbook to every class.

Homework exercises from the Millward workbook will be announced in class.

If you miss a class, please ask a friend rather than me for information about what you have missed. Thanks.