ENG6362S: History and Structure of English II (Early Modern and Modern English)

Current admin:

Instructor:     Carol Percy

Office:          New College, Wetmore Hall 125

Office hours:  Tuesday 12:15-1, Thursday 11:15-12, or “by appointment” (R or F)

Email:           cpercy@chass.utoronto.ca

Phone:          978-4287


Course overview:


This course will survey the linguistic and cultural history of the English language from the late fifteenth century until the present day. We’ll consider the standardization and codification of English; the coexistence of English, French, and Latin in Britain; the spread of the English language in and beyond the British isles; English-based pidgins and creoles; the literary use of non-standard varieties of English; the linguistic effects of printing, news media, and the internet.

In your more or less weekly brief reports, you’ll explain representative developments in spelling, vocabulary (loanwords, wordformation, semantic change), grammar, pronunciation, and the codification of English in dictionaries and grammars. I’ve chosen examples that illustrate general trends: do read Millward, Crystal, and McArthur as you’re contextualizing your topic. For instance, we’ll have a week where each of you reports on early modern loanwords from French like café, ennui, naive, restaurant; on “colonial” words like shampoo and thug and bungalow; on North American vocabulary (squaw, chesterfield, depot, Canuck) and on British/North American synonyms (shop/store, jumper/sweater, etc.); a week on productive affixes (e.g., auto-, -ate, -ist, -ess, -ize). It might be a bit stressful at first if traditional linguistic terminology is new to you – as it will be to most of you. Don’t be afraid to drop in on Thursdays or to make an appointment for later on Thursday or Friday if you want me to confirm that you’re on the right track.

In two broader reports, destined ultimately for online publication in the class “encyclopedia” but initially presented to CP in draft form and then later to the class, you’ll have the opportunity to summarize broader trends in the cultural and linguistic history of English. You’ll choose report topics from my list of suggestions, or may propose one of your own. For the first report (pre-1800), for instance, topics might include the role of the Chancery in the rise of standard English, the effect of printing on English spelling, early “hard word” dictionaries of English, Milton’s use of Latinate lexis, French loanwords after the Restoration, the roots of prescriptivism, the eighteenth-century elocution movement, the spread of the English language within the British Isles, the literary use of Scots English, Captain Cook’s place names. The second report on a post-1800 topic might consider topics like the origins of “African-American vernacular English”, Noah Webster and American English, the influence of other languages on English (e.g. Yiddish, Swahili, Japanese), acronyms, the influence of the internet on English, the literary use of non-standard varieties of English (“Nation language”, Scots English, etc). Although I am not requiring a final research paper this year, I would like you to pick “encyclopedia article” topics that interest you. I am happy to entertain suggestions and delighted to help you find sources.

          Topics for the first week will be circulated in class today. Once I have a better sense of numbers, I’ll post topics for the first report and for the next few weeks on the course webpage by the afternoon of Friday January 10th. Please email me by Monday January 13th at 5 pm with your top three preferences and I’ll let you know those in class.


Methods of evaluation:


Best “n-2” weekly reports: please submit written version within a week after the presentation (35%). Draft of two 1000-word “encyclopedia articles” with list of secondary readings (2 x 15% = 30%): deadline for draft of #2 if you don't need to graduate in June is APRIL 25th; final version of articles (2 x 15% = 30%), by May 9th. Intelligent, informed, courteous, regular participation (5%).

Recommended texts (at the U of T bookstore and on short-term loan):


C M Millward, A biography of the English language, 2nd edition (Harcourt Brace, 1996; PE 1075 M64 STL).

David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English language (Cambridge University Press, 1995; PE 1072 C68).

          A nice complement to Crystal is Tom McArthur’s Oxford Companion to the English Language (1992) (PE 1625 O85 STL): it’s alphabetically-arranged, giving you instant insights into specific topics. It also (like the OED) has entries on each letter of the alphabet.


Online resources

          The second (1989) edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, as well as being in its 20-volume form at campus libraries (in the apex of 4th floor Robarts), is online:



          I’ve got an online bibliography of books relating to the history of English:



The e-index (with abstracts!) “Linguistics & Language Behavior” can be found online. Enter “Linguistics” after clicking on the links for “e-indexes” at



          HELL, a set of links to other online resources for the history of English:



Other items of interest


Online “encyclopedia” of the cultural and linguistic history of Old and Middle English:



Broad outline for the first few weeks

1.      Introduction: course admin, using the OED and decoding its symbols.


1a. Pick topics for next week’s reports (spelling).

1b. Please check the course website after Friday afternoon for

     Report topics for the next few weeks

     First “encyclopedia article” topics.

     Complete course outline.

1c. Please email me by Monday January 13th at 5pm with your top three choices for the reports and encyclopedia articles.


Early Modern English

          Please read Crystal, “Early Modern English” as an overview.

          Please use Millward, “Early Modern English” as a reference.

          Don’t forget McArthur for specific topics.


  1. January 7: introduction, OED entries.
  2. January 14: spelling reports
    Lexical borrowing: lecture.
  3. January 21: Lexicon reports
  4. January 28: Lexicon reports
  5. February 4: Grammar reports
    Morphological change: lecture.
  6. February 11: Word-formation (prefixes and suffixes)reports
    Wordformation: lecture
  7. February 25: Lexicon (French loanwords, semantics & industrialization)
  8. March 4: Lexical and semantic differences between British and North American English
  9. March 11: Lexicon reports: words from the colonies
  10. March 18th: Wordformation: more modern formations
  11. March 25th: Grammar: syntactic change, usage issues.
  12. April 1st: Lexicon: ridiculously specific registers of English
  13. April 8th: Review lecture.