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History of English II - LAN00001I

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  • Department: Language and Linguistic Science
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Joel Wallenberg
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

Studying the history of English sits at the crossroads of scientific linguistics, the traditional humanities, and the social sciences. In order to understand the relevant historical developments, we need to be truly interdisciplinary in our approach, and consider (among other things): the minds and linguistic systems of individual speakers, the structure of speech communities, population movements, archaeological evidence for linguistically-relevant events, and how texts come be written, copied, and lost. Historical linguistics of this type builds a lot of skills, and requires both careful study and imagination.

This module introduces students to the scientific study of language change, applies it to the History of English as a case study, and also discusses the importance of traditional humanities work in preserving and curating human culture. We also introduce students to the comparative method in historical linguistics, and Uniformitarian Principle in action: the study of linguistic history is primarily a study of how similar all humans are to each other. The module will focus on a number of important topics in the History of English, and cover a variety of different types of linguistic structures (e.g. phonological, lexical, morphological, syntactic). The module will also introduce students to primary text analysis, and to reading the academic literature in historical linguistics.

Related modules

Pre-requisite modules

Co-requisite modules

  • None

Prohibited combinations

  • None

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

  • To give you an understanding of the development of the English language from the Proto-Germanic and Old English period to the modern period, within a framework of ideas about the causation and progress of linguistic change and the origins of sociolinguistic variation.
  • To explore, and help you learn to read, scholarly literature on language change, the history of English, and sociolinguistic variation.
  • To more carefully consider the social context of these changes, and the population structures and movements that surrounded them (or led to them).
  • To help you learn to analyse historical texts yourselves.
  • To help you build teamwork skills.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module you will:

  • be able to identify the major linguistic events in the history of the English language, and the social context in which they are embedded.
  • read scholarly articles in linguistics and describe the key points of the article.
  • generate novel research ideas from analysing primary historical texts.
  • describe how your own research relates to results in published articles, and write about the connection in readable academic prose.

Module content

The module will cover a number of topics in depth in roughly chronological order, beginning with the development of Old English from Proto-Germanic and Proto-West Germanic, through Middle English and the Early Modern English period. We will do this with a focus on the interplay between language acquisition and language change, and the relationship between sociological developments and linguistic outcomes. We also cover a number of basic skills in historical linguistics, including: the comparative method, subgrouping, primary text analysis, reconciling linguistic and archaeological evidence, the interpretation of time series data, and reading secondary technical literature. Students will also work in groups to analyse texts from different time periods and to develop their own research ideas based on those texts, which prepares them for more advanced work in Stage 3 modules and beyond.

Indicative assessment

Task Length % of module mark
Summative Essay 800 words
N/A 30
Online Exam -less than 24hrs (Centrally scheduled)
History of English II
5 hours 70

Special assessment rules


Indicative reassessment

Task Length % of module mark
Online Exam -less than 24hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Reassessment: History of English II
5 hours 100

Module feedback

Formative assessment and feedback

  • Formative exercises done individually or in groups throughout the module
  • Feedback will include written comments and oral feedback during class discussions.

Summative assessment and feedback

Students will be given written feedback and marks for their work within the University mandated schedule.

Indicative reading

Portions of the following will be assigned:

Ringe, Don, and Joseph F. Eska. 2013. Historical linguistics: Toward a twenty-first century reintegration. Cambridge University Press.

The following books would be suitable as background reading. They are not required texts.

Barber, Charles (1993) The English Language: A Historical Introduction. Cambridge: CUP.

Baugh, A.C. and T. Cable (4th edition 1993) A History of the English Language. London: Routledge.

Mugglestone, Lynda (2006) The Oxford History of English. Oxford: OUP.

Ringe, Don, and Ann Taylor. 2014. The Development of Old English. Vol. 2. OUP Oxford.

Smith, Jeremy (1996) An Historical Study of English: Function, Form and Change. London: Routledge.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University constantly explores ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary. In some instances it may be appropriate for the University to notify and consult with affected students about module changes in accordance with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.