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English Past & Present - LAN00053C

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  • Department: Language and Linguistic Science
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Claire Childs
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
    • See module specification for other years: 2024-25

Module summary

How does language change happen? How would you know if your language was changing right now? Parallels between language variation and change in English in its past and in its present are at the heart of this module. Students will discover how, to a large degree, the processes at play in current changes are the same as those driving past changes. Students will also explore how historical changes can be viewed through the lens of modern sociolinguistic research, and learn about the historical roots of differences between modern varieties of English.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

  • To give you an understanding of major historical changes in the English language and explore the sociohistorical contexts for these changes.
  • To give you an understanding of changes that are currently in process in modern English varieties, and how ongoing linguistic changes are investigated.
  • To give you an understanding of how contact between speakers of different languages or varieties of English has shaped English in its past and continues to shape English today.
  • To allow you to explore how social variables (e.g. sex, socioeconomic class) and stylistic factors affect and structure linguistic variation.
  • To develop your awareness of language attitudes and their significance to linguistic variation and change.
  • To develop your skills in the analysis of historical texts and contemporary data, including learning how the quantitative analysis of language change complements other kinds of linguistic analysis.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, you should be able to:

  • identify causes and effects of linguistic variation and change
  • evaluate methodologies for studying variation and change
  • analyse how variation is structured historically, geographically and socially
  • explain the characteristics of older stages of English
  • identify patterns of linguistic variation and change in historical texts and contemporary texts/speech
  • handle data quantitatively and qualitatively, and interpret graphs and charts of linguistic data

Module content

The module will cover topics including language change, language contact, regional variation, stylistic variation, social factors, language attitudes and standardisation, and dealing with data.

Each week of the module will address a different topic. There are 2 lectures per week: 1 lecture will focus on the topic from a historical perspective, and 1 lecture will focus on the same topic from a sociolinguistic perspective. There will be some exceptions to this, called ‘Dialogue’ lectures, which will synthesize both viewpoints. There will be 1 seminar per week which will address that week’s topic as a whole.


Task Length % of module mark
Summative essay
N/A 40
Online Exam -less than 24hrs (Centrally scheduled)
English Past & Present
3 hours 60

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Online Exam -less than 24hrs (Centrally scheduled)
English Past & Present
3 hours 100

Module feedback

Students will receive written feedback on their assessments within the university mandated time limit.

Indicative reading

Meyerhoff, M. (2019). Introducing Sociolinguistics (3rd edition). London: Routledge.

Culpeper, J. (2015). History of English (3rd edition). Routledge.

Barber, C. L., Beal, J. C., & Shaw, P. A. (2009). The English language: a historical introduction (2nd editon). Cambridge University Press.

Hejná, M., & Walkden, G. (2022). A history of English. Language Science Press.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring 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 by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.