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Middle English in Context - LAN00060I

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  • Department: Language and Linguistic Science
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Ellie Rye
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

In this module, we will examine the period of Middle English, learning both about the sociocultural background and the main linguistic features of this stage of the English language. We will do so by reading and analysing Middle English texts, with a particular focus on Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

Related modules

Pre-requisite modules

Co-requisite modules

  • None

Prohibited combinations

  • None

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23 to Summer Term 2022-23

Module aims

The main goal of this course is to familiarise students with the history and structure of English from the early 12th until the late 15th century. Students will be introduced to the sociolinguistic context of Middle English, zoom in on the issue of language contact and possible creolisation tendencies, and will learn about the major dialect areas of Middle English. The main characteristics of Middle English orthography and phonology as well as basics of Middle English grammar and lexis will be discussed. Particular attention will here be given to language change both within the period and beyond, examining how Middle English developed out of Old English and how it differs from later stages of the language, especially Present Day English, placing Middle English in context. Finally, the reading and linguistic analysis of Middle English material will be practised, with a focus on the language of Chaucer, whose work will also form the basis of a creative writing project relating Middle English to the modern world. This should allow students to develop their skills at dealing with the specific variety of Middle English in which they are written, with the aim of becoming able to enjoy them for their quality as pieces of entertaining and enlightening literature. We will also discuss what it implies to approach Chaucer's Tales from the perspective of autonomous 21st century readers, and relate our views to other modern receptions of Chaucer (and the Middle Ages) in various media.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should:

  • have acquired an extensive knowledge of the external and internal history of the English language between 1100 and 1500;

  • have gained an understanding of the crucial systemic features of the language of that period, be familiar with major changes which took place within this time frame, and be able to pinpoint differences between Middle English and earlier as well as later stages of the language;

  • have acquired some knowledge of the major controversies and open questions involved in the study of Middle English;

  • know how to read, interpret, and analyse a wide variety of Middle English texts (in particular Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) with the help of dictionaries and annotated editions;

  • have gained practice in communicating about samples of Middle English both in written and oral form.

Transferable skills:

  • ability to read, interpret, and appreciate literature of the period

  • creative writing

  • oral/ written communication skills

  • self-management

  • problem solving

Module content

Provisional syllabus:




Introduction: Reviewing knowledge about periods of English


Evidence for Middle English; Middle English in use


Dialects of Middle English


Language contact: Impact of Norman Conquest, creolisation


Reading Week


Phonology/ orthography








Middle English: before and after


Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales


Chaucer in modern literature and media


Review and assessment preparation


Task Length % of module mark
Closed/in-person Exam (Centrally scheduled)
Middle English in Context
2 hours 40
N/A 20
University - project
N/A 40

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Portfolios will feature weekly exercises on the issues discussed in the lectures and/or exercises in Middle English text analysis. In the summer term, students will carry out small individual projects on specific texts from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, producing independent translations of parts of these texts, a 750-word essay on an aspect of Chaucer’s language use as reflected in their assigned text, as well as a creative writing assignment (a modern adaptation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, e.g. a screenplay or prose text).


Task Length % of module mark
Closed/in-person Exam (Centrally scheduled)
Middle English in Context
2 hours 40
N/A 20
University - project
N/A 40

Module feedback

Students will receive personalised, written feedback from the course instructor on all summative assignments within 20 working days. Formative feedback will be provided throughout the course: written formative feedback on one portfolio exercise in Spring term, Week 5-7); in-class and peer evaluation as well as individual and all-class feedback on portfolio exercises and project progress. Furthermore, students will be able to get more extensive feedback and support during office hours and additional consultation (back-up) sessions, and online forum(s) for questions and student-instructor and peer interaction will be available on the VLE.

Indicative reading

Brinton, Laurel & Leslie Arnovick. 2011. The English language: A linguistic history. (2nd edition). Oxford: OUP.

Cooper, Helen. 1992. The Canterbury Tales. (Oxford guides to Chaucer). Oxford: OUP.

Horobin, Simon. 2013. Chaucer’s language. 2nd edition. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Horobin, Simon & Jeremy Smith. 2002. An introduction to Middle English. Edinburgh: EUP.

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.