History of the English Language Readings

One of the things I am most excited about this term is teaching a graduate course on History of the English Language (HEL for short, or HotEL if you feel like making it more friendly). I’ve been a TA for Carol Percy’s HEL class at the University of Toronto several times, and co-taught a yearlong undergraduate HEL class at Glendon College, and it’s probably my favorite class, just because it’s a real opportunity to learn from students. It’s such an expansive course that inevitably I am as much an amateur in some areas as my students, and there is a real possibility that they will know more than I do about certain areas. I’m taking advantage of the all-graduate nature of the course to do a whole lot of reading. We’re using David Crystal’s The Stories of English as the backbone, but we’re supplementing with a ton of interesting secondary material as well as frequent reference to primary sources. I’m a little worried that it may be too much, but I also think that learning how to read secondary sources quickly is an important one for graduate students. Mostly I just get way too excited about the material and have a hard time omitting anything (goodbye essay on Jane Austen’s English! Goodbye essay on slang! I hardly knew ye!). In any event, I wanted to share the schedule with the internet. The grade for the course is based on a short Indo-European presentation, three short essays covering the DOE, MED, and OED, and a long essay on a topic of the student’s choice. Some things are still in flux (especially as concerns primary sources), but for the most part I’m set.

Schedule (MW) History of the English Language


Week 1

Jan. 12th:

Introduction and the International Phonetic Alphabet


Jan. 14th:

Calvert Watkins, American Heritage Dictionary, “Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans,” 2023–2031

John McWhorter, “Why Save a Language?” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/07/opinion/sunday/why-save-a-language.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share&_r=0

Vyvyan Evans, “There Is No Language Instinct” http://aeon.co/magazine/culture/there-is-no-language-instinct/

Week 2



Student Presentations on early Indo-European languages (choose between Old Irish, Hittite, Old Iranian, Sanskrit, Tocharian, Latin, or Old Norse. Students who don’t mind reading about something in a different alphabet could also consider Greek or Old Slavonic) http://www.utexas.edu/cola/centers/lrc/eieol/

  1. P. Mallory and D. Q. Adams, The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World, Chapters 1–3, 1–53

Verner’s Law (three parts), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aal9VSPkf5s

Week 3

Jan. 26th:

Crystal, tSoE, “Introduction” and Chapter 1 “The Origins of English,” 1–28

Barnes, Runes: A Handbook, 1–25 and 37–53.

Dumitrescu, “Bede’s Liberation Philology: Releasing the English Tongue,” 40–56

Bede, Historia ecclesiastica

Jan. 28th:

Lapidge, The Anglo-Saxon Library, 63–90

Aelfric’s Colloquy

Week 4

Feb. 2nd:

Crystal, tSoE, Interlude 1 “The Celtic Language Puzzle” and Chapter 2 “The Old English Dialects,” 29–53

Liuzza, “Who Read the Gospels in Old English,” 3–24

West Saxon Gospels

Feb. 4th:

Crystal, tSoE, Interlude 2 “The Rise and Fall of West Saxon” and Chapter 3 “Early Lexical Diversity”

Foot, “The Making of Angelcynn: English Identity before the Norman Conquest,” 25–49

Alfred the Great’s Introduction to the Pastoral Care

Week 5

Feb. 9th:

Crystal, tSoE, Interlude 3 “Understanding Danes”

Frank, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Philologist”

Thrymskvida http://www.alarichall.org.uk/teaching/thrymskvida.pdf

Feb. 11th:

Crystal, tSoE, Chapter 4 “Stylistic Variation in Old English”

Niles, “Compound Diction,” Beowulf: The Poem and its Tradition, 138–51

Walkden, “The Status of Hwæt in Old English,” 465–88


Week 6

Feb. 16th:

Frank, “A Scandal in Toronto: The Dating of ‘Beowulf’ a Quarter Century On,” 843–64

Fulk, “Beowulf and Language History,” The Dating of Beowulf: A Reassessment, 19–36

Weiskott, “Making Beowulf Scream: Exclamation and the Punctuation of Old English Poetry,” 25–41


Feb. 18th:

Crystal, tSoE, Interlude 4 “Grammatical Transition,” 101–4

Ælfric, “A Translator’s Problem (Preface to Genesis)”

Week 7

Feb. 23rd:

Crystal, tSoE, Chapter 5 “The Transition to Middle English,” 105–16

Horobin and Smith, “Middle English in Use,” An Introduction to Middle English, 26–39

Ancrene Wisse

Feb. 25th:

Crystal, tSoE, Interlude 5 “Two Peterborough Chronicles,” 117–20

Smith, “The Use of English,” 47–68

Peterborough Chronicle

Week 8

Mar. 2nd:

Crystal, tSoE, Chapter 6 “A Trilingual Nation,” 121–39

Parkes, Pause and Effect, 65–96

Orm, Ormulum

Mar. 4th:

Crystal, tSoE, Interlude 6 “Lay Subsidy Dialects” and Chapter 7 “Lexical Invasions,” 140–62

Horobin and Smith, “The Lexicon,” An Introduction to Middle English, 69–88

“Second Shepherds’ Play”

Week 9

Mar. 9th:

Crystal, tSoE, Interlude 7 “The First Dialect Story,” 163–8

Machan, “Chaucer and the History of English,” 147–75

Parkes, Pause and Effect, 97–114

Chaucer, “Miller’s Tale”

Mar. 11th:

Crystal, tSoE, Chapter 8 “Evolving Variation” and Interlude 8 “Well well,” 169–93

Williams, “Glossing Over the Lamb: Phonaesthetic Gl– in Middle English and Aural Scepticism in Pearl, 596–618


Week 10



Week 11

Mar. 23rd:

Crystal, tSoE, Chapter 9 “A Dialect Age” and Interlude 9 “Where did the –s ending come from?” 194–221

Machan, “Robert Henryson and the Matter of Multilingualism,” 52–70

Cannon, “From Literacy to Literature: Elementary Learning and the Middle English Poet,” 349–64

Lerer, “The Great Vowel Shift and the Changing Character of English,” Inventing English, 101– 14

Henryson, Fables

Mar. 25th:

Crystal, tSoE, Chapter 10 “The Emerging Standard” and Interlude 10 “Complaining about Change,” 222–53

Grund, “The ‘Forgotten’ Language of Middle English Alchemy: Exploring Alchemical Lexis in the MED and the OED,” 575–95

Week 12

Mar. 30th:

Crystal, tSoE, Chapter 11 “Printing and its Consequences” and Interlude 11 “The First English Dictionary,” 254–84

Lerer, “Chancery, Caxton, and the Making of English Prose,” Inventing English, 115–28

Malory, Morte Darthur

Apr. 1st:

Crystal, tSoE, Chapter 12 “Early Modern English Preoccupations” and Interlude 12 “Choosing thou or you,” 285–310

Nevalainen, “Towards a Standard Language,” An Introduction to Early Modern English, 29–44


Week 13

Apr. 6th:

Crystal, tSoE, Chapter 13 “Linguistic Daring” and Interlude 13 “Avoiding Transcriptional Anaemia,” 311–37

Nevalainen, “Old Words and Loanwords,” An Introduction to Early Modern English, 45–58

Stallybrass, “Against Thinking,” 1580–7

Midsummer Night’s Dream in Original Pronunciation, http://www.paulmeier.com/shakespeare/

Apr. 8th:

Crystal, tSoE, Chapter 14 “Dialect Fallout” and Interlude 14 “A Beggarly Portrayal,” 338–64

Nevalainen, “Language in the Community,” An Introduction to Early Modern English, 134–48

primary text????

Week 14

Apr. 13th:

Crystal, tSoE, Chapter 15 “Stabilizing Disorder” and Interlude 15 “Delusions of Simplicity,” 365–91.

Finegan, “Style and Standardization in England: 1700–1900,” 101–30

Lerer, “A Harmless Drudge: Samuel Johnson and the Making of the Dictionary,” Inventing English, 167–80

Johnson, Preface to A Dictionary of the English Language

Apr. 15th:

Crystal, tSoE, Chapter 16 “Standard Rules” and Interlude 16 “Glottal Stops,” 392–18

Matto, “English, Latin, and the Teaching of Rhetoric,” 323–33

Proposal for the Publication of A New English Dictionary by the Philological Society

Week 15

Apr. 20th:

Crystal, tSoE, Chapter 17 “New Horizons” and Interlude 17 “Tracking a Change: the Case of y’all,” 419–52

Mufwene, “Creoles and Pidgins,” 553–66

Errington, “Between Pentecost and Pidgins,” Linguistics in a Colonial World, 93–21

Joseph and Newmeyer, “‘All Languages are Equally Complex’: The Rise and Fall of a Consensus,” 341–68

Apr. 22nd:

Crystal, tSoE, Chapter 18 “Linguistic Life Goes On” and Interlude 18 “The Grammatical Heart of Nonstandard English,” 453–83

Kachru, “The Second Diaspora of English,” 230–52

Gonzalez, “The Transplantation of American English in Philippine Soil,” 313–22

Week 16

Apr. 27th:

Crystal, tSoE, Chapter 19 “And Dialect Life Goes On” and Interlude 19 “Dialect in Middle Earth,” 484–513

Lerer, “Ready for the Funk: African American English and Its Impact,” Inventing English, 220–34

Zeigler, “Migration and Motivation in the Development of African American Vernacular English,” 509–20

Apr. 29th:

Crystal, “The Future of English,” 6–16

Crystal, “The Future of Englishes: Going Local,” 17–25

Pollock, “Future Philology? The Fate of a Soft Science in a Hard World,” 931–61


1 Comment

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One response to “History of the English Language Readings

  1. Eric Weiskott

    Wow, I am honored to have my article included among all these giants! In addition to Roberta’s articles, I am particularly fond of Pollock, “Future Philology.”

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