History of the English Language

In this course, we will study the origins and evolution, in historical and linguistic terms, of what today may best be described in the plural form: the English languages. There will be detailed analysis (and translation) of a variety of historical texts, including several from what are traditionally defined as the Early and Middle English periods. To do this will inevitably require of students a willingness to engage with grammars and vocabularies that appear very different from the language most of us use in our text messages or e-mails.

From its very humble origins on a sparsely populated island off the coast of Europe, a motley collection of minor Germanic dialects quickly overwhelmed the indigenous languages of Britain before becoming itself subjected to outside invasion and eventual conquest. The resulting linguistic hybrid, Celtic-Roman-Saxon-Danish-Norwegian-Norman English, then began, primarily through colonial expansion and global domination, to outgrow its sister languages on the Continent, eventually establishing itself as what most Americans gratefully know it to be today: the whole world’s lingua franca.

If, in what form, and for how long ‘English’ will remain the primary global language are questions which no-one today can answer, which is why this course also aims to look beyond the hegemony of the current Anglo-American centre (spelled correctly according to a competing variety).  To do this, we will be examining some competing English-speaking communities and cultures at the centre and periphery of the so-called English-speaking world for whom the precepts of the descendants of Dr. Johnson and Noah Webster are no longer quite as binding.


  • There will be two midterms (40%)
  • and a final examination (30%)
  • Weekly Laulima Postings (20%)
  • Attendance (10%)

Required Text:

  • COURSE READER: CRDG Marketing and Publication, Castle 101.