Language variation and change in the history of English

Course Name

Language variation and change in the history of English



5 or 10

Course date

semester 1 (2015 - 2016)

Registration open until

- 21/08/2015


RU Nijmegen, 10.45-13.45, Friday 11/9, 18/9, 25/9, 2/10, 9/10, 16/10 room E 2.03 and 6/11, 13/11, 20/11, 27/11, 4/12, 11/12, room: E 3.20


Prof. Ans van Kemenade (RU Nijmegen), Dr. Rober Cloutier (UvA), Prof. Olga Fischer (UvA) and guest lecturers, including Dr. Marcelle Cole (UU), Dr. Marion Elenbaas (UL), Dr. Nynke de Haas (UU)

E-mail Contact

Course objectives

Upon completion of this course, students will have a comprehensive overview of the development of the English language against the backdrop of its social and cultural history. They will also have gained insight in the principles and methods of historical linguistics and will be able to apply these to specific cases of language change (sound changes, lexical changes, grammar changes), and will be able to argue why and how the language changed in the way it did.


Course content

The course consists of two different but connected strands, which are preferably taken together but can also be followed separately, each for 5 ECTS.

Course 1 (Block 1) English 800-1700
Course 2 (Block 2) Topics in language variation and change


The first block will consist of an in-depth treatment of a number of major cases of language change in the history of English, by looking at how language change manifests itself in texts at various historical stages, and by considering how the development of the language was shaped by the historical context. We will make a detailed study of a number of texts from various historical stages, to see the changes as they actually occur on the phonological, morphological, lexical and syntactic levels. Some key issues that will come up are the effects of language contact and of language standardization, and the various imprints these left on the language, changing English from a pervasively Germanic language into the atypical Germanic language it is nowadays.


The second block will feature a number of topics in language change and variation. It will be taught by a team of teachers who share a core approach towards studying language variation and change in English that is strongly grounded in the study of historical texts in their social and cultural settings. Topics will be include: the effect of the loss of morphology on syntax and discourse, changes in verbal and infinitival constructions, variation and change in discourse structure and clause linking, variation and change in the Northern dialects.



Block 1 (for 5 EC): A research paper of ca. 2500 words (75%), weekly assignments and participation (25%)


Block 2 (for another 5 EC): A research paper of ca. 2500 words (75%), weekly assignments and participation (25%)


Background Literature and Course Materials

Block 1
Baugh, Albert, & Thomas Cable. A History of the English Language. 6th edition 2012.
Price about Eur 45.
Text excerpts provided by the instructors.


Block 2
Reader of articles prepared by the instructors.


Further information

Total course load for the course: 5+5 EC = 140+140 hours
Hours spent attending seminars: 14+14 hours
Time for studying the compulsory literature: 86+86 hours
Final papers: 40+40 hours