Language Variation and Change

Course name

Language Variation and Change from Old to Middle English




5/6 ECTS

Course date

semester 1 (2023 - 2024)

Registration open until

02/06/2023 - 24/09/2023 Students are highly recommended to also take the Masterlanguage course 'Medieval English Literature in the Classroom' (semester II, block 1) for 5/6 ECTS in order to further their study of English from a historical perspective.


Utrecht / online


Marcelle Cole (UU) / Janet Grijzenhout (UL)

E-mail contact

Marcelle Cole (UU)

Course objectives

This course will appeal to students with an interest in the history of the English language and prospective teachers of English who want to acquire a better understanding of how English has changed and developed over the course of time and why. 

The course will provide students with:

  • a historical perspective on English that will enable them to understand the idiosyncrasies of Modern English grammar, its spelling norms and sound system;
  • a good grasp of how the grammatical system of earlier stages of English functioned and changed over time to become the language that it is today;
  • an understanding of how language contact has shaped English;
  • knowledge of the principles of language change.

By the end of the course, students will be able to usefully apply a historical perspective to their own teaching of the English language. They will also be in an ideal position to write an MA paper that provides an indepth discussion of a linguistic development in the history of English.

Course content

Possibly more so than any other West Germanic language English has changed enormously over time. This course explores how and why English has changed to make it the language it is today. You will learn where English came from, its relationship with other Germanic languages like Dutch and Frisian, how and why it has changed over time, and how internal and external forces have shaped its development.

Educational perspective

Course requirements / Language proficiency

A basic knowledge of Linguistics (phonology, morphology, syntax, etc.) is a requirement to follow this course. Students who have not followed introductory courses on Lingusitics must contact the course coordinator some weeks before the course starts for an alternative online means to grasp the basics of linguistics.

Students should already be capable of writing well-structured research papers with correct use of academic sources.


A mix of in-person seminars at UU and online seminars on Teams.

10% Oral presentation
30% Written assignment
60% Paper

Study load
5 ECTS = 140 hours, of which:

  • Seminars: 7 x 3 = 21 hrs
  • Preparation and work per week: 7 x 5 = 35 hrs
  • Assignments: 6 x 4 = 24 hrs
  • Individual paper = 60 hrs

Uva/VU students who need 6 ECTS may elect to do more homework or an extra assignment. This must be determined with the course teacher(s) in week 1.

Background literature and course materials

Johnson, Keith. 2016. The History of Early English: An Activity-Based Approach. Routledge. ISBN 9781138795457. 35€.

Primary and secondary literature will also be provided by the instructors.

Further information

Friday mornings

03/11/2023, 10h00-13h00 Drift 25 – zaal 101, Utrecht City Centre
10/11/2023, 10h00-12h30 Drift 25 – zaal 101, Utrecht City Centre
(Note: this class ends earlier so students who also take Masterlanguage course Shakespeare for Teachers can travel to Radboud University in Nijmegen)
17/11/2023, 10h00-13h00 (online)
24/11/2023, 10h00-13h00 (online)
01/12/2023, 10h00-13h00 (online)
08/12/2023, 10h00-13h00 (online)
15/12/2023, 10h00-13h00 (online)