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Historical English Linguistics

6 ECTS credits
180 h study time

Offer 1 with catalog number 4020166FNR for all students in the 1st semester at a (F) Master - specialised level.

Information about this course is applicable on academic year 2017-2018.

1st semester
Enrollment based on exam contract
Grading method

Grading (scale from 0 to 20)

Can retake in second session
Taught in
Faculty of Arts and Philosophy
Responsible organisation
Linguistics and Literary Studies
Educational Team:
Course content

With nearly 400 million first-language speakers, English is currently one of the world-dominating languages. Its historical roots can be traced back to a handful of Germanic tribes that settled in Britain around 500 ce. These tribes spoke different but mutually intelligible West-Germanic dialects, from which a common “language”, or, better still, a set of dialects nowadays nowadays refered to as “Old English” or “Anglo-Saxon”, emerged. Old English was vastly different from present day English(es). As a matter of fact, the language is simply incomprehensible without some form of translation. This course looks at the changes that shaped Old English into Present Day English(es). Taking a factual approach, the course keeps linguistic theory to a strict minimum. We Start with a general introduction to language change and an outline of Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Germanic. The course then subsequently looks at the major chronological stages of English: Old English (500–1100), Middle English (1100–1500), Early Modern English (1500–1800) and Modern English (1800–present). Each stage is amply illustrated with actual text data. Sociological factors that have contributed to the evolution of English are additionally discussed.

Course material
  • Course text (Required): Historical English Linguistics, Ludovic De Cuypere
  • Handbook (Recommended): A History of English. A Sociolinguistic Approach, Barbara A. Fennell, Blackwell, 2001
  • Practical course material (Required): Exercises, Ludovic De Cuypere
Additional info

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Programme Objectives

Algemene competenties

Upon succesful completion of this course students are able to:
1. recognize different types of language change
2. apply the correct terminology to describe different types of language change
3. define and give examples of major phonological, morphological, syntactic and lexical changes in English
4. identify the historical period of an unfamiliar English text
5. describe aspects of the interaction of language change and socio-political events in the history of English
6. identify, analyze and describe larger sets of changes found in the history of English (e.g., great vowel shift, standardization, declension, fixation of constituent order)
7. select and use the appropriate online resources to analyse (historical) language material (e.g. Bosworth & Toller's Anglo-Saxon dictionary, Oxford English Dictionary, Old English Translator)
8. provide a diachronic explanation for linguistic features of present day English (e.g., foot (sg.) vs. feet (pl.), *yesterday went he..., do you understand vs. *understand you?, see - sea, I don't see the book vs. *I see not the book)
9. recognize variation in the different diachronic stages of English

The final grade is composed based on the following categories:

  • Written Exam determines 60% of the final mark.
  • Other Exam determines 40% of the final mark.

Within the Written Exam category, the following assignments need to be completed:

Take Home Exam with a relative weight of 60 which comprises 60% of the final mark.

Note: Students receive several questions that they have to answer within one week.

Within the Other Exam category, the following assignments need to be completed:

Oral Presentation with a relative weight of 30 which comprises 30% of the final mark.

Note: Tell an engaging story (15 minutes) about a topic related to the history of the English language.

Term Paper with a relative weight of 10 which comprises 10% of the final mark.

Note: Write a 1000 word summary of one of the following articles

Additional info with regard to grading

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