ENGL489E - Language Change and the History of English


It is a truism that all languages are constantly changing, and English has never been an exception, but what is it about English that has changed in its long history and what has remained the same? And given the immense changes English has undergone and the many varieties now found around the world, is it reasonable to think of English as a single language?  How, for example, can we think that Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Paul Auster all used the same language? This course examines the history of English from its origins in the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family to its present position as the most widely spoken language on the planet, and seeks to understand the social and linguistic forces which have shaped its vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. In addition to detailed case studies of particular linguistic developments and the social-historical contexts in which these occurred, we will be especially concerned with the ways that English speakers have imagined their language, and the role that these imaginings have had in making the language what it is today. Ultimately we will want to understand not just where our language today has come from, but also where it might be going, and what we might (or might not) want to do about it.