English 454/554: History of English

Fall 2016

Dr. Lynn Gordon


The topic of this course is the development of English from the time Germanic tribes invade the British Isles to the present. We will consider how the changes in English exemplify language change in general, how language and society interact, how the language is used in literature and how English developed as a literate language.


By the end of the semester, English 454 and English 554 students will be able

  • to describe the broad outlines of changes in the English language from Old English (600-1100, Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) to Middle English (1100-1500, Chaucer and the Paston letters) to Early Modern English (1500-1700, Shakespeare and the King James Bible) to Modern English (after 1700);

  • to produce a transcription of the actual sounds using the International Phonetic Alphabet for a text in Old English, Middle English, or Early Modern English orthography;

  • to describe and categorize major phonological, morphological, syntactic and lexical changes in English;

  • to describe changes in systems of versification in English;

  • to identify the historical period of an unfamiliar text and give evidence for their identification; and

  • to describe aspects of the interaction of language and social/political events.

In addition, English 554 students will be able

  • to identify, analyze and describe sets of changes found in English; and

  • to produce a coherent paper analyzing original data exemplifying linguistic change in English.


The English Language. 2nd ed., Charles Barber, Joan Beal and Philip Shaw, CUP, 2012. ISBN 978110769397 (TEL) (Available at the Bookie,,, etc.)



According to the university catalog, "Academic credit is a measure of the total minimum time commitment required of a typical student in a specific course. For the WSU semester system one semester credit is assigned for a minimum of 45 hours." As a three-credit class, the expected time commitment for work outside of lecture for this class should therefore average a minimum of six hours per week.


There will be regular homework, graded credit/no credit. Feel free to talk about your homework (and anything else in the class) with each other (and me, of course); however, you must write up your homework separately. Your homework will be accepted only at the time due or before--even if you feel your attempt is unsatisfactory, turn it in. No homework will be accepted late (unless there is a major disaster which calls you out of school; colds, the press of other classes, or the general difficulties of life do not constitute major disasters). If you do not turn in an assignment on time, your grade for that assignment will be 0. If you turn in the homework and it has major problems, you will be allowed to revise it for credit. If you turn in the homework on time without major problems, you will get full credit.


There are no midterm exams in this class. In place of a midterm, there will be short quizzes every two to three weeks. The quizzes will consist of analyses similar to those we discuss in class and those on the homework assignments. No individual quiz is worth much; however all together they will form roughly a quarter to a third of your course grade. There will be no make-up quizzes unless there is a major disaster.


You must make your own decisions as an adult whether or not to come to class. However, you should realize that coming to class is part of your job as a student, as is completing the homework on time and passing the quizzes and the final exam. Just coming to class will make meeting your other responsibilities in this class easier. I do not take attendance in this class, but I do reserve the right to give an attendance quiz (worth 50% of a regular quiz) without warning if the attendance in class falls too low.


The final exam is scheduled for 1:00-3:00 pm on Wednesday, 14 December. The final exam will be cumulative. You will be allowed to bring one standard letter-size page of notes into the exam. Please note that it is not possible to reschedule the final exam, so please do not arrange your departure from Pullman for a time that interferes with taking the exam.

PAPER (for 554 students)

The final paper should be 7-10 pages, double-spaced (so roughly 1750-2500 words). A brief, but specific paper proposal (maximum 1 page) is due by 1 pm on Friday, 11 November. (If you suspect that your proposal may need discussion, try to get it in earlier so we can discuss it before the due date.) The paper is due by 5 pm on Wednesday of Finals Week, 14 December 2016. See the suggested paper topics for more information.

TENTATIVE SCHEDULE (subject to revision)

Week 1-2 Reading: TEL Chapters 1 and 2

Class organization, syllabus; What is language? Introduction to articulatory phonetics and the vocal tract; phonetic representation and description of consonants and vowels; practice transcription and identification of English sounds, language change

Week 3 Reading: TEL Chapters 3 and 4

About English; Language families; Indo-European and Germanic

Week 4-6 Reading: TEL Chapters 5 and 6

History of English speakers from their arrival in England through the Norman Invasion; phonological structure of Old English: Vowels and Consonants; OE Orthography (and its relationship to phonology); morphology and syntax; external influences on English

Week 7-9 Reading: TEL Chapters 7

Supremacy of French, reemergence of English; changes from OE to ME: linguistic and literary; Middle English dialects

Week 10-13 Reading: TEL Chapters 8

History of English speakers through the 18th century (The spectacular growth of the English-speaking world); moving from ME to EME; Great English Vowel Shift and other linguistic changes; more morphological/syntactic restructuring

Week 13-14 Reading: TEL Chapters 9, 10, and 11

History of English speakers from 18th century to present day; changes from Early Modern English to Present Day English

Week 15

Case Study: Development of constructions from OE to PDE; conclusions and review

University Announcements

  • Students with Disabilities: Reasonable accommodations are available for students with documented disabilities or chronic medical conditions. If you have a disability and need accommodations to fully participate in this class, please visit the Access Center website to follow published procedures to request accommodations: Students may also either call or visit the Access Center in person to schedule an appointment with an Access Advisor. Location: Washington Building 217; Phone: 509-335-3417. All disability related accommodations MUST be approved through the Access Center. Students with approved accommodations are strongly encouraged to visit with instructors early in the semester during office hours to discuss logistics.

For more information contact a Disability Specialist: 509-335-3417, e-mail

  • Academic Integrity Academic integrity is the cornerstone of higher education. As such, all members of the university community share responsibility for maintaining and promoting the principles of integrity in all activities, including academic integrity and honest scholarship. Academic integrity will be strongly enforced in this course. Students who violate WSU’s Academic Integrity Policy (identified in Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 504-26-010(3) and -404) will fail the assignment, quiz or exam; if the violation is repeated or very serious (copying an entire quiz or homework assignment or cheating on the final exam, for example), you will fail the class, you will not have the option to withdraw from the course pending an appeal, and you will be reported to the Office of Student Conduct.

Cheating includes, but is not limited to, plagiarism and unauthorized collaboration as defined in the Standards of Conduct for Students, WAC 504-26-010(3). You need to read and understand all of the definitions of cheating:

If you have any questions about what is and is not allowed in this course, you should ask course instructors before proceeding.

If you wish to appeal a faculty member's decision relating to academic integrity, please use the form available at

  • Grade Appeals: According to the Education Policies and Procedures Manual (EPPM), “Students having complaints about instruction or grading should refer them first to the instructor. If the complaint is not resolved, then the student may refer the complaint in writing to the chairperson of the department in which the course is offered by the end of the last day of the following semester.”

  • Safety and Emergency Notification: Classroom and campus safety are of paramount importance at Washington State University, and are the shared responsibility of the entire campus population. WSU urges students to follow the “Alert, Assess, Act,” protocol for all types of emergencies and the “Run, Hide, Fight” response for an active shooter incident. Remain ALERT (through direct observation or emergency notification), ASSESS your specific situation, and ACT in the most appropriate way to assure your own safety (and the safety of others if you are able).

Please sign up for emergency alerts on your account at MyWSU. For more information on this subject, campus safety, and related topics, please view the FBI’s Run, Hide, Fight video and visit the WSU safety portal.

  • Severe Weather: For severe weather alerts, see and In the event of severe weather affecting university operations, guidance will be issued through the alert system.

  • E-Mail: In compliance with WSU policy, I can only respond to e-mail sent from your WSU e-mail address (the address in your myWSU account). I cannot respond to e-mail sent from non-WSU accounts.