The Beowulf Manuscript
History of the English Language
English 440
Spring 2006

The Venerable Bede

Instructor: Charles Meyer

Office: Wheatley 6-68

Office Phone: 287-6748 (with voice mail)
To get this syllabus on line, go to:
E-Mail: meyer [at] cs [dot] umb [dot] edu
Office hours: T: 2:30-4:00, Th: 2:00-3:30, or by appointment

Required Text

Baugh and Cable, A History of the English Language, 5th ed., which is available in the bookstore and on reserve under my name (note: used copies of the hardbound and paperback version of this book are available on Amazon US and also Amazon UK, which will ship the paperback version of the book by airmail; the library has the book available in digital form; just go to the card catalog and search for the following keywords: 'a history of the english language cable')

Course Goals

English 440 has three primary goals: (1) to study the linguistic changes that English has undergone from Old English to the present; (2) to familiarize you with the linguistic concepts necessary for understanding how English has changed; and (3) to explore the cultural events that accompanied and sometimes influenced these changes. 

Course Requirements

    • Regular attendance: if you miss more than FOUR classes, your final grade will be lowered.
    • Participation in class discussions
    • Familiarity with UMass-Boston's policies on plagiarism and academic dishonesty
    • A mid-term and final exam (50% of your final grade)
    • Three written assignments (50% of your final grade): (1) An investigation of the history of place names in the United States, Great Britain, Ireland, or any country in which English is the primary language; (2) The parsing of a sample of Old English; and (3) The investigation of a disputed usage (e.g. between you and I). More details on these assignments will be provided as the semester progresses.
    • HEL = A History of the English Language
    • Readings that are underlined and highlighted can be found by going to the online version of the syllabus and clicking on the article title
    • All other readings are on e-reserve (to obtain an article on e-reserve, go here and then click 'accept' after typing in the course password, which I will give you in class)
    • A good reference guide to the history of the English language is the Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that can be searched. Just go to the main page and type in words or phrases that you'd like to read more about.


Jan 24 and 26: Course overview; Course policies and requirements; Meyer "The Study of Language" (on e-reserve)

Language Change and The Origins of English

Jan. 31 and Feb. 2: HEL, Ch. 1 "English Present and Future"; David Wilton, "A (Very) Brief History of the English Language"; PBS, Do You Speak American? "The Truth about Language Change"; Culpeper, "The Birth of English: Clues in Placenames" (on e-reserve)

Feb. 7 and 9: HEL, Ch. 2 "The Indo-European Family of Languages"; Language families: "Ethnologue Language Family Index"; Nicholas Wade, "What We All Spoke When the World Was Young"; James Crawford, "Endangered Native American Languages: What Is to Be Done, and Why?"

Introduction to Modern English Grammar

Feb. 14 and 16: Our discussion this week will be based on the presentation of grammar in the "Internet Grammar of English"

Old English

Feb. 21: HEL, Ch. 3 "Old English"; Wikipedia, "The Venerable Bede"

Feb. 23: "Beowulf in Hypertext"; "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" (translation); Paper #1 due

Feb. 28 and March 2:
HEL, Ch. 4 "Foreign Influences on Old English"

Middle English

March 7 and 9: HEL, Ch. 5 "The Norman Conquest and the Subjection of English 1066-1200"; HEL, Ch. 6 "The Reestablishment of English, 1200-1500"

March 14 and 16: No Class, Spring Break

March 21: HEL, Ch 7 "Middle English"; Chaucer, "General Prologue"

March 23: Mid-Term Exam

The Renaissance

March 28 and 30: HEL, Ch 8 "The Renaissance, 1500-1650"; Shakespeare, "Internet Shakespeare Editions"  "Othello"

Prescriptive Grammar

April 4:  HEL, Ch 9. The Appeal to Authority, 1650-1800

April 6:
Geoffrey Nunberg, "The Decline of Grammar"; Paper #2 due

The 19th Century

April 11 and 13: HEL, Ch.10 "The Nineteenth Century and After"; Denis Baron, "Excerpt from Grammar and Good Taste" (on e-reserve); "About the Oxford English Dictionary" (note: look through the links in the right hand column too)

American English

April 18 and 20: HEL, Ch. 11 "The English Language in America"; H.L. Mencken, "The Beginnings of American," Ch. 2 of The American Language (read all of Ch. 2, which has six subsections; when you finish a page, just click 'next' at the top or the bottom of the page); William Labov, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg, "A National Map of the Regional Dialects of American English"

April 25 and 27:
Boston and New England Dialects: Craig Carver, Ch. 2 of  American Regional Dialects: A Word Geography (on e-reserve); Public perceptions of the Boston dialect: "Wicked Good Guide to Boston English"

May 2 and 4:
Social and Ethnic Dialects: William Labov, "The Social Stratification of /r/ in NYC Department Stores" (3 files on e-reserve); Jack Sidnell "African American Vernacular English (Ebonics)"; Ralph W. Fasold, "Ebonic Need not be English"; "Yiddish Words Found in English"; Wikipedia, "Spanglish"

May 9: 
Paper #3 Due

THIS SYLLABUS IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE AT ANY TIME: Due dates for exams and written assignments will not change, but I will revise the schedule of readings if we fall behind.