History and Structure of the English Language, Post-1500


Tues 10am - 12pm 


C. Percy

Course Description

This course surveys the linguistic and cultural history of the English language from the late fifteenth century until the present day. It reviews representative developments in vocabulary, spelling, grammar, pronunciation, and the codification of English in dictionaries and grammars. Themes for seminar discussion and research papers may include such topics as the processes and implications of language change; standardization and prescriptivism; the functions of English, French, and Latin in and beyond Britain; language contact, pidgins and creoles; colonization, empire, and global Englishes; the literary use of English (standard and non-standard varieties) by native and non-native speakers; the linguistic effects of printing, news media, the internet, and technology generally.

Research deploying large digital corpora is changing the stories and histories of English, and the course will allow students to experiment with social and cultural microhistories of words and linguistic forms with the aid of available corpora and of digital searching methods. It will engage with theories of language evolution, variation, and change. Students will be encouraged to consider how to bridge historical linguistics and literature and how to bring knowledge of the English language into their literary studies.

There is no prerequisite required for this course. 

Course Reading List

Primary Texts: Literary and non-literary texts (TBA) will illustrate lectures and seminars.

Secondary Texts: For a basic outline, we'll read excerpts from such textbooks as David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 3rd ed. (Cambridge UP, 2019) and Joan C. Beal, English in Modern Times (2004; e-dition Routledge, 2014). For discussion, we'll engage with a gathering of shorter readings, most of them available through the University of Toronto Library online.

Course Method of Evaluation and Course Requirements

This is an introductory course. The course requirements are:

  • Short reports (best 3 of 6: 30%)
  • A proposal with bibliography (10%)
  • A presentation introducing your research paper (15%)
  • A final research paper (35%)
  • Participation (10%) Participation will include discussion and written feedback in class, and exercises and tasks online. 

Term: S-TERM (January 2023 to April 2023)Date/Time: Tuesday / 10:00 am to 12:00 pm
Location: Room JHB 616 (Jackman Humanities Building, 170 St. George Street)
Delivery: In-Person