ENG385H1F - L0101

The History of the English Language (Histories of Englishes)


Tuesday 11 am - 1 pm

Thursday 11 am - 12 pm


C. Percy

E-mail: carol.percy@utoronto.ca

Brief Description of Course

This is an introductory and an interdisciplinary course. It is an ENG course, so you'll see how the course illuminates the study of literature, and the personal research essay always has ‘literary' options. But the course also deconstructs the standard English that we all have in common and decodes slang and jargon, so often attracts social science and science students. In short, this course is for everyone, and I hope that you'll all enjoy it. Indeed, it's not only accessible to multilingual students, but depends upon the unique experiences and expertise and interests of everyone in the class in the fall of 2022. 

The course has a broad chronological structure, in which transferable linguistic concepts will be introduced one at a time. By the end of this twelve-week course, you won't know Old English (OE); you'll know about OE. You'll be in confident command of the jargon for describing variation, change and standardization in the vocabulary, grammar, accents, and spelling of historical, regional, and social varieties of Englishes. You'll learn how to use online resources like dictionaries and corpora (structured collections of electronic texts) to answer questions you never knew you had about language contact, variation, change, and authority. You'll have some concepts to critique the definitions of language standards (and to master them). And you'll have a sense of the external events and interactions and conflicts that influenced the developments of Englishes. 

Four broad questions will guide us through the course. How can historicized varieties of English illuminate our understanding of earlier cultures and their conflicts? How are these earlier Englishes reflected in the present? What kind of cultural work gets done when we categorize what counts as a standard, a dialect, or a language, and/or who speaks it? And who has assumed the authority to define what is and isn't English and/or standard English, for instance in dictionaries, grammars, and the classroom? 

Literary and cultural-historical texts will focus explanations and explorations of linguistic concepts in class. And low-stakes activities and tasks will familiarize methods introduced in mini-lectures. In very short "try-out" reports you can choose your own primary sources while you try out analyses of topics like loanwords, grammar wars, and slang. "Variations in Vocatives" range from thou vs you in a Shakespeare play to the dysphemism bitches among friends. "Neologisms" could include seemingly new words in an Austen novel-or on Twitter. "Style-shifting or Code-switching" (between standard English and other varieties or languages) might find you rereading a Victorian or postcolonial novel, or listening to K-Pop. Feedback on these reports should help you transform them into a final research paper and will reassure you of your progress in the course. 

The cornerstone of this course remains your personal research papers, on cultural-linguistic or literary subjects, expanded from a draft that is itself expanded from one of your low-stakes "try-out" reports. Recent final paper topics have included "Apostrophe: An O'erwhelming History of the Crook't Mark," "Code-switching in English Translation: The Ojibwa Creation Story," "Translating Chaucer's Bawdy Tales: Social Norms and ‘The Reeve's Tale,'" "Reactionary Anxieties: Shakespeare's Neologisms and Othello's Gender and Sexuality Politics," "New Word Senses and the Navy: Conversations in Persuasion," "Chemistry's Combustion Question: The Shift from Phlogiston to Oxygen," "Call Me By Your Name: The Expression of Identity through Code-Switching," "Aesthetic Erasure, Linguistic Reclamation: The Cultural Evolution and Prominence of the Poetess," "Inuktitut Loanwords and Cultural Contact in the Arctic," "Judge Tyco: An Exploration of Toronto Slang," and "There Isn't Nothing Wrong with a Little Double Negation." Generous past students have given me permission to post their papers online for you to read. And I am always happy to help you devise your topics and shape your papers.

Required Reading(s)

The required textbook, TBA, will be ordered through the U of T Bookstore. Required e-readings will be available through Quercus.

Method of Evaluation

  • To reinforce your engagement and comprehension in course material generally, there is lots of N/CR “practice”: repeatable e-exercises online (5%)
  • Participation via in-class discussion and online (5%)
  • Five (of eight) very short exploratory reports (10%)
  • Draft research paper (15%)
  • Final research paper (30%)
  • Practice take-home test question (10%)
  • Final test (25%)