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Module QXL-2222:
History of English

Module Facts

Run by School of Languages, Literatures, Linguistics and Media

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Christopher Shank

Overall aims and purpose

This module introduces students to the development of the English language, from its origins in the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family to its present status as the most widely spoken language on the planet. We will examine both "internal" and “external” historical developments ranging from such topics such as changes in the sounds of the language and the ways sentences are structured to the social and political forces that carried English around the world. The goal of this module is to provide students with an understanding of the development of the English language by studying the linguistic changes that English has undergone from Old English through Middle English up to Present Day English. The module will also include considerations of how and why languages change, including the ways that social context and the cognitive organization of language make certain kinds of change more natural than others.

- To lead students to a more detailed knowledge of the history of English via discussion and text analysis.
- To have students identify and explain general features of Old and Middle English.
- To encourage students to think creatively about questions raised by the history of English, and to raise questions of their own.
- To familiarise students with relevant literature.
- To give students an opportunity to acquire and practise using research skills appropriate to this field of study.
- To improve the students' general ability to observe, recognise and describe facts about the grammar and use of English.

Course content

  1. Studying the History of English.
  2. Causes and Mechanisms of Language Change.
  3. The Indo-European Language Family and Proto-Indo European.
  4. Germanic and the Development of Old English.
  5. The Sounds and Words of Old English.
  6. The Grammar of Old English.
  7. The Rise of Middle English: Words and Sounds.
  8. The Grammar of Middle English, the Rise of a Written Standard.
  9. Eighteenth-Century Prescriptivism. and the Sounds and Morphosyntax of Early Modern English.
  10. Modern English, Varieties of English (I) and English as Global phenomenon
  11. Varieties of English (II) & Comparing British & American English

Assessment Criteria


Student has achieved the minimum acceptable standard of understanding and/or knowledge in all the learning outcomes. Student can demonstrate a minimum level of understanding of the basic concepts and be able to apply them to data with some degree of accuracy.


Student has achieved a better-than-average standard of understanding and/or knowledge in all learning outcomes, and has a clear and accurate understanding of concepts; ability to apply concepts to data critically and thoughtfully; evidence of wide reading and clear and accurate reference to source materials; free from misunderstanding and errors of content; free from irrelevant material.


Student has achieved a thorough standard of understanding and/or knowledge in all learning outcomes; or student has demonstrated an exceptional level of achievement in one or more learning outcomes together with a good overall standard: student has achieved a thorough understanding of the subject, both in terms of content and theory; student is able to apply concepts clearly and accurately; substantial evidence of critical and original thought and analysis; clear, logical argument; high level of communicative competence; free from irrelevant material and errors of spelling and punctuation; evidence of extensive reading beyond basic texts and clear and accurate references to source material.

Learning outcomes

  1. Students will know the linguistic concepts necessary for understanding how English has changed over time.

  2. Students will know how to identify and explain general linguistic features of Old and Middle English.

  3. Students will understand the principles of etymology, semantic change and the status of evidence for English historical linguistics.

  4. Students will be able to discuss, from an informed perspective, the social contexts and mechanisms of language change.

  5. Students will be able to discuss the basic linguistic structure of Old English (OE), Middle English (ME) and Early Modern English (EModE) and to successfully compare and contrast them in terms of major morpho-syntactic and phonological differences.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
ESSAY Middle English Assignment

Compare and contrast essay: Middle English (ME) vs. Present Day English (PDE)

ESSAY Take-home exam

Students answer one of the two questions in Section 1 labelled MAIN QUESTION. In Sections 2-5, students are given four different sections, each containing at least two categorical / thematic questions. They must select and answer at least one question in 3 out of 4 sections labelled CATEGORICAL / THEMATIC QUESTIONS. The topics cover the entire course and readings.

ESSAY Old English Assignment

Expository essay on the development of Old English


Teaching and Learning Strategy

Private study

Directed Reading - students are given required reading each week (of about 2 hours) on the topic of that week's lecture.


Students are encouraged to see the lecturer on a one-to-one basis during published office hours (or by appointment) to discuss issues with the module content, seek clarification on topics and discussions, and discuss feedback on assessments and class exercises.


Weekly 2-hour lecture (for 11 teaching weeks)


Fortnightly 1-hour seminar.

Private study

In their own time, students will be expected to do further reading, go through materials covered in class and do further research on the topics, and prepare assignments.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting

Subject specific skills

  • Writing & scholarly conventions - students will be able to present data, argumentation, findings and references in written form in keeping with the conventions current in language science and English language studies.
  • Analysis & interpretation skills - students will be able to analyse, interpret data accurately, and draw appropriate conclusions based on the application of appropriate analytic and theoretical frameworks available in linguistics and English language studies.
  • Evaluation & reflection - students will be able to critically evaluate a particular position, viewpoint or argument in relation to a specific area of investigation. They will be able to reflect on the efficacy of a particular approach, practice or performance, and moderate these as a consequence in order to achieve specific goals.
  • Fluency, confidence and proficiency in the use of English -students will demonstrate their ability and proficiency to use and understand and instruct others in English in a range of academic and classroom contexts.
  • Effective communication - students will develop the ability to communicate effectively, appropriately and confidently, in a range of contexts, to different audience types, and making use of a range of supporting materials
  • Learning to learn - students will learn to reflect, modify and improve their learning strategies
  • Awareness of and appreciation for linguistic and cultural differences - students will develop an awareness of and an appreciation for the range and nature of linguistic and cultural diversity
  • Knowledge of the nature of language origins, change and use - students will demonstrate familiarity with phenomena and findings relating to the nature of language origins, the way language changes, and factors involved in and affecting language use.
  • Proficiency in the use of English in reading, writing, speaking and/or listening - students will demonstrate proficiency in their ability to use and understand English in a range of different contexts and via different media.
  • Understanding of the nature and organization of language - students will demonstrate familiarity with observations and findings relating to various aspects of linguistic phenomena and organization.


Resource implications for students


Talis Reading list

Pre- and Co-requisite Modules

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: