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History of English (PDF)

History of English
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Chapter 1: Lost for Words; a brief meditation on the peculiar challenges posed by thinking and talking about language, both in terms of grammatical analysis and wider comparative or historical linguistic studies.

Chapter 2: Caught in the Web of Words: The Company We Keep; a concise overview of the odd place of English in the family of Indo-European languages that will consider;

  • the concept of 'Indo-European' and how it revolutionised the study of languages since the eighteenth century.
  • where English sits in the family tree of European languages and its anomalous status as a fundamentally Germanic language substantially hybridised by its many contacts with other language groups over the centuries

Chapter 3: Your Roots are Showing; a brief account of the Germanic tribes later known as the Anglo-Saxon and their colonisation of the Roman province of Britannia that will consider

  • small number of loan-words of Celtic origin in MnE, suggesting little cultural mingling between the Britons and the invaders
  • evidence of surviving Germanic vocabulary in MnE: importance and significance of core vocabulary
  • a very brief account of some of the distinctive features of OE phonology, vocabulary and grammar

Chapter 4: Angels and Angels: The Conversation of the Anglo-Saxons and the Latin Factor.  Abrief account of Gregory the Great's dispatch of a mission under St Augustine of Canterbury in 597 to convert the Anglo-Saxons, its success, and its major consequences, including

  • the introduction of monastic culture and the scriptorium
  • the impact of the new technology of written text (w/ informing parallels to the present-day (IT revolution)
  • beginnings of English prose-composition in chronicle and homily, but also the composition of vernacular religious poetry following native tradition and style
  • selective borrowing of Latin loan-words in distinctive contexts

Chapter 5. No Horned Helmets, Please: We're Real Vikings. A brief account of the Scandinavian adventurers who began to conduct incursions into Anglo-Saxon England from the late 700's and their language, closely related to Old English, which will consider

  • the relatively equal social status enjoyed by both languages (very different from the large differences of power, authority, and prestige that distinguished Old English from Latin and, later, Norman French)
  • the impact of Old Norse on Old English in place-names and certain pronouns
  • other vocabulary (e.g. doublets such as skirt/shirt and skip/ship)

Chapter 6. All Change, Please: Enter the Normans. After a concise account of the Norman conquest of Anglo-Saxon England, this text will offer a brief account of its immediate social and political repercussions, with special emphasis on what impact these had on the abruptly demoted English language. Topics include;

  • the changed social landscape, with an imported Norman aristocracy wielding most power
  • acceleration of changes already taking place
  • How MnE vocabulary can reflect the tense relations between the mucky Saxon peasant and the haughty Norman baron - the impact of social register on semantics.


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