The Development of the English Language

English 411, Spring 2008

Jack Lynch

Course Description

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Office: (973) 353-5279 x 516; 516 Hill Hall.

Hours: Monday and Wednesday, 1:00–2:30, and by appointment (appointments are best).

Home: (609) 882-4642 (before 10:00 p.m.!).

E-mail: jlynch @ (the best way to reach me).

Listserv: DevLanguage @ (for the whole class).

Course Requirements

Schedule of Class Meetings

Wed., 23 Jan.
Introduction: Class business, &c.

Mon., 28 Jan.
More Introduction: David Crystal, The Stories of English, Introduction.
Wed., 30 Jan.
Old English: Crystal, chapters 1 and 2 (and interludes — readings always include the associated interludes); selection from Ælfric's Colloquy.

Mon., 4 Feb.
Old English Dialects: Crystal, chapters 3 and 4; selection from Beowulf.
Wed., 6 Feb.
Introduction to Middle English: Crystal, chapters 5 and 6; selection from Robert Mannyng, Story of Englande. Exercise 1: Compare three translations of the opening of Beowulf and describe the differences in two or three pages. Pay attention to what each translator gains and loses by his or her choices, and consider what sort of audience he or she has in mind.

Mon., 11 Feb.
Lexical Invasions: Crystal, chapter 7; selection from Geoffrey Chaucer, The General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.
Wed., 13 Feb.
Language Change: Crystal, chapter 8; selection from William Langland, Piers Plowman.

Mon., 18 Feb.
Middle English Dialects: Crystal, chapter 9; selection from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; selection from Chaucer, The Reeve's Tale; selection from John Barbour, Bruce. Exercise 2: Look up four words from Mannying, Chaucer, or Langland in the OED and describe, in two or three pages, how their history illuminates them.
Wed., 20 Feb.
The Beginnings of Standard English: Crystal, chapter 10; selection from Sir Thomas Malory, The Book of King Arthur.

Mon., 25 Feb.
The Arrival of Printing: Crystal, chapter 11; selection from William Caxton, Eneydos.
Wed., 27 Feb.
Introduction to Early Modern English: Crystal, chapter 12; Matthew 25, as translated by Wycliffe, Tyndale, and the KJV translators.

Mon., 3 March
Innovation: Crystal, chapter 13; William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 3.1, and selection from John Lyly, Euphues. Exercise 3: Using the on-line OED, find four words or senses first used by either Shakespeare or the King James translators, and describe the significance of their appearing at that time in history.
Wed., 5 March
Early Modern Dialects: Crystal, chapter 14; Shakespeare, Henry V, 3.2.

Mon., 10 March
The Seventeenth Century: Francis Bacon, "Of Studies"; selections from John Milton, Paradise Lost.
Wed., 12 March
Philosophical Speculation: Selections from John Wilkins, An Essay toward a Real Character and a Philosophical Language, and John Locke, An Essay concerning Human Understanding. First Paper Due: In around 1,500 words, do a close reading of one of some passage of English literature from before 1800 and show how careful attention to the language brings the meaning to light.

Mon., 17 March
No Class: Spring Break.
Wed., 19 March
No Class: Spring Break.

Mon., 24 March
Imposing Order: Crystal, chapter 15; Samuel Johnson, Preface to A Dictionary of the English Language; in-class exercise in lexicography.
Wed., 26 March
Fixing Change: Crystal, chapter 16; selection from Daniel Defoe, "An Essay upon Projects"; Jonathan Swift, "A Proposal for Correcting . . . the English Tongue."

Mon., 31 March
English Goes International: Crystal, chapter 17; selection from John Smith, The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles; selection from Cotton Mather, The Negro Christianized; Phillis Wheatley, "On Being Brought from Africa to America," "A Farewell to America," "To the University of Cambridge, in New-England"; Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Language."
Wed., 2 April
The Nineteenth Century: Crystal, chapter 18; Noah Webster, essays on spelling reform; Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, chapter 25; Walt Whitman, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." Exercise 4: Search the on-line OED for words that entered English from another language you know; in two or three pages, note the earliest examples of English borrowings from that language, and look for connections between the arrival of these words in English and larger historical forces.

Mon., 7 April
Literary Dialects: Crystal, chapter 19; Robert Burns, "To a Mouse," "Scotch Drink"; selection from James Kelman, How Late It Was, How Late; selection from Irvine Welsh, Glue.
Wed., 9 April
American Vernaculars: Mark Twain, "Sociable Jimmy"; "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."

Mon., 14 April
Modern Englishes: Crystal, chapter 20; William Faulkner, "Barn Burning"; Sylvia Plath, "Daddy"; Allen Ginsberg, "America"; selection from Ngugi wa Thiong'O, Decolonizing the Mind; Derek Walcott, "The Fortunate Traveller." Exercise 5: Using the on-line OED, find any five words that entered the English language in the nineteenth century, and in two or three pages try to comment on their significance — why were they needed? — what did people say before that?
Wed., 16 April
African-American Vernacular English: Wikipedia, s.v. African American Vernacular English; Joel Chandler Harris, "How Mr. Rabbit Was Too Sharp for Mr. Fox"; Langston Hughes, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain"; selection from Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God; selection from Toni Morrison, Sula; selected blues lyrics.

Mon., 21 April
Obscenity and Profanity: FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726; George Carlin's extended list of obscenities; Nicholson Baker, "Leading with the Grumper." Exercise 6: Track down at least three words or senses in current use that you can't find in any dictionary (including both American Heritage and OED); try to offer your own defintion of what they mean.
Wed., 23 April
The N-Word: Phil Middleton and David Pilgrim, "Nigger (the Word), a Brief History"; Wikipedia, s.v. nigger.

Mon., 28 April
"The Worst Follies of Orthodoxy": George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language"; Paul Fussell, "Fresh Idiom"; James Dawes, Introduction to The Language of War. Exercise 7: Look for at least two advertisements or examples of political speech that distort meaning by manipulating language, and describe in detail what the writers are doing.
Wed., 30 April
The Limits of Language: Selection from James Joyce, Finnegans Wake; John Ashberry, "Daffy Duck in Hollywood"; Sonia Sanchez, "to blk/record/buyers" and "Masks."

Mon., 5 May
Conclusion. Final Paper Due: In an argumentative essay of about 2,000 words, describe how the language works in some short piece of writing. The more detail you can provide the better.