The Development of the English Language
English 411, Spring 2008
Go directly to:
Office: (973) 353-5279 x 516; 516 Hill Hall.
Hours: Monday and Wednesday, 1:002:30, and by
appointment (appointments are best).
Home: (609) 882-4642 (before 10:00 p.m.!).
E-mail: jlynch @
andromeda.rutgers.edu (the best way to reach me).
Listserv: DevLanguage @
andromeda.rutgers.edu (for the whole class).
- Written Assignments: There will be two papers,
the first of around 1,500 words (six pages), the second of 2,000
(eight pages). There are also several short exercises (we'll
discuss these in class).
- Final Exam: A short final examination will include
identification of quotations, close reading, and short essays.
- Attendance: Almost any excuse, given in
advance (in person, by phone, or by E-mail), will receive my
blessing. Absences not excused in advance will be frowned upon,
and your final grade will be lowered by half a grade for each
unexcused absence. The same policy applies to late papers: I'll
grant extensions, but only if you talk to me before the
- Computing: Some essential information will be
available only electronically. All students therefore
must have an E-mail account by the end of the first
week of classes, and must be able to use the World
- Plagiarism: It should go without saying, but
all work in this class must be your own. Handing in
someone else's work as your own will result in an F for the
course with no second chance, and may result in disciplinary
action. I encourage you to use outside sources, but you
have to cite anything you didn't write yourself. If you have even
an inkling of a doubt about what's legitimate or how to cite
something, see me before handing in the paper.
- Readings: The following books are available from New
Jersey Books (not the Rutgers Bookstore):
The shorter readings will also be available on-line, either
linked from this syllabus or through the Library's "Electronic
- David Crystal, The Stories of English.
- The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed.
Schedule of Class Meetings
- Wed., 23 Jan.
- Introduction: Class business,
- 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
- 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
- Mon., 18 Feb.
- Middle English Dialects: Crystal, chapter 9;
selection from Sir
Gawain and the Green Knight; selection from Chaucer,
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
- Mon., 3 March
- Innovation: Crystal, chapter 13; William
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;
- Mon., 10 March
- The Seventeenth Century: Francis Bacon, "Of
Studies"; selections from John Milton, Paradise
- 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
- Mon., 17 March
- No Class: Spring Break.
- Wed., 19 March
- No Class: Spring Break.
- Mon., 24 March
- Imposing Order: Crystal, chapter 15; Samuel
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
- 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
- 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,"
Drink"; selection from James Kelman, How
Late It Was, How Late; selection from Irvine Welsh, Glue.
- Wed., 9 April
- American Vernaculars: Mark Twain, "Sociable
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
- Mon., 21 April
- Obscenity and Profanity: FCC
v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726; George
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
- Wed., 23 April
- The N-Word: Phil Middleton and David
(the Word), a Brief History"; Wikipedia, s.v.
- Mon., 28 April
- "The Worst Follies of Orthodoxy": George
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
Wake; John Ashberry, "Daffy Duck
in Hollywood"; Sonia Sanchez, "to blk/record/buyers" and
- 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.