The Development of the English Language

English 411, Autumn 2011

Jack Lynch

Course Description

Go directly to:

SeptemberOctoberNovemberDecember


Office: (973) 353-5204; 531 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 @ andromeda.rutgers.edu (the best way to reach me).


Course Requirements


Schedule of Class Meetings

Wed., 7 Sept.
Introduction: Class business, &c.
Thurs., 8 Sept.
(A change in class designation in which Thursday pretends to be Monday, but I'll be at a conference. No Class.)

Mon., 12 Sept.
More Introduction: David Crystal, Stories of English, Introduction; Jack Lynch, Lexicographer's Dilemma, chapter 1 (“Vulgarities of Speech”).
Wed., 14 Sept.
Old English: Crystal, Stories of English, chapters 1 and 2 (and interludes — readings always include the associated interludes); selection from Ælfric's Colloquy.

Mon., 19 Sept.
Old English Dialects: Crystal, Stories of English, chapters 3 and 4; selection from Beowulf.
Wed., 21 Sept.
Introduction to Middle English: Crystal, Stories of English, chapters 5 and 6; selection from Robert Mannyng, Story of Englande. Exercise 1: Find three translations of a short passage (say, ten or fifteen lines) in Beowulf — print is okay, but this site will save you some trouble — and write a three- or four-page essay comparing and contrasting the translations with one another and the original Old English. (There's no need for a thesis statement, introduction, or conclusion; get right to business.) 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., 26 Sept.
Lexical Invasions: Crystal, Stories of English, chapter 7; selection from Geoffrey Chaucer, The General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.
Wed., 28 Sept.
Language Change: Crystal, Stories of English, chapter 8; selection from William Langland, Piers Plowman.

Mon., 3 Oct.
Middle English Dialects: Crystal, Stories of English, 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 how their history illuminates them.
Wed., 5 Oct.
The Beginnings of Standard English: Crystal, Stories of English, chapter 10; Lynch, Lexicographer's Dilemma, Introduction; selection from Sir Thomas Malory, The Book of Sir Launcelot.

Mon., 10 Oct.
The Arrival of Printing: Crystal, Stories of English, chapter 11; selection from William Caxton, Eneydos.
Wed., 12 Oct.
Introduction to Early Modern English: Crystal, Stories of English, chapter 12; Matthew 25, as translated by Wycliffe, Tyndale, and the KJV translators.

Mon., 17 Oct.
Innovation: Crystal, Stories of English, chapter 13; William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 3.1, and selection from John Lyly, Euphues. Exercise 3: Using the online 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., 19 Oct.
Early Modern Dialects: Crystal, Stories of English, chapter 14; Shakespeare, Henry V, 3.2.

Mon., 24 Oct.
The Seventeenth Century: Lynch, Lexicographer's Dilemma, chapter 2 (“The Age in Which I Live”); Francis Bacon, “Of Studies”; selections from John Milton, Paradise Lost.
Wed., 26 Oct.
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 2,000 words, do a close reading of one of some passage of English literature from before 1700 and show how careful attention to the language brings the meaning to light. Again, there's no need for an introduction or conclusion, though it should be in connected prose.

Mon., 31 Oct.
Fixing Change: Crystal, Stories of English, chapter 16; Lynch, Lexicographer's Dilemma, chapter 3 (“Proper Words in Proper Places”); selection from Daniel Defoe, “An Essay upon Projects”; Jonathan Swift, “A Proposal for Correcting . . . the English Tongue.”
Wed., 2 Nov.
Imposing Order: Crystal, Stories of English, chapter 15; Lynch, Lexicographer's Dilemma, chapter 4 (“Enchaining Syllables, Lashing the Wind”); Lynda Mugglestone, “Dictionaries” (from Samuel Johnson in Context); Samuel Johnson, Preface to A Dictionary of the English Language; in-class exercise in lexicography.

Mon., 7 Nov.
English Goes International: Crystal, Stories of English, chapter 17; Lynch, Lexicographer's Dilemma, chapter 6 (“The People in These States”); 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., 9 Nov.
The Nineteenth Century: Crystal, Stories of English, chapter 18; Lynch, Lexicographer's Dilemma, chapter 8 (“The Taste and Fancy of the Speller”); 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 online OED for words that entered English from another language you know; 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., 14 Nov.
Literary Dialects: Crystal, Stories of English, 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., 16 Nov.
American Vernaculars: Lynch, Lexicographer's Dilemma, chapter 7 (“Words, Words, Words”); Mark Twain, “Sociable Jimmy”; “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

Mon., 21 Nov.
Modern Englishes: Crystal, Stories of English, chapter 20; Lynch, Lexicographer's Dilemma, chapter 10 (“Sabotage in Springfield”); 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 online OED, find any five words that entered the English language in the nineteenth century, and try to comment on their significance — why were they needed? — what did people say before that? (Note that today is a Wednesday schedule.)
Wed., 23 Nov.
No Class: Thanksgiving break.

Mon., 28 Nov.
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.
Wed., 30 Nov.
“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 6: 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.

Mon., 5 Dec.
Obscenity and Profanity: Jack Lynch, Lexicographer's Dilemma, chapter 11 (“Expletive Deleted”), pp. 229–45; Jesse Sheidlower, Introduction to The F-Word; Nicholson Baker, “Leading with the Grumper.”
Wed., 7 Dec.
The N-Word: Lynch, Lexicographer's Dilemma, chapter 11 (“Expletive Deleted”), pp. 245–52; Phil Middleton and David Pilgrim, “Nigger (the Word), a Brief History”; Wikipedia, s.v. nigger.

Mon., 12 Dec.
The Limits of Language: Lynch, Lexicographer's Dilemma, chapter 12; selection from James Joyce, Finnegans Wake; John Ashberry, “Daffy Duck in Hollywood” Sonia Sanchez, “to blk/record/buyers” and “Masks.” Exercise 7: 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 definition of what they mean.