The Development of the English Language

English is always changing — so much so that the earliest English writings look to modern eyes like another language. But today's English carries its long history with it, and modern readers and writers should understand how it got to be the way it is. How did the speech of a few Germanic tribes in Western Europe 1,500 years ago become the language spoken by a billion people today? Is change a good thing or a bad thing? Where do our ideas of "proper English" come from? Who gets to decide what's "right" and "wrong"? What can we expect to change now that English is a world language, spoken on every inhabited continent? In this class we'll trace the language from Anglo-Saxon to the present, from Beowulf to bootylicious. Along the way we'll look at the origins of new words, lexicography, wordplay, spelling reform, obscenity and taboos, and many "nonstandard" varieties of English. No specialized knowledge of grammar is needed.