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BA English Language and French

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
History and Varieties of English

Unit code LELA10342
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Linguistics & English Language
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The aim of this course unit is to introduce you to the historical development of the English language and its present-day regional varieties. You will acquire a thorough knowledge of the history of the English language in its socio-historical context from the 5th to the 21st century, and a good understanding of the most important historical developments that have shaped the current structure of English. We will not only focus on the traditional ‘story of English’, which is the story of Standard English, the story of the printing press and the elites, but we will also look at alternative accounts by taking a ‘language history from below’ approach, that is the stories of the ordinary population. It introduces you to certain regional and ethnic varieties of English, both within and outside of the British Isles, and how they developed over time. We will not only analyse the language of professional scribes, authors and other documents produced in Standard English, but we will also look at different text-types that represent the language of the common people to varying degrees, such as witness depositions & trial proceedings, literary dialect & dialect literature, folksongs, poor relief petitions, emigrant letters and threatening notices. In doing so, you will be introduced to the basic vocabulary and research methods of historical (socio)linguistics, dialectology and World English(es).


The module aims to:

  • Demonstrate how the English language varies historically from its origins to the present day in terms of orthography, word order, sounds and vocabulary
  • Discuss the links between socio-cultural background and language variation and change
  • Provide a practical introduction to resources and methods for the study of language change
  • Explore regional and social variation in the development of the English language, with a particular focus on ‘standard’ vs ‘non-standard’ varieties of English.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:


Some of the topics that will be covered are:

  • From Germanic to Old English
  • From Old English to Middle English
  • From Middle English to Early Modern English
  • From Early Modern English to Late Modern English
  • Language history from above vs language history from below
  • Regional and social variation in the development of Englishes
  • Studying older English documents
  • Collecting data

Teaching and learning methods

  • 2x 1-hr lecture per week
  • 1x 1-hr seminar per week
  • Optional individual consultation sessions

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will:

  • have a thorough knowledge of the history of the English language from the 5th to the 21st centuries
  • describe some of the main differences between the development of Standard English and some ‘non-standard’ varieties of English
  • Understand the role of certain major sociohistorical events in the development of language structures

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:
  • recognise regional, stylistic and diachronic variation in linguistic data
  • retrieve and analyse historical material
  • support an argument using evidence and reasoning

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:
  • Carry out linguistic investigations using a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods, including close textual analysis, variationist methodologies, and the basics of corpus linguistics.
  • Perform simple statistical tests and data analysis in excel
  • Summarising and presenting findings in a style appropriate to linguistics

Transferable skills and personal qualities

The coursework and final exam will enable students to develop the skills of independent study and learning.By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Develop the skills of independent study and learning, time management and the ability to work towards deadlines.
  • Writing skills

Employability skills

Analytical skills
This unit equips students with skills of data analysis that can be applied in a wide range of contexts: students learn how to look for patterns and structures, and interpret change in terms of social and structural pressures and constraints.
These skills are relevant for all jobs that require data analysis. In addition, the small writing tasks and the formative (non-assessed) mini-presentations allow students to develop their effectiveness in written and oral communication, which is a requirement for many jobs as well as being helpful in writing job applications. Students who go on to become teachers of English will have acquired the knowledge about earlier stages of English and about changes affecting English that forms the backbone for teaching modules on language change.

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or summative


Weighting within unit

(if summative)

Tutorial participation (including worksheets and mini oral group presentations)

Formative and summative



Written assignment (describe the semantic change(s) of  word X or Y using the Oxford English Dictionary)

Formative and summative

500 words


Written assignment (describe the phonological changes in word X or Y)

Formative and Summative

500 words


Written assignment (Transcription + qualitative analysis of a Late Modern English letter)

Formative and Summative

500 words


Essay (choice of topics, including both theoretical and empirical (qualitative and/or quantitative data analysis) choices)


1,500 words




Assessment task


Essay (topic to be confirmed)

2,500 words


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or summative

Personalized written feedback from course instructors on all submitted assignments.



Feedback from instructors during seminars, on discussion for a, and during office hours (upon request).




Recommended reading

  • Fennell, B. A. (2001) A history of English: a sociolinguistic approach. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Gramley, S. 2012. The History of English. An introduction. London: Routledge.


    + additional readings

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Marije Van Hattum Unit coordinator

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