BA Film Studies and English Language

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
The Changing English Language

Unit code LELA20402
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Linguistics & English Language
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


In this unit, we will explore some of the major changes to the words and grammar of English, including changes in word meaning, the development of do-support, changes to pronouns, and the loss of impersonal constructions. We will discuss how semantic and grammatical changes are studied, modelled and explained. As such, this unit is also an introduction to Historical Linguistics and to the methods, theories and discussions in this subdiscipline of Linguistics.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
History and Varieties of English LELA10342 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
English Word and Sentence Structure LELA10301 Pre-Requisite Compulsory


  • Study some of the major changes affecting the words and grammar of English
  • Introduce students to (English) Historical Linguistics and prepare them for more advanced study as well as research projects in this area

Knowledge and understanding

  • Sophisticated understanding of a number of major semantic and grammatical changes in English
  • Insight into the workings and effects of language change over a long period of time
  • Knowledge of main terms, as well as some theories and debates in (English) Historical Linguistics
  • Good understanding of the data and methods used in (English) Historical Linguistics

Intellectual skills

  • Explain and apply key terms in Historical Linguistics to new data sets
  • Critical discuss different theoretical approaches to and debates about major changes affecting the structure of English
  • Understand main claims in research papers on semantic and grammatical change

Practical skills

  • Collect data to study semantic and grammatical changes in English
  • Analyse and interpret sets of selected examples evidencing change in English
  • Speak and write about semantic and grammatical change 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Skills in linguistic analysis that can be applied to the study and analysis of other languages 
  • Problem solving and analytical thinking skills, when faced with new data sets and grammatical puzzles
  • Oral and written communication skills, including essay writing and scholarly referencing
  • Attention to detail and precision in analysis and reporting

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Weighting within unit (if summative)



Data question (in seminar)


Exam including terminology questions, an essay question and a data question




Assessment task

Coursework including essay, synthesis and data questions


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Discussion and Q&A in lectures and seminars


Individual comments on essay

Formative and Summative

Seminar feedback on data question


Individual comments on exam (upon request)



Recommended reading

Main reference books:
Kay, Christian & Kathryn L. Allan. 2015. English historical semantics. Edinburgh: EdinburghUniversity Press.
Fischer, Olga, Hendrik De Smet & Wim van der Wurff. 2017. A brief history of English syntax. Cambridge: CUP.
Further reference:
Chapters from the different volumes of The Cambridge History of the English Language, Cambridge CUP.
Chapters from Hogg, Richard and David Denison, eds. 2006. A history of the English language. Cambridge: CUP.
Barber, Charles, Joan C. Beal & Philip A. Shaw. 2009. The English language: A historical introduction, 2nd edn. Cambridge: CUP.
Selected chapters from the following handbooks for the introduction of terms, concepts, methods and theories in English Historical Linguistics:
Brinton, Laurel, ed. 2017. English historical linguistics: approaches and perspectives. Cambridge: CUP.
Kytö, Merja & Päivi Pahta, eds. 2016. The Cambridge handbook of English Historical Linguistics. Cambridge: CUP.
(Sections from) papers on individual changes will be added during lecture, when relevant.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 3
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 164

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Tine Breban Unit coordinator

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