BA English Language and English Literature / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
The Changing English Language

Course unit fact file
Unit code LELA20401
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
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. We will discuss how semantic and grammatical changes are studied, modelled and explained. As such, this unit is also an introduction to these topics in Historical Linguistics in general and to some of 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
Pre-req for LELA20401


  • 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


  • The first week will be devoted to an introduction to (English) Historical Linguistics. After that, the unit is organised thematically with a first group of topics centred around semantic changes, a second group around grammatical changes.
  • The final week sums up what students have learned about Historical Linguistics in these diverse case studies.
  • The seminars will introduce students to the current methods in Historical Linguistics: historical corpora, data collection, data analysis, reading and writing linguistic analyses.

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures 11x 2 hours

Seminars 11x 1 hour

Blackboard site

Homework including reading and data analysis

2 x 1hr weekly consultation hours

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
  • Critically discuss different theoretical approaches to and debates about major changes affecting 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

Formative or Summative


Written coursework, including data analysis

Formative and Summative


Data analysis and writing tasks (in seminars)



Exam, including a theory question and a data analysis question







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

  • Kay, Christian & Kathryn L. Allan. 2015. English historical semantics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Fischer, Olga, Hendrik De Smet & Wim van der Wurff. 2017. A brief history of English syntax. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Bybee, Joan. 2015. Language change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Traugott, Elizabeth Closs. 2003. Constructions in grammaticalization. In Brian D. Joseph and Richard D. Janda (eds.), The Handbook of Historical Linguistics, 624-647. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

          (Sections from) books and papers on individual topics will be added during lectures

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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