History of the English Language

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History of the English Language, 2nd Edition by Seth Lerer

Great Courses site

Course guidebook: Lerer, Seth. The History of the English Language, 2nd Edition. Great Courses, 2250.0. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2011. [@Lerer2011]

Video Lectures: History of the English Language, 2nd Edition. Vol. 2250. The Great Courses. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2011. https://www.wondrium.com/history-of-the-english-language-2nd-edition. [@Lerer2011a]

Lecture 7: The Old English Worldview


Four kinds

Determinitive compounding

  • bone locker
  • middle Earth (Tolkien)

Kenning noun metaphor that expresses a familiar idea

  • road of the whale - the sea
  • road of the swan
  • bath of the gannett
  • sea steed - ship

repetitive compounding

going about weaver - the swift moving one - spider in OE

Caedmon's Hymn

  • West Saxon version
  • Known as the first English poem

Lecture 8: Did the Normans Really Conquer English?

Shift from an inflected language into an uninflected one


Emphasis of archaeolinguistics based on the barely literate. What are they writing so as to capture the daily change of language over time. Linguists look for writing that can be dated and localized.

  • example: Peterborough Chronicle showing changes over time through the years

"word horde" is kenning for mind, so unlocking one's word horde is to speak one's mind (example from Beowulf)

Sound changes hl-, hr-, hn-, and fn- level out to l-, r-, n, and sn-

Compression of syllables occurred in such terms as hlaf weard, the guardian or warden of the loaf, which was shortened to become Lord.

"Who is the guardian of the loaf? The hlfaf weard << The hlaweard << the laword << the lord. This is the etymology of the word lord. Lord is the guardian of the lord, the mete-er out of bread in a cereal society."

metathesis (/mɪˈtæθɪsɪs/; from Greek μετάθεσις, from μετατίθημι "I put in a different order"; Latin: trānspositiō) is the transposition of sounds or syllables in a word or of words in a sentence. Most commonly, it refers to the interchange of two or more contiguous sounds, known as adjacent metathesis[1] or local metathesis:[2]

  • ask / aks in modern English (Southern US)
  • brid / bird
  • axion / ask
  • thork / through
  • The Old English beorht "bright" underwent metathesis to bryht, which became Modern English bright.

The Owl and the Nightingale

  • early middle-English poem c. 1200 in 2 handwritten manuscripts from 13th c.
  • octosylabic rhymed couplets
  • Old English words held in a francophone container (French style poetic structure)

Lecture 9: What did the Normans do to English?

Words borrowed for two reasons

  • prestige
  • vacant slots with no native words

English words for animals in the countryside, but the words for cooked meats are French

  • cow/beef
  • deer/venison
  • sheep/mutton

Trilingualism: English, French, Latin

Lecture 10 Chaucer's English

This lecture presents the central features of Chaucer's English. Its goal is not only to address a particular period in the history of the language (or even in the history of literature) but to allow you to recognize and appreciate the force of Chaucer's poetry and its indelible impact on English linguistic and literary history.

Lecture 11 Dialect Representations in Middle English

2019-12-29 https://boffosocko.com/2019/12/29/lecture-11-dialect-representations-in-middle-english-from-the-history-of-the-english-language-2nd-edition/

Lecture 12 Medieval Attitudes toward Language

2019-12-30 https://boffosocko.com/2019/12/30/lecture-12-medieval-attitudes-toward-language-from-the-history-of-the-english-language-2nd-edition/

Lecture 13

Listened to on 2019-12-30

This lecture surveys the history of English from the late 14th to the early 16th centuries to illustrate the ways in which political and social attitudes returned English to the status of the prestige vernacular (over French). In addition, you'll look at institutions influential in this shift, examine attitudes toward the status of English in relationship to French, and more.

Lecture 14

Lecture 15

  • Polysemy the capacity for a word or phrase to have multiple meanings, usually related by contiguity of meaning within a semantic field.

Lecture 16


Lecture 17

  • Listened to 2020-04-15 at 8:46 am

Many spellings we use are pedantic ones rather than historical

  • Words like doubt and debt which come to us through French were respelled to match with their Latin cognates rather than their historical French spellings.
  • adventure

Spelling became a social marker

Lecture 18

Lecture 19

Lecture 20: The Bible in English

Listened to on 2020-04-17

  • parataxis
  • Fascinating comparison of several English translations of the Bible and their subtleties. This makes me worry even more about modern perceptions and interpretations of religion.
  • Tyndale's translation - "bible talk"
    • Biblical idioms in English
    • spake __unto __them
  • John Wycliffe's translation
  • King James translation
    • conscious of and absorbs the tradition of English versions before it
  • sore vexed — what a great phrase (Tyndale)
  • People prayed to god in the second person (familiar) forms

Lecture 21

Lecture 22

Lecture 23

Lecture 24 Values, Words, and Modernity

How do we bear the legacy of earlier approaches to the study and teaching of English? In dictionaries such as the Oxford English Dictionary, handbooks like Fowler's Modern English Usage, and contemporary debates on language usage, we may see the same terms and problems as we saw in the age of Samuel Johnson.

Lecture 25

Lecture 26

Lecture 27

Lecture 28

Lecture 29

Lecture 30

Lecture 31

Lecture 32

Lecture 33

Lecture 34

Lecture 35

Lecture 36