History of the English Language
You speak English every day. But how much do you know about its long and fascinating history?
These 36 lectures are a thorough and absorbing survey of English, from its origins as a Germanic dialect to the literary and cultural achievements of its 1,500-year history to the state of American speech and global English today.
Do you know where English, the language in which you communicate each and every day, came from? Do you know how it evolved? Why we spell the way we do? Why we pronounce words the way we do? Why we use the very words we do?
Discover a Wealth of Fascinating Detail
Much of the charm of this course is in its wealth of fascinating detail:
Where do the silent "k" and "g" in "knight" come from?
Why could Chaucer and Shakespeare use multiple negatives without anyone missing their meaning?
Why did Isaac Newton take time out from physics to research spelling?
How did a British colonial official first realize that languages spoken from Britain to India were deeply related?
How do the shared roots of those "Indo-European" languages give us a window into the prehistoric past?
As you trace the development of spoken and written English, you'll learn how words denote social rank, how and why dialects arise and interact, and how the Anglo-Saxons, the Norman invasion, and British colonialism each left their marks on the words we use every day.
You'll learn, too, why spelling meant so much to Renaissance schoolmasters, and how Noah Webster, Frederick Douglass, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, H. L. Mencken, and others helped to give us our familiar American English.
You'll also explore the regional American dialects that still thrive and how many of them preserve centuries-old features of British English that have long since disappeared in the British Isles.
Also, you will discover how hot topics such as multiculturalism and the official status of English were first discussed in the courts of medieval English kings, and pose intriguing questions about the sort of English our children and grandchildren will speak.
Hear Changing Dialects through 1,500 Years of English
Professor Seth Lerer is a world-renowned scholar of Chaucer, and he has spent most of his professional career immersed in the origins of our language. He is Professor of Comparative Literature at Stanford University, where he won the Hoagland Prize for Undergraduate Teaching.
To illustrate various points, he often reads aloud in the appropriate dialect and accent, whether it be in the Old English of Caedmon (the earliest-known poet in English), the Middle English of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, or even the Mississippi River dialect of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn.
"Our goal here," says Professor Lerer, "is to understand the great impact that studying the history of English can have on our appreciation of social, cultural, literary, and linguistic change. With these lectures, the student can find the history of English embedded in the words we use, the literature we read, and the everyday lives we lead. We will learn about the past, but also see the making of our own present."
A Broad Literary and Historical Approach
Professor Lerer has crafted his course to have an uncommonly broad appeal. Should you, for example, have a strong literary bent, you will be interested in Dr. Lerer's discussion of Chaucer's multilingual mastery, Shakespeare's linguistic innovations, and Walt Whitman's particular genius for employing poetry to change the language.
Professor Lerer reads aloud from works by these renowned authors and many others to illustrate his lecture points and ensure that you understand each author's contribution to the evolution of the language.
Professor Lerer also explains in detail the impact the Bible, the great Dictionary of Samuel Johnson, and the development of the Oxford English Dictionary had on the growth and change of English.
The History of the English Language also includes technical components. Professor Lerer elucidates a number of key linguistic concepts, among them Grimm's Law, the Great Vowel Shift that swept Britain between 1400 and 1600, and the stimulating intellectual theories of Noam Chomsky, the father of modern linguistics.
In addition, Professor Lerer defines and illustrates terms like etymology, lexis, morphology, philology, pidgin, and dialect, giving you a basic technical proficiency in linguistics.
"We look for affirmation of the self in every dictionary and in every work of grammar," says Dr. Lerer. "Do we understand the way in which we function by reading the grammar book, and in reading the grammar book are we also learning something about society, about the mind, and about good and bad behavior in the large?"
What You Will Take Away from This Course
Professor Lerer's course might best be described as an engaging "mosaic" of the language we use daily. It treats language as a living thing, constantly changing according to time, place, and the innovations of human genius.
By the time you conclude The History of the English Language:
You will be able to recognize why we spell and speak the way we do today.
You will know how to utilize a dictionary (and other resources) to learn the etymologies of words and chart their changes in meaning and use.
You will be able to summarize the differences among the three major periods of English: Old English, Middle English, and Modern English.
You will know exactly how major English and American authors ingeniously used the resources of their language, and
You will be able to describe the differences among today's American and English dialects.
This course wins raves from customers:
"More than I could have wished for. Professor Lerer is lucid and energetic. I cannot say enough positive about this set."
"Seth Lerer presents his lectures with much enthusiasm and pizazz. His content and delivery are excellent. He is the best speaker I've ever heard."
"One of the best-organized and most thorough yet clear introductions to a complex subject I've encountered. I can't wait to play the next tape and hear what English is going to do next."
One final point: If you love ideas and the experience of understanding, this course is designed to help you discover a pearl of insight in every sentence you hear, read, or think.
01. Introduction to the Study of Language
02. The Historical Study of Language—Methods and Approaches
03. The Prehistory of English—The Indo-European Context
04. Reconstructing Meaning and Sound
05. Words and Worlds—Historical Linguistics and the Study of Culture
06. The Beginnings of English
07. Old English—The Anglo-Saxon Worldview
08. Changing Language—Did the Normans Really Conquer English
09. Conquering Language—What Did the Normans Do to English
10. Chaucer's English
11. Dialect Jokes and Literary Representation in Middle English
12. A Multilingual World—Medieval Attitudes Toward Language Change and Variation
13. The Return of English as a Standard
14. How We Speak—The Great Vowel Shift and the Making of Modern English
15. What We Say—The Expanding English Vocabulary
16. The Shape of Modern English—Changes in Syntax and Grammar
17. Renaissance Attitudes Toward Teaching English
18. The Language of Shakespeare (Part 1)—Drama, Grammar, and Pronunciation
19. The Language of Shakespeare (Part 2)—Poetry, Sound, and Sense
20. The Bible in English
21. Samuel Johnson and His Dictionary
22. New Standards in English
23. Semantic Change—Dictionaries and the Histories of Words
24. Values and Words in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
25. The Beginnings of American English
26. Making the American Language—From Noah Webster to H.L. Mencken
27. The Rhetoric of Independence from Jefferson to Lincoln and 28. The Language of the American Self
28. American Regionalism
29. American Dialects in Literature
30. The Impact of African-American English
31. An Anglophone World
32. The Language of Science—The Changing Nature of Twentieth-Century English
33. The Science of Language—The Study of Language in the Twentieth Century
34. Modern Linguistics and the Politics of Language Study
35. Conclusions and Provacations
36 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture)
Taught by Seth Lerer
University of Chicago