This practical and informative course book leads the student through the development of the language from Old English, through Middle and Early Modern English to the establishment of Standard English in the eighteenth century.
At the core of the book is a series of nearly two hundred historical texts, of which more than half are reproduced in facsimile, exemplifying the progressive changes in the language. The book is firmly based upon linguistic description, with commentaries forming a series of case studies which demonstrate the evidence for language change at every level - handwriting, spelling, punctuation, vocabulary, grammar and meaning.
Various activities are offered throughout the book to encourage the students to study data at first hand, using texts and facsimiles, and to consider possible reasons for what they observe.
1. The English language is brought to Britain
How the English language came to Britain; Roman Britain; How can we learn about OE and later changes in the language? Changes of meaning - the semantic level, etc.
2. Old English
Dialects and political boundaries; Written OE; Danish and Norwegian Vikings; OE poetry; Latin vocabulary in OE; OE grammar, pronunciation and inflections, etc.
3. From Old English to Middle English
The Norman Conquest and the English language; The earliest surviving ME text; Ormuium; The origins of present-day Standard English in ME; The Bestiary; A note on ME spelling, etc.
4. Middle English I - Southern and Kentish dialects
The dialectal areas of ME; How to describe dialect differences; An example of a 14th century SW dialect; Grammar; Kentish dialect, etc.
5. Middle English II - Northern dialects
A 14th century Scots English dialect; Another Northern dialect - York; Northern and Midlands dialects compared; Chaucer and the Northern dialect
6. Middle English III - West Midlands dialects
A NW and SW Midlands dialects
7. Middle English IV - East Midlands and London dialects
The origins of present-day Standard English; A SE Midlands dialect; The London dialect - Chaucer and Thomas Usk
8. Early Modern English I - the fifteenth century
Early and late 15th century East Midlands and London dialects; The medieval tales of King Arthur, etc.
9. Early Modern English II - the sixteenth century
The Lisle letters; A different view on new words; Changes in English pronunciation - the Great Vowel Shift; Punctuation in 16th century texts; The development of the standard language; 16th century varieties of English, etc.
10. Early Modem English HI - the seventeenth century
More evidence for changes in pronunciation; Sir Thomas Browne; John Milton; John Evelyn's diary; John Bunyan; Christopher Cooper's The English Teacher, etc.
11. Modern English - the eighteenth century
Correcting, improving and ascertaining the language; Bishop Lowth's grammar; Literary styles in the 18th century; 'The depraved language of the common People'; Language and class; William Cobbett and the politics of language, etc.
12. Postscript - to the present day
The continuity of prescriptive judgements on language use; The grammar of spoken English today; From OE to MnE - comparing historical texts, etc.
Another Freeborn's book on englishtips.org - "Varieties of English: An Introduction to the Study of Languages":