History of British English - LING5510

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2024 to 2025
Autumn Term 6 15 (7.5) David Hornsby checkmark-circle


The module will begin with a consideration of what the term 'English' means, and of what other, potentially rival, languages have been spoken in the British Isles. It will then consider how successive waves of conquest shaped the sociolinguistic situation to one of di- or triglossia, with English one of a number of varieties used in a restricted set of socially determined domains. Using Haugen’s standardization model, we will examine the factors that led first to selection and later acceptance of English as the dominant variety, and consider the associated linguistic processes of codification and elaboration of function. Working with short texts from different time-periods, the module will then show how and why grammatical changes occurred in Anglo-Saxon, Old and Middle English (e.g. loss of case marking, gender, weakening of the verbal paradigm) and their consequences for the modern language. We will also consider phonological changes (e.g. the Great English Vowel Shift) and their consequences for dialect differentiation. We will conclude by exploring ongoing change in contemporary English (notably koineization in major cities), and the likely consequences for future English in the British Isles.


Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 20
Private Study Hours: 130
Total Study Hours: 150

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods
• Essay (2,500 words) – 60%
• Presentation (20 minutes) – 20%
• In-Class Test (45 minutes) – 20%

Reassessment methods
• Reassessment Instrument: 100% Coursework

Indicative reading

The University is committed to ensuring that core reading materials are in accessible electronic format in line with the Kent Inclusive Practices. The most up to date reading list for each module can be found on the university's reading list pages: https://kent.rl.talis.com/index.html

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1 Confidently to use the basic terminology of historical linguistics (e.g. language shift, selection, elaboration of function, codification, acceptance, push/pull chain,
reflex/etymon, phoneme merger/split);
2 Understand the socio-political reasons why English overcame its rivals to become the dominant language of the British Isles;
3 Understand the principles of language standardisation, and be able to apply them to the analysis of specific languages;
4 Demonstrate awareness of the changes leading to dialect and language differentiation within the United Kingdom (e.g. the existence of a 'Celtic fringe'; the FOOT/STRUT
split in southern but not northern England).

The intended generic learning outcomes.

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1 Demonstrate enhanced analytical and interpretative skills;
2 Demonstrate refined verbal communication and presentation skills, including the ability to convey complex ideas to a specialist and non-specialist audience;
3 Display improved written communication skills;
4 Demonstrate improved teamwork and time-management skills.


  1. Credit level 6. Higher level module usually taken in Stage 3 of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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