Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Language Variation and Change: Historical Linguistics

LEVEL 02 - Years 2, 3 in Modular Undergraduate Course


DEPARTMENT Institute of Linguistics and Language Technology

DESCRIPTION This study-unit draws on and develops key concepts in historical linguistics briefly introduced in Sociolinguistics: An introduction to language variation and change (Year 1). The present study-unit will expand students’ understanding of how languages, language varieties and language usage changes over time, within a given speech community, and across different communities. Language change at all linguistic levels will be explored, leading students to identify different types of change resulting from processes such as lexical diffusion, grammaticalisation, or sound mergers. The social dimension of historical variation will also be discussed, to develop a better understanding of how political and national contexts, as well as more localised contexts such as urbanisation or social mobility, all contribute to the development of languages and dialects across time.

English, with its ample instances of recorded language across some 1000 years of development, will be used as the main case-study for considering long term language change, and through which to understand some of the key theories or principles of change as described above which form the basis of historical linguistics. Throughout the study-unit, students will however also be encouraged to also consider the historical development of other languages familiar to the class, in order to apply the theories and principles of linguistic change over time to different contexts.

Study-Unit Aims:

The aims of this study-unit are to:

- encourage observation of how languages change over time, both in their linguistic structure, and in their usage;
- clarify key patterns of linguistic change in specific languages;
- illustrate notable examples of linguistic change in English over 1000 years of written records, whilst also considering linguistic change in other languages;
- sensitise students to an awareness of the close association between a language and the people who use it and consider how political development may affect the development of a language, or attitudes towards it.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- theorise about pivotal examples of linguistic change over time;
- identify linguistic change at all linguistic levels (phonological, morphological, syntactic, semantic);
- account for key linguistic changes observed in a language;
- appreciate the role that society plays in shaping the development of a language or variety of language.

2. Skills:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- accurately identify key linguistic changes in a language over a given period of time;
- analyse linguistic change as a function of society and/or internal linguistic development;
- account for current language usage within a historical context;
- apply acquired linguistic tools, terminology and description to a historical linguistic context;
- identify the implications of historical perspectives on language and language usage for current scenarios related to social dimensions such as linguistic identity, language planning and policy, or language education.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Main Texts:

- Barber, C., Beal, J., & Shaw, P.A. (2009) The English Language : A historical introduction (2nd edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- McColl Millar, R. (2015). Trask's historical linguistics. London/New York: Routledge.
- Trask, R.L. (2000).The dictionary of historical and comparative Linguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

Supplementary Readings:

- Chambers, J.K., Trudgill, P., Schilling-Estes, N. 2018. The handbook of language variation and change (2nd edition.). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
- Hickey, R. (2004). Legacies of colonial English: Studies in transported dialects. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Ostler, N. (2006). Empires of the word : A language history of the world. New York: Harper Perennial.

Recommendations for additional reading, potentially drawn from other texts available in the library or online, will be provided in the course of the study-unit.


Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Presentation SEM2 No 25%
Assignment SEM2 Yes 75%

LECTURER/S Sarah Grech

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It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2021/2. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.