Language Connections with the Past: A History of English
David Johnson, PhD
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Introduction to Language
Chapter 2: Phonology and Phonetics
Chapter 3: Indo-European
Chapter 4: Old English – Outer History
Chapter 5: Old English – Inner History
Chapter 6: Middle English – Outer History
Chapter 7: Middle English – Inner History
Chapter 8: Early Modern English – Outer History
Chapter 9: Early Modern English – Inner History
Chapter 10: Modern English?
This textbook is about two things: the English language and history. Specifically, it explains how language and language change work from a linguistic perspective. At the same time, this text will explore the history of English, again from a linguistic perspective. This text is not about how the English language should be used. Rather, it describes how English has changed from its earliest forms until the present day. In other words, it is not a traditional grammar book. Nor is it a traditional history textbook. Only events that are crucial to the history of English will be described and discussed. Therefore, this text is not a comprehensive history of England nor of any English-speaking country. I will be selective in the historical events I discuss. But this should not be surprising. Even traditional history books are selective. Authors must select the historical events they think are the most crucial.
The major theme of this textbook will be language change. Linguists know that all living languages change; this is a well-established linguistic fact. But linguists cannot always explain why languages change. Certainly, there are some general linguistic principals that drive language change. These will be explored in the pages that follow. However, there is also a bit of mystery when it comes to language change. Sometimes there is simply no apparent reason for certain kinds of language change, but speculation abounds regarding the motivations for certain language change. This is why this is not a traditional grammar book. Traditional grammar books often prescribe the grammar of a language, and some books go so far as to try to prevent language change. Some language experts view language change as lamentable, and they think such change must arrested. This will not be the approach taken here. But neither will I pretend that standard English does not exist. It certainly does. We see it all the time in texts as well as academic and professional settings. Yet, a cursory glance at the history of English will show that what is considered standard English has (and will) continue to change.
This textbook, then, will describe the historical forces that shaped standard and non-standard English through 1,5000 years. This is what will be termed the external history of English. It will also describe the internal history of English, how the phonology, morphology, lexicon, and syntax of English have changed. Many times, these linguistics areas of English were impacted by historical events. Other times, these internal features of English simply changed for no apparent reason.
I will begin with a general overview of linguistics. I will also describe the sound system in modern English and how linguists describe sounds. These introductory linguistic chapters will add to our academic toolkit as we march through the history of English. Then I will describe the major events in the history of English and how these shaped the English language.
A word about the text. This text is an Open Educational Resource (OER). No one will make a profit off the text. It is intended primarily to accompany a course in the history of English. However, it may be used for any non-profit purpose. I will also be using other OER materials throughout this textbook, many of which I modified and/or rewrote to give this textbook a similar format.
I welcome feedback and comments.
David Johnson, PhD (email@example.com)