Leader: Dennis Baumwoll

Description: Since its emergence as a distinct, independent language about fifteen hundred years ago, English has undergone vast changes. The English we speak would be unrecognizable to those who invaded what was to be called Angle-land, just as their speech confounds almost all of our contemporaries. Virtually every aspect of English has been radically altered:  its sound system; its vocabulary; its grammar. We will explore the major developments in our language, such as the first consonant shift and the Great Vowel Shift, as well as the shaping influence of historical events such as the Norman Conquest in 1066 and the arrival in England of the printing press at the end of the 15th century.  We will pause to sample and analyze some 10th-century battle poems from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, some of Chaucer's middle English from the late 14th century, and a few distinctive features of Shakespeare's early modern English from the 17th century. We will conclude with some interesting modern developments. No prior training in linguistics or British history required.

Discover how many words there are in English; what proportion come from Germanic, French, Latin, and Scandinavian languages; how English has radically altered its grammar, its pronunciation, and its vocabulary over the centuries; what the following words have in common:  third, Chester, nostril, corn, burn, Wednesday, bird, bright, Roland; why cattle has no plural; why we no longer pronounce the w in sword, answer, two; why we spell words like what, when, where with initial wh but pronounce them (in some dialects) hw; why the English parliament was convened in French for 300 years; how shifting the stress profoundly affected not only pronunciation but the entire grammar of English.

Biography: Dennis Baumwoll taught courses in applied linguistics and history of the English language at Boston University and Bucknell. He also taught a course much like the one described above in Elderhostel about a dozen times.

Materials for course:  No required textbook. Many handouts will be provided and readings recommended. No prior training in either linguistics or British history required.

Number of participants:      

Minimum: 6
Maximum: 16

Location: Spring Run Conference Room   

Meeting time:  Wednesdays, February 26 through April 9, 2014, 10 - 11:30 a.m.   (NO CLASS March 26)

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