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English Historical Linguistics


Admission requirements

A BA course in English linguistics and in (English) historical linguistics.


This course focuses on language change in the history of the English language. Discussing several case studies exemplifying syntactic, morphological and semantic change, we examine which processes of change are at work, including reanalysis, analogy and grammaticalization. The course provides insight into the historical reasons how and why the lexical and grammatical features of English deviate from those of related languages such as Dutch, which helps to explain why some linguistic features are notoriously difficult for pupils in Dutch classrooms. We will also pay attention to a number of approaches and perspectives in the field of (English) historical linguistics, as well as to the corpus method, with some hands-on exercises.

Course objectives

The course aims to familiarize students with

  • a number of key syntactic, morphological and semantic changes that took place in the history of the English language

  • some important descriptive methods and theoretical approaches used in the field of (English) historical linguistics the use of historical corpora

By the end of the course, students will be able to

  • identify syntactic, morphological and semantic changes in the history of the English language

  • recognize processes that are at work in linguistic change

  • assess different descriptive methods and theoretical approaches used in the field of (English) historical linguistics

  • draw appropriate conclusions from linguistic evidence of linguistic change as found in historical texts and corpora

  • critically assess primary research literature

  • construct an argument and present research findings with bearing on a topic in historical linguistics

For students in the MA-education programme, the knowledge gained in this course about the syntactic, morphological and semantic features of historical varieties of English, as well as the knowledge gained about how changes in the history of English have shaped the language towards its current form, are foundational to instructing English in the Dutch classroom situation.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Assessment method


In-term oral contribution to class (coordination, participation, and/or presentation) and an end-of-term written essay. Students in the MA-education programme are expected to address

  • an issue about the history of English that is relevant to teaching English in a classroom situation or

  • an aspect of English grammar that has proven notoriously difficult for Dutch pupils


  • Oral contribution: 30%

  • Written essay: 70%
    NB A minimum mark of 5.5 is required for the written essay.

The essay must be rewritten if the mark is lower than 5.5. There is no resit for the presentation.

Essay inspection and feedback
How and when an essay review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the course results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the course results, an essay review will be organized.

Reading list

  • Brinton, L. (ed.). (2017). English historical linguistics: Approaches and perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • A selection of articles/book chapters (to be announced)

Other study materials (course programme, written assignment, etc.) and course-related announcements will be made available in [Brightspace] (


Enrolment through My Studymap is mandatory


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For questions related to the content of the course, please contact the lecturer, you can find their contact information by clicking on their name in the sidebar.

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