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Philology 5B: Late Modern English


Admission requirements

Successful completion of Philology 3 or equivalent.


The Late Modern English period (1700-1900) is marked as the period when people had great concerns about the state of English and generally complained about its deficiency as a language. Not only that, in the Victorian age, people were very much concerned with propriety and etiquette. This included propriety and politeness in language use. As part of this, prescriptivism emerged; there was to be only one ‘’correct’’ version of English. It was at this point that written and spoken Standard English were codified in spelling books, grammars, and (pronunciation) dictionaries, while at the same time English varieties in the English colonies emerged, which lead to conflicting attitudes with regard to different national standards. The codification of the Standard in Britain was accompanied by negative attitudes towards non-standard varieties of English, as well as the stigmatization of specific linguistic features. Did this really mean that people followed the rules laid down in prescriptive works and that they avoided stigmatized features at all costs? How about Dickens and other late modern writers who used non-standard English in their writings?

In this course we will address the question why people were so concerned about language and particularly language variation and look at how language was used at the time. We will take a sociolinguistic approach and investigate which linguistic features and varieties were stigmatized and how and if prescribed rules were reflected in actual usage by looking at a variety of texts. We will consider how different layers of society spoke and wrote, mostly in Britain, but also beyond, by looking at texts by men and women, the nobility, middling sorts, including the labouring poor who were often less familiar with standard norms of the time. In addition to that, we will look at the representation of (non)standard dialects in contemporary literature to uncover the dominant conceptions of and attitudes to existing language variation at the time in Britain and beyond.

In doing so we will concentrate on characteristics of Late Modern English spelling, pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, handwriting and pragmatic aspects such as forms of address. Wherever possible we will make use of relevant databases that are available online, as well as authentic archive material.

Course objectives

At the end of the course, students can:

  • Provide an overview of the characteristics of Late Modern English

  • Identify and explain the pre-dominant language attitudes using primary sources

  • Explain the socio-historical processes that played a role in the development of Late Modern English (in the British Isles and beyond).

  • Analyse and interpret sets of linguistic and socio-historical data using sociolinguistic theory (and quantitative measures), with a particular focus on the effects of variables such as gender, social class, education, and region.

  • Describe the nature and language of different text types from the Late Modern English period (1700–1900), and their relationship with the more standard printed texts of the time.

  • Transcribe Late Modern English handwritings and use primary sources for research


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


  • Presentation

  • Participation (including weekly assignments)

  • Final paper


  • Presentation: 20%

  • Class contribution: 20%

  • Final paper: 60%


There is no resit for the Class contribution.

Students will have successfully passed the course if the average course grade is a 6 or higher, and the paper and the presentation are at least a 5.

When the final grade is lower than a 6 or when the grade for the paper and/or presentation is below a 5, the paper and/or the presentation will have to be retaken during the resit period.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • Johsnon, Keith (2021) The History of Late Modern Englishes: An Activity-based Approach. Routledge (We will also be making use of selected chapters and articles that are available digitially from the library. Details about these sources will be provided on the Brightspace page)


Enrolment through My Studymap (Login | Universiteit Leiden) is mandatory.

General information about MyStudyMap is available on the website

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Information for those interested in taking this course in context of Contract teaching (with taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Student administration Arsenaal


Not applicable.