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Linguistics 6A: Language Change


Admission requirements

Linguistics 2 and 4 (or comparable courses) are a prerequisite.


All languages change, and all languages change all the time. In this course we examine how this happens, and why. Using the tools and methods from earlier linguistics courses, we will look at changes in meaning, word order, and sounds. Some of these changes occurred a long time ago, like Grimm’s Law and the Great Vowel Shift, while others are currently unfolding, like the sound change which is causing ‘three’ to sound like ‘free’. Our knowledge of linguistic change will give us a better insight into the history of languages, and also into why languages are the way they are. Most of the data that we will consider are drawn from English, but we will also look at changes in a variety of other languages. The subject matter of this course should be of interest to all students of English language and linguistics.

Course objectives


  • become acquainted with the aims of (English) historical linguistics;

  • become acquainted with the terminology needed in the study of (English) historical linguistics;

  • learn to describe different types of linguistic change;

  • learn to evaluate different approaches to linguistic change;

  • learn to apply knowledge to new linguistic data from English and from other languages;

  • acquire a nuanced view of linguistic change (a topic which attracts interest from both linguists and laymen, and which sometimes evokes strong feelings in the latter)


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

Seminar (2 hours per week)

Assessment method


Classroom discussions and presentations; essay; final written exam with closed questions, short open questions and essay questions.


  • Final written exam: 50%

  • Essay: 30%

  • Presentations and participation (20%)

A minimum of a 5.5 is required for both the essay and the final exam.

Attendance is compulsory. Missing more than two tutorials means that students will be excluded from the tutorials. Unauthorized absence also applies to being unprepared, not participating and/or not bringing the relevant course materials to class.


To pass the course, a minimum of a 5.5 is required for both the essay and the final exam. If the mark for the final exam is a 5.49 or lower, the exam will have to be retaken during the resit period. If the mark for the essay is a 5.49 or lower, a resit essay will have to be submitted. There is no resit for presentations.

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

  • Robert McColl Millar & Larry Trask (2015). Trask’s Historical Linguistics (3rd edn.). London: Routledge.

  • Additional reading material will be made available during the course.


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

General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

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Registration Contractonderwijs


  • 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.