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Philology 3: History of the English Language


Admission requirements

Successful completion of Philology 1 (Introduction to Middle English) and Philology 2 (Introduction to Old English Language) or equivalent.


How did English come to look the way it does in the present?
From the Angles, Saxons and Jutes to today, English has gone through tremendous transformations and is now spoken far beyond the British Isles.
This course is a follow-up from the introductions to Middle English and Old English in the first year, but now offers a bird’s eye view of the major developments which the English language underwent from its very roots and beginnings until the present day.
You will examine changes in the English lexicon, grammar and sound system from past to present. In doing so, you will consider important historical, political, social and linguistic factors that contributed to the rich variation and change that can be observed throughout the ages. We will trace the development of Standard English, but also look at other varieties of English. We draw on the skills you acquired during the courses Linguistics 1 and 2, as well as Philology 1 and 2. For instance, some aspects of Old English and Middle English will be considered, but this time the emphasis will be on how and why Old English, Middle English and later Englishes are different and look at how the linguistic system transformed from fully inflectional to one that has very few inflections.

Course objectives

At the end of the course:

  • You can provide a survey of the characteristics of Old, Middle, Early and Late Modern English

  • You can describe the rise of English as a world language and identify features that are characteristic of language contact across time and space

  • You can explain the social and linguistic factors that contributed to the transformations of English

  • You can work with the Oxford English Dictionary and other relevant tools for research that allow for the tracing changes and variation in the English language

  • You will be well-equipped to continue with the more advanced philology courses that follow, and will have acquired an indispensable basis for the study of English in general.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • A weekly one-hour lecture

  • A weekly one-hour seminar

Assessment method


  • 2 Written exams (multiple choice, short open questions and essay questions)

  • Written assignment


  • 2-hour midterm exam: 30%

  • 3-hour final exam: 50%

  • Written assignment: 20%


You may not resit the midterm exam or the written assignment. If your course average is below 5.49, you may do a resit exam that covers all course material. The resulting mark will replace all previous marks.

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

Barber, C., Beal, J. Shaw,P. 2012. The English language: A Historical Introduction (2nd revised edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

(be sure to purchase the 2nd revised edition!)


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.

General information about MyStudyMap is available on the website

Registration À la carte education, Contract teaching and Exchange

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of À la carte education (without taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

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

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.


  • 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.