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Linguistics 6: Language Change


Admission requirements

Students have taken and passed a BA-course on phonology (e.g., Linguistics 4) as well as a course on the grammar of English (Linguistics 2 or equivalent).


Whether we like it or not, all languages change continually. The interesting questions are “how” and “why”.
In this course, we consider different types of linguistic change (phonological, morphological, semantic, syntactic) and try to determine their causes. In addition, we will see how our knowledge of linguistic change can be used to reconstruct earlier stages of a language, in particular those stages for which no written records are available. Our examples will be mainly drawn from English, but we will also consider a variety of other languages.
As a preparation for each session, you read (parts of) book chapters or a journal article and prepare exercises at home. In addition, we will ask you to prepare two or three group presentations as well as individual assignments.

Course objectives

The first course objective is to introduce and evaluate theoretical approaches to linguistic change. By reading parts of book chapters and journal articles, you will be introduced into current theories that try to describe and explain linguistic changes from Proto-Indo-European to Present-Day varieties of Romance and Germanic languages such as French and General American or British English.
The second course objective is to learn how to approach Old English, Middle English and early Modern English texts for linguistic analysis. Each week you will first read a book chapter which will provide a theoretical approach to historical changes. You will subsequently read small samples of older texts to apply your knowledge of the theory to a linguistic phenomenon that occurred at a particular time in the history of the English language. You will be encouraged to use electronic resources for historical linguistics research. By doing so, you will gain (i) insight into theoretical approaches within historical linguistics, (ii) experience in finding and using tools for historical linguistic research and (iii) insight into what may “cause” linguistic change.
In the essay and the final written examination, you will be able to show that you can read and interpret the relevant literature on theoretical approaches to historical linguistics, that you gained insights into the possible causes of linguistic change, and that you are able analyse linguistic phenomena as recorded in texts that have come down to us from earlier stages in the English language.


The timetable is available on the BA English website

Mode of instruction

Seminar (2 hours p/w)

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • Attending seminars: 26

  • Preparation seminars (i.e. studying the compulsory readings + preparing the assignments): 134

  • Preparation for essay and writing essay: 40

  • Preparation final examination: 80

Assessment method


  • Written essay

  • Final examination with closed questions, short open questions and essay questions


  • Written exam: 70%

  • Essay: 30%


The essay and the end-of-term exam can be retaken if one or both marks are 5.49 or less.


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.

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.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • providing information about the course schedule and specific information about (components) of the course

  • home-work assignments

Reading list

  • Course book: Elly van Gelderen (2014). A History of the English Language (2nd revised edition). Amsterdam/Philadelhia: John Benjamins.

  • The first edition of this book (2006) is out of date and not compatible with the second edition.

  • Other readings will be provided.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website

NB: First year students will be enrolled by the coordinator of studies.

Students other than from the BA English language and culture need permission from the coordinator of studies before enrolling

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte

Registration Contractonderwijs


Please contact Student administration van Eyckhof for questions.

The coordinator of studies is Else van Dijk