Histories and Mysteries of English


Winter 2015 quarter

Taught by


Walt Whitman once described the English language as “the accretion and growth of every dialect, race, and range of time... the free and compacted composition of all.” Just how did English grow from its humble origins on a small island in the North Atlantic to become a global lingua franca? What does this growth and development reveal about the cultural and social histories of English-speaking peoples? Could the continued expansion of English spell disaster for smaller languages around the world?

In this program, we’ll examine the history of English vocabulary and the structure of English grammar from its distant prehistoric roots to the very latest slang and technospeak. We’ll look at syntactic and semantic change, borrowings from foreign languages, “standard language” and “dialects,” taboo and euphemism, pidgins and creoles, and much more.

We’ll also consider how English has been regarded through the ages, both by its own speakers and by others. We’ll study the earliest written English of the Anglo-Saxon period, the effects of the Norman Conquest on English society and literature, the rise of a written standard between the lifetimes of Chaucer and Shakespeare, the development of American English, and the relationship between the spread of English and the increased number of dying languages all over the globe.

This program will be an intensive examination of topics requiring a significant amount of reading. There will be regular problem sets in linguistic analysis and essays on various sociolinguistic topics.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

communications, language studies, and linguistics.

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day


Buy books for this program through Greener Bookstore.

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning: Access to web-based tools required, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.


Date Revision
February 5th, 2014 New opportunity added.

Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Winter)

Class standing: Freshmen–Senior; 25% of the seats are reserved for freshmen

Maximum enrollment: 24


Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 20120
So - Sr (16 credits): 20123

Go to my.evergreen.edu to register for this program.

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