Course title:

History of the English Language


Tutor: Dr. Snezha Tsoneva-Mathewson


Mode of delivery: Lectures and seminars

Course place and status within the program

A core course

Competence expectations

Students will be able to translate Old English and Middle English texts with the help of dictionaries.

Aims and objectives of the course

Students will gain deeper understanding of how the English language has changed and the consequences of this change for its modern state. Dialectal differences and modern spelling will begin to make sense.

Weekly organization of topics & reading assignments

1. Five Events that Shaped the History of English.

2. English and the Germanic languages in the Indo-European language family.

3. Writing and Printing

4.Changes of consonants between PIE and OE:

  • The First Consonant Shift (Grimm's Law and Verner's Law).

  • OE Reflexes of Proto-Germanic Fricatives: Hardening, Voicing or Devoicing, and Rhotacism.

  • West Germanic Gemination (Doubling)

  • Palatalisation and Splitting of Velar Consonants.

  • Loss of nasal consonants

5. Changes of vowels between PrIE and OE.

  • Independent vowel changes in Proto-Germanic

  • Splitting of [a] and [a:] in Early OE

  • OE Reflexes of Proto-Germanic Diphthongs

  • Breaking an Diphthongization

  • Palatal Mutation (i-umlaut) and Velar Mutation

6. The verb system of OE. Types of verbs. Conjugation. Categories of the verb.

7. The noun in OE. Categories. Stems and declensions. Meaning and use of cases.

8. The OE pronouns, adjectives, adverbs and numerals.

9. The syntax of OE. The word order of OE.

10.Changes of vowels in Middle and Early Modern English.

  • Quantitative vowel changes in Late OE and Early ME:

  1. Lengthening before homorganic cluster

  2. Shortening before other consonant clusters

  3. Open syllable lengthening

  • Qualitative vowel changes in Early Middle English

  1. Loss of OE diphthongs
  2. Development of new diphthongs
  3. The Great Vowel Shift

11. Changes in the verb systems of ME and EMdE.

12. Changes in the morphemic structure of the noun in ME and EMdE.

13. Changes in the systems of ME and EMdE pronouns and adjectives.

14. The syntax of ME and EMdE. Word order changes.

Course requirements


Mode of assessment

20% homework and class participation

20% two tests

60% final test


Books available in the library:

  1. Lehmann, Winifred P. (1962) Historical Linguistics. Introduction. Austin: University of Texas Press.

  2. Mincoff, M. (1967) English Historical Grammar. Sofia.

  3. Mincoff, M. (1978) Old and Middle English Texts. Sofia.

  4. Mitchel, B. and F.C. Robinson. (1992) A Guide to Old Engish. Blackwell.

  5. Rastorguyeva, T.A. (1983) History of the English Language. Moscow.

  6. Данчев, А., Спасов, Д. (1978) Английският правопис. Наука и изкуство, София

7. Mathewson's Lecture Notes