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Philology 4B: Early Modern Everyday English


Admission requirements

Philology 3: History of the English Language (or equivalent), and preferably also the course Language & Linguistics: Tools and Methods.


How did people swear in Early Modern times? How would they speak to their children? What did they write about in their diaries? What did they sound like? What did the grammar and vocabulary of English look like and how did it vary across text-type and social classes? In what ways was the language different from Standard English today?

In this course students will look at everyday Early Modern English language as used in a wide variety of text types and consider language use from a historical sociolinguistic perspective. This means we will consider texts by well-known authors such as Shakespeare but also texts by lesser-known men and women, as well as by people from different regional and sociolinguistic backgrounds. Plays, abuse records, accounts, depositions, journals, letters, recipes, memoirs, presentments and wills are all different text types, the study of which can tell us a lot about variation in pronunciation, grammar and lexis, but also about language use. For instance, we will go into questions as to what was considered abusive language at the time, or what the language in letters can tell us about expressions of politeness and affection. We will also explore dialect differences in witness depositions and other, less standardized records such as presentments that due to the lack of education of its authors provide evidence for pronunciation.

To unlock all this information from Early Modern English texts, students will get some first-hand experience with the transcription of manuscript material (letters, diaries recipes) and corpus tools that will allow them to analyse language variation and change.

Course objectives

This course builds on experience acquired during the first three semesters of the BA curriculum in English philology (Old English, Middle English), and particularly the History of the English Language.
At the end of the course, students:

  • will have a good understanding of the linguistic characteristics of Early Modern English, i.e. spelling, morphology and syntax of Early Modern English

  • will be able to analyse and identify the textual and linguistic characteristics of a large variety of text-types typical of the period

  • will have an understanding of what (social) factors play a role in language variation and change

  • will have gained experience with analysing authentic historical texts by practicing basic paleography skills and employing corpus methods


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Assessment method


  • Oral presentation (individual or in groups)

  • Class contribution

  • Paper


  • Presentation: 20%

  • Class contribution: 20%

  • Final paper: 60%


There is no resit for the Class contribution.
Students will have successfully passed the course if the average course grade is a 6 or higher, and the paper and the presentation are at least a 5.
When the final grade is lower than a 6 or when the grade for the paper and/or presentation is below a 5, the paper and/or the presentation will have to be retaken during the resit period.

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

  • Nevalainen, Terttu (2006). An Introduction to Early Modern English. Edinburgh University Press (available in digital format from the university library).

  • Cusack, Bridget (1998). Everyday English 1500 – 1700. A Reader. Edinburgh University Press.

  • A selection of articles available from the university library, made available on the Brightspace page.


Enrolment through My Studymap (Login | Universiteit Leiden) is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte.
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


Please note that Cusack’s book may have to be ordered from abroad and delivery may take up to three weeks.