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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 will have acquired a good survey of the characteristics of Old, Middle, Early and Late Modern English, and of the rise of English as a world language

  • you will have an understanding of the social and linguistic factors that contributed to the transformations of English

  • you will have will have learned to work with the Oxford English Dictionary and other relevant tools for research that allow for 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


  • Midterm exam: 30%

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

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  • 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.