1. Introduction: Welcome to HEL

1. Important concepts and terms to explain: synchrony and diachrony; continuity, change and variation (divided usage); English historical linguistics, general linguistics, philology; comparison as the principal method; chronology: Old English (c. 700–1100), Middle English (1100– 1500), Early Modern English (1500–1700), Late Modern English (1700–1900), Present-Day English (PDE; 1900– ); biblical translation: Wycliffite; Authorised Version.


Diachrony: is the change in the meaning of words over time. is thus the study of language in terms of how it visibly changes in usage. It is based in the dictionary meaning of words. A diachronic relationship is where related things exist separated by time. 12th century English and 21st century English have a diachronic relationship.

Synchrony: A synchronic relationship is one where two similar things exist at the same time. That is how languages compare to each other at any given point in time. Modern American English and British English have a synchronic relationship.


Continuity: Language exhibits so much complexity that one cannot imagine it simply appearing from nothing in its final form; therefore it must have evolved from earlier pre-linguistic systems among our primate ancestors.

Change: is variation over time in a language's phonetic, morphological, semantic, syntactic, and other features. It is studied by historical linguistics and evolutionary linguistics.

Variation: Variation is a characteristic of language: there is more than one way of saying the same thing. Speakers may vary pronunciation (accent), word choice (lexicon), or morphology and syntax (sometimes called "grammar"). But while the diversity of variation is great, there seem to be boundaries on variation – speakers do not generally make drastic alterations in sentence word order or use novel sounds that are completely foreign to the language being spoken. It is studied by sociolinguists. variation in present‐day system of language:

• one “function“ rendered by two or several „forms“

• the sense of a starting change

• or a change as yet uncompleted o

examples of variation:

o grammar: shone vs. shined

• grammar / pronunciation / spelling:

• loaf/loaves

• reef/reefs (but cf. reeve)

• divided usage: hoof/hoofs, hooves, scarf/scarfs,

• (cf. Tolkien on elf/elves vs. elf/elfs)


English Historical Linguistics: English historical linguistics is a subfield of linguistics which has developed theories and methods for exploring the history of the English language. It aims to study the long diachrony of English. Its aim is to learn about almost 1,300 years of recorded history of English to understand the present form and function of the language.

General Linguistics: A study of the phenomena, historical changes, and functions of language without restriction to a particular language or to a particular aspect (as phonetics, grammar, stylistics) of language. Its aim is to learn, from the evidence of the one language, about general rules of language change and variation.

Philology: Philology is the study of language in written historical sources; it is a combination of literary criticism, history, and linguistics. It is more commonly defined as the study of literary texts and written records, the establishment of their authenticity and their original form, and the determination of their meaning. Its aim is to learn, through language, about the changing historical, social and cultural profile of the English‐speaking community.


• procedures and sources used for comparison:

comparison of texts (synchronic and diachronic)

interdisciplinary comparison (e.g. textual record vs. archeological evidence)

evidence of closely related languages (e.g. English vs. the Germanic; Latin as a paragon language of culture)

language‐specific evidence vs. universally observed tendencies (e.g. the structure of phonological systems)

metalinguistic comments (by grammarians, orthographers etc.) on contemporary use of language

rhymes, puns etc.

variation in Present‐Day English


OLD ENGLISH (Anglo‐Saxon; c. 700–1100)

from the first records (c. A.D. 700) to the Norman Conquest (A.D. 1066 > A.D.1100)

period of “full” endings

language of a highly inflected morphological structure and thoroughly Germanic wordstock

idea of a continuous development in time: Proto‐Germanic – West Germanic – Anglo‐Frisian – Old English – Middle English

MIDDLE ENGLISH (1100–1500):

from the Norman Conquest to c. A.D.1500

period of “reduced” endings (= restricted inflection): cf. OE singan– ME singen, singe –

EModE (to) sing

expansion of a written standard form and its increasing homogeneity

end of the medieval feudal system and the rise of Renaissance dukes and courtiers

beginning of humanism in England

breakaway of Church (1534)

discovery of America (1492)


period of “lost” endings

centralisation of RP standard: stable relative homogeneity emerging out of the maze of coexisting, regional, social, diachronic a stylistic variants

fixation of spelling

“New Englishes“ – extraterritorial varieties start taking root


change in vocabulary

accumulated many more words as a result of two main historical factors:

the Industrial Revolution, which necessitated new words for things and ideas that had not previously existed

the rise of the British Empire, during which time English adopted many foreign words and made them its own


suffix in adverbs: Today there is a residue of adverbs without the suffix, e.g. far, fast, long, much.

the subjunctive and the modal auxiliaries, tense auxiliaries (future and [plu]perfect), passive, and the progressive (be + -ing)


Wycliffe was an advocate for translation of the Bible into the vernacular. He completed a translation directly from the Vulgate into Middle English in the year 1382, now known as Wycliffe's Bible.


A language is at least three things at once: a self‐contained system, a reflection of its past history, and a prelude to its own future

3. Why is directionality of language change disputable?

It is quite clear that [u] presumably never changes to [a] in one step, or that [l] never changes to [b], is not surprising, whereas the unidirectionality of the [u] > [y] change and the [l] > [w] change is much harder to explain. “"One of the most powerful tools in the armamentarium of linguists engaged in the study of diachronic phonology is the often implicit notion that some changes are phonetically more likely than others . Thus if a linguist finds a systematic correspondence between [g] and [dJ] in two related language varieties, it will be reasonable to assume that the stop is the older variant and the affricate the younger one until strong counter evidence is found. The linguist makes such an assumption because experience with many languages has shown that the change of [g] to [dJ] is fairly common and tends to occur under certain welldocumented conditions whereas the reverse change is unusual and problematic.“ Ferguson, 1990

4. What is the difference between “linguistics” and “philology”?

The distinction between Linguistics and Philology, in simplified terms, is often one of medium: Linguistics focusing on spoken language while Philology, on written language. Philology is the branch of linguistic study devoted to comparative and historical research into the development of languages. In a wider sense, the term sometimes also covers the study of literary texts.

5.What are our limitations in access to languages of the past?

I would say that the main limitation is the fact that there are no recordings of the spoken language from the past, so we have to rely on the written form which probably noticeably differed from the spoken form. Moreover, the first texts were usually of religious nature, so there aren’t enough sources of the “common language” which people used to speak to one another in their private lives etc.

6. Provide (preferably your own) examples of variation at various linguistic levels of PDE.

The genitive variation – ‘s or of (that boy’s dog, the dog of that boy). Glottalisation of /t/ (bottle /bɔʔḷ/) on American English X British English. Hung vs hanged. grammar: shine-shone, or shine-shined grammar/pronunciation/spelling – formation of plurals: loaf-loaves, hoof-hooves but hoofs as well lexical: How are you doing? – How do you do? – How are you?