English 3901a: History of the English Language (Spring 2021)

About this course

Why don’t we spell knight nite?

Where does ‘silent e’ come from?

Why is it book and books but not sheep and sheeps?

Do we say somebody is six foot or six feet tall?

All of us have asked questions like these about the English language. This course will teach you how to find the answers. Read the rest of this entry »


Customized pronouns: A good idea that makes no sense (Globe and Mail)

Originally published as O’Donnell, Daniel Paul. 2016. “Customized Pronouns: A Good Idea That Makes No Sense.” The Globe and Mail, October 15. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/customized-pronouns-a-good-idea-that-makes-no-sense/article32373933/.


The latest thing on campus is to introduce yourself by name and “preferred pronoun.” “Hello, my name is Dan and I prefer he/him. Read the rest of this entry »


On translating sense and syntax in Old English

A student in my Old English class asked a good question today in her class blog:

I’m confused. The point of this class is to be able to read Old English. Does this mean we are supposed to be building a lexicon that would eventually become so engrained in us that the words don’t require as much of a “translation” as an innate understanding of the meaning of the text? This seems rather frightening. When I hear the words “nominative accusative singular” sweep one after the other my head begins to spin. I have to look at the dictionary three times in three minutes to remember what one word means.

I think what process seems natural to me would be to translate a sentence, and after knowing what the words are in modern English, to determine what words are nominative, objects, etc. in the translated sentence. Read the rest of this entry »


Grimm’s Law and Verner’s Law Notes

This tutorial looks at Grimm’s Law and Verner’s Law. Read the rest of this entry »

Old English Metre: A Brief Guide

Although the Anglo-Saxons left no accounts of their metrical organisation, statistical and linguistic analysis of the poetic corpus has allowed us to come up with a good idea as to how their verse worked. Read the rest of this entry »
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