The history of literary english

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The working seminars as run during both the winter and summer semesters are believed to be helpful to the undergraduates of the 4th grade in (a) providing an explanation of the links between the social, political and cultural history and the language change, and (b) illustrating the language changes proper, especially in older stages of the language history.

A thorough command of the contemporary English is required, as well as good knowledge of synchronic phonemics. Awareness of at least one more foreign language, preferably one typologically different from English, will be appreciated.

The following topics will be commented upon:

(1) Importance of historical grammar. English and other Germanic languages. Chronology of evolution of the English language.

(2) The fixation of literary English: Dr. Samuel Johnson.

(3) Nordic and French influences.

(4) The English language of G. Chaucer: Rise of a national language?

(5) Spelling and its reforms.

(6) Anglo-Saxon: a unifying “English” language?

(7) Development of speech-sounds: (a) From Indo-European to Primitive Germanic.

(b) Old English proper, and down to Middle English.

(c) Middle English proper.

(8) Morphology and syntax of Anglo-Saxon.

(9) Morphology and syntax of Middle English.

(10)Gothic: Dead language, yet of great importance for Germanic scholars.
Authentic texts to be read and analysed are retyped in the below-introduced materials and/or will be supplied as handouts to respective seminars.

References and background reading:

Kavka, S., Nástin dějin anglického jazyka.

_______ , Úvod do anglistiky.

Fisiak, J., An Outline History of English.

Hladký, J., Čítanka pro seminář z historického vývoje angličtiny.

Macháček, J., Stručný přehled historického vývoje angličtiny.

Vachek, J., Historický vývoj angličtiny.

________, A Brief Survey of the Historical Development of English.

________ - Firbas, J., Historický pohled na dnešní angličtinu.

Dillard, J.L., A History of American English.
Credits will be awarded to those who have worked hard in seminars and have submitted an essay on one of the following topics:

1. Codification of the Czech and the English languages.

2. Invention of print and fixation of the English language.

3. Important reforms of the English spelling.

4. English phrasal verbs as compared to German verbs with detached prefixes.

5. Sociolinguistic aspects of addressing people.

6. New English Verner’s Law in examples.

7. The rise of literary English.

8. Influence of Latin and French in the New English period.

9. Ideographic tendencies of the English spelling.

10. The rise of gliding diphthongs in English.

11. Combinatory properties of the English speech-sounds.

12. Alfred the Great’s tribute to Old Saxon.

13. Is American English more progressive or more conservative than British English?

14. Historical roots of Irish English.

15. Reflections of Germanic mythology in the English vocabulary.

16. Is English really a Germanic language?

17. Kennings in Old Saxon poetry.

18. Rise of the progressive forms of verbal tenses.

19. Philological analysis of one of Chaucer’s works.

20. Philological analysis of one of Shakespeare’s works.
Any other topic may be offered upon agreement.


A candidate is allowed to take an exam in the term(s) announced officially by the examiner, provided that s/he has been awarded credits. The exam proper has two parts, namely a written test and an oral interview, the latter involving a text analysis and a discussion on two of the following topics:

1. Attempts at the standardisation of English in the 18th century.

2. Prescriptive grammars and the concept of usage.

3. Attempts at simplification of the English spelling.

4. Foreign borrowings in the Early New English lexis.

5. Characteristics of the Early New English grammar system.

6. The Great Vowel Shift: a general survey of spontaneous changes.

7. Combinatory changes in the 15th through the 17th centuries.

8. The rise of gliding diphthongs.

9. The survival of English after the Norman conquest.

10. Anglo-Norman and French borrowings in the Middle English lexis.

11. Two- and three-level characteristics of the English word-stock.

12. Features of the nominal flexion in the Middle English period.

13. Morphological characteristics of the Middle English verb.

14. Anglo-Norman and Central-French influence on the Middle English phonology.

15. Spontaneous and combinatory changes in the Middle English period.

16. Middle English orthography: general tendencies, scriveners’ use.

17. Middle English dialects and the path towards Standard English.

18. Latin influence on the English vocabulary.

19. Old English dialects and the role of Alfred the Great.

20. A comparison of Old and Middle English: a continuous or a discrete development?

21. Classification of languages: English as a Germanic language.

22. Enrichment of the Old English vocabulary: derivations, compounding, kennings, Latin borrowings.

23. Viking influence on Old and Middle English.

24. Characteristics of the Old English nominal declension.

25. Morphology of the Old English verb.

26. The history of verbal tenses.

27. Phonological system of Old English.

28. The importance of Gothic in diachronic studies.

29. Grimm’s Law (Erste Lautverschiebung): Proto-Germanic language.

30. Verner’s Law and specifically English consonantal changes.

31. High German vowel shift: a division of West Germanic languages.

32. Proto-Germanic vowel system.

33. A history of diachronic studies: Schleicher’s Stammbaumtheorie.

34. The rise of American English.

35.Varieties and dialects of English.

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