Skip to main content


SEL8361 : The Social History of English

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Karen Corrigan
  • Lecturer: Dr William van der Wurff
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


• To familiarise students with the main linguistic developments (syntactic, phonological, lexical, pragmatic) in the history of the English language;
• To develop students' ability to read texts from a variety of periods in the history of English;
• To develop students’ ability to analyse linguistic features of texts and carry out independent work with texts;
• To deepen and broaden students' knowledge of syntax and phonology by applying relevant concepts and techniques to data from earlier periods of English;
• To give students a good insight into the processes by which the English language has evolved into its present-day state;
• To develop competence in using dictionaries, historical corpora and other electronic resources for independent work.

Outline Of Syllabus

Lecture material provides a chronological survey of English, examining the major features of Old English, Middle English, and Early and Late Modern English. It also explores special topics related to the socio-historical and linguistic context in the areas of standard languages, variation and language contact, with examples potentially drawn from Scots, Irish and American varieties, as well as English varieties. Small group classes focus on the detailed examination of the language in action, with an emphasis on the reading and analysis of texts which range across the centuries and across genres, including literary texts and personal letters.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture221:0022:00Introducing key linguistic features of different periods, and details of socio-historical context
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion147:0047:00Preparation and completion of mid-module and end-of-semester assignments
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading133:0033:00Independent study using reading lists and other online resources identified in module materials
Guided Independent StudySkills practice133:0033:00Independent study focusing on the analysis of historical linguistic data
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00Small-group discussion focusing on sample texts from each period of the language
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesFieldwork18:008:00Trip to Jarrow and Holy Island
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study146:0046:00General reading and revision
Jointly Taught With
Code Title
SEL2212Early English: Texts, Patterns and Varieties
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lecture materials will provide information about the features of the English language in its various periods, outline historical contexts, demonstrate and discuss methods and resources for text analysis, and provide overall coherence for the module.

Small Group Teaching will involve detailed textual analysis work of various types, focusing mainly on sample texts from each of the key periods in the history of the English language. These sessions also aim to enhance understanding of approaches to historical texts from a linguistic perspective.

The guided independent study will involve: (a) following up on reading and other resources identified in the lecture materials; (b) practising and developing the skills in linguistic analysis that will be the basis for the small group sessions; and (c) other general reading and revision that will aid in preparation for the mid-module and end-of-semester assignments.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M301500 words
Essay2A702500 words
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The end-of-semester Essay #2 (70%; 2500 words) requires students to show they can carry out a small-scale independent research project in the subject area of the module, focusing on concepts / theories / issues that are relevant to the later periods of English (Early Modern and Late Modern). The mid-module Essay #1 (30%; 1500 words) enables students to obtain practice in this and to further develop their written expression, focusing on concepts / theories / issues that are relevant to the earlier periods of English (Old English and Middle English).

Reading Lists