ENG-G 301: History of the English Language

Course Description

This course examines the history of the English language from Old English to the present day, with a particular focus on its recent changes in the digital age. Course content will cover the macro-history of the English language and the Indo-European family of languages, various local cultural histories of English, dialectical variation (there will be some focus on sociolinguistics through individual/group projects), and some of the basic concepts of structural linguistics (phonemes, morphemes, grammar, and syntax).

Reflection and Revision Statement (2018-2021)

When I was first asked to teach this course, in Spring 2017, it was because of student need: a student in another degree program was getting ready to graduate and s/he needed a course in linguistics to complete the program’s degree requirements. I was happy to oblige, particularly since researching and developing this course gave me the opportunity to reach back to the early days of my graduate training. Little did I realize how transformative this course would become for my teaching career and pedagogical portfolio. It has become one of the most enjoyable courses I have taught at IU Kokomo, and in the most version of ENG-G 301, which I taught in Spring 2020, I revised several key elements of the course, including adding the TILT method of assignment transparency to all assignments, adding my own podcasts as supplements to class lectures and discussions, including “Class Preps” assignments instead of traditional homework and reading (see below for details), and revising the rubrics for the major projects, like the Teaching Duo Project and the Individual Writing and Research Project. 

As an MA student in English at Auburn University in the early-2000s, I briefly thought that I would perhaps pursue a career in sociolinguistics. Studying under Dr. Tom Nunnally, a linguist and scholar of Southern speech, I took several seminars in both the history of the English language and linguistic diversity in the Southeastern US; I even presented the first conference presentation of my career at SECOL at the University of Alabama. 

I was excited to teach and develop this course, though I knew it would need to perform several crucial pedagogical functions: students would likely have never taken a course in linguistics or language history prior to this one, even among the English majors, so I decided to spend the first several weeks of the semester acclimating students to the basic tools and concepts of language study. I also wanted to give students an overall framework for the course that would make sense to virtually any second- or third-year college student; I chose to arrange the bulk of the rest of the term as a more or less strict chronology of the history of the English language, from Old English to the present day. Students also developed teaching demonstrations in pairs that allowed them to explore some specific concept in linguistics or in the history of English.

Finally, it was important to me that students have the tools and the space to reflect on how language and power are inextricably connected in practical ways in society, especially as it relates to the ongoing war(s) over Standard American English (SAE) and various “English-only” movements in US culture. To this end, and using a wide variety of exercises and multi-modal texts (including podcasts, film, and an essay by the late David Foster Wallace on language, power, and the politics of dictionary-making), we examined linguistic variation in contemporary English speech patterns via the documentary film Do I Sound Gay? (Dir. Thorpe, 2014), Rosina Lippi-Green’s analysis of linguistic prejudice in animated Disney feature films, and an historical overview of the so-called “Ebonics” debates from the 1990s over students’ rights to use African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in the classroom.

In Spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything in March of that year. I count it among one of my proudest accomplishments that I was able to effectively transition from an in-person class to one held entirely in Zoom with synchronous meetings during our regular class time. As the course evaluations below suggest, I was successful in making this transition during a stressful time, while also maintaining the rigor of the course. 

Learning Outcomes

  • Develop an understanding of the history of the English language, from its origins to the digital age, and explore its spread over the globe in the 20th century;
  • Learn the basic concepts of structural linguistics;
  • Explore an area of linguistics scholarship in more detail;
  • Develop active reading and study skills that transfer to other college-level courses.
  • Explore the sub-field of sociolinguistics and linguistic/dialectical variation;
  • Develop an understanding of how language and linguistic variation (i.e., differences in how we speak) can be mapped onto power-relations among people and groups of people throughout history and today.

Assignments and Grading

Class Preps (100 points): In a discussion-based course like this one, our time together is valuable only to the extent that everyone has prepared for our class meeting. Rather than giving you reading quizzes, which can be anxiety-inducing and even counter-productive, you will be responsible throughout the semester for 10 Class Prep assignments on a variety of topics (all due dates listed below in the course schedule). Class Preps are always submitted in Canvas before 11:59pm EST/EDT on the night before they are listed as due on the course schedule below.

Individual Writing & Research Project (200 points): Each of you will research and write a short(ish) research “exploration” of roughly 6 to 8 pages (5 to 7 academic/scholarly sources + 2 to 4 popular press sources) that “maps out” an area of the history of English that you find fascinating. The idea here is less to make an argument or stake out some original research claim—primarily, your job is to learn as much as there is to know (within limits) about linguistic phenomenon/concept/figure “X” and then relay that information to your academic audience of colleagues in a way that is entertaining and informative. As a writing teacher, I encourage creativity and originality, and I look forward to working with each of you on these projects. (*Extra credit is available for students who submit an abstract to the IU Kokomo Undergraduate Research Symposium in the Spring. Click here for more information.)

Class Participation (100 points): See “Attendance and Participation” below for complete details.

Teaching Duo Project (200 points): Each of you will research and explore in further detail some concept from the history of English and/or the field of linguistics. You will be responsible for “running” your portion (10 to 15 minutes) of a class period on a given day, and how you decide to use your time is completely up to you, both in terms of content and format.

For example, you may decide to use your time to teach us about one of the concepts in our textbook in more detail or give us a more in-depth look at one of the periods in the history of English we’re studying. The design your presentation is yours to determine, of course, but as a minimum requirement each of you will provide us with a detailed, one-page (front and back is okay) handout, complete with source information and “Further Reading” resources in MLA format. We will talk much more in class about options and strategies for developing your presentations.

Midterm Exam (150 points): In early March, just before Spring Break, you will take a midterm exam that will cover all of the concepts, terms, principles, and readings we’ve covered up to that point. We will spend considerable time in class preparing and practicing for the midterm exam, which will consist of a selection of short answer questions/identifications and essay questions. 

Final Exam (250 points): You will take a comprehensive final exam that will cover all of the concepts, terms, principles, and readings over the course of the entire semester (16 weeks of material). Like the midterm exam, the final exam will consist of short answer questions/identifications and essay questions, and we will spend time discussing and preparing for this exam in and out of class.

Course Evaluations

Spring 2017

The highest possible score in each category is a 5.00 = “Strongly Agree”; the lowest possible score is 1.00 = “Strongly Disagree.”

ENG-G 301: History of the English Language Spring

2017 (33411)

1.)    The course was well organized. 3.80
2.)    The course objectives were clear to the students. 4.00
3.)    There was general agreement between announced course objectives and what was actually taught. 4.20
4.)    The instructor explained the subject clearly. 4.50
5.)    The instructor summarized the major points in lecture or discussion. 4.90
6.)    The instructor made effective use of class time. 3.70
7.)      The instructor was well prepared for class meetings. 4.10
8.)      The amount of reading was appropriate for the course. 4.20
9.)      In relation to other courses of equal credits and level, the workload in this course was appropriate. 4.20
10.)   The amount of material covered in the course was reasonable. 3.80
11.)   The course required more time and effort than others at this level. 3.60
12.)   The grading system for the course was clearly explained. 4.40
13.)   Grades were assigned fairly and impartially. 4.10
14.)   The instructor collected enough evidence for valid grading. 4.20
15.)   The exams accurately assessed what I have learned in this class. 3.80
16.)   The instructor showed a genuine interest in students 4.00
17.)   The instructor was readily available for consultation with students. 4.20
18.)   The instructor stimulated my thinking. 4.00
19.)   The instructor stimulated class discussion. 4.30
20.)   The instructor promoted an atmosphere conducive to learning. 4.30
21.)   Compared to other instructors I have had, this instructor is outstanding. 4.10
22.)   Compared to other courses I’ve taken, I learned more in this course. 3.90

Course Evaluations (Qualitative)

Spring 2017

“I liked the content matter and the instructor’s enthusiasm about the subject. The instructor was always encouraging of class discussion and was incredibly knowledgeable.”

“The syllabus was out of sync with what was taught for most of the semester.”

“I learned about new ways to conceive of language and English.”

“I liked the origin of the English language the most.”

“I liked the amount of reading the least.”

“The most valuable thing I learned was how to break down large chunks of reading much easier.”

“The ideas were stimulating.”

“I learned the power of the English language.”

“A lot of the info was interesting.”

“I really loved the modern subjects that we covered in this class. I understand the need to begin with OE [Old English], but most of the discussion was about older English.”

“I thought pretty much everything we covered was the most valuable, because language builds upon itself and it was all new content for me.”

“The course has a lot of information that is very useful for education majors and English majors, and Dr. Cook delivers a knowledgeable and charismatic account of that information.”

“The readings are very dense when combined with a full-time schedule of all 300-level classes, it is nearly overwhelming.”

“The information helped pass my content test for education certification.

“[What I liked most about the course and/or the instructor was] how open-ended the class was.”


Course Evaluation Summaries (Quantitative)

Spring 2020

The highest possible score in each category is a 5.00 = “Strongly Agree”; the lowest possible score is 1.00 = “Strongly Disagree.”

ENG-G 301: History of the English Language

(Spring 2020)

Paul Cook

ENG-G 301 (Spring 2020)

HSS Average (Spring 2020)

1.) Overall course rating.



2.) Announced course objectives agree with what is taught.



3.) I am pleased with the text required for this course.



4.) Directions for course assignments are clear and specific.



5.) Standards for student achievements are reasonable.



6.) The grading system for this course was clearly explained.



7.) Grades were assigned fairly and impartially.



8.) I kept up with studying and work for this course.



9.) I actively participated in class activities and discussions.



10.) I learned a lot of material in this course.



11.) I developed skills in critical thinking in this course.



12.) This course increased my interest in the subject matter.



13.) Overall instructor rating.



14.) My instructor organized this course well.



15.) My instructor is regularly available for consultation.



16.) My instructor is well prepared for class meetings.



17.) My instructor explains the material clearly.



18.) My instructor stimulates my thinking.



19.) My instructor is knowledgeable on course topics.



20.) My instructor shows genuine interest in students.



21.) My instructor encourages me to participate in class discussions.



22.) My instructor uses technology in ways that help my learning of concepts and principles.



23.) My instructor collects enough evidence for valid grading.



24.) My instructor promotes an atmosphere conducive to learning.




Course Evaluations (Qualitative)

Spring 2020

The qualitative comments from students in Spring 2020 were highly positive, which, given the circumstances, suggest my ability to maintain class morale even in troubled and anxious times.

  • “Dr. Cook is highly knowledgeable, and very keen on engaging students with the material. I frequently felt that the allotted class time was not long enough, but in the best sense––class discussions sometimes had barely enough time to take off. Also, Dr. Cook adapted to the transition from in–person class meetings to online–only classes with the most ease of all my instructors. Very commendable, I think, as I believe that this was helpful to ease the strangeness of the change for myself and my classmates.”
  • “Great lecturer! Dr. Cook teaches in a way that keeps students entertained and engaged. I liked most that he is always willing to answer questions and willing to work with you if there is some confusion/issues about an assignment!”
  • “I liked the engagement and genuine interest in the subject matter. Also, Dr. Cook regularly asked us about how we were doing or feeling and was also very thorough. Cook explained things such as COVID–19, even when it was obviously not class material. Dr. Cook took time to respond and interact with students and teach them things that may have been flying under the radar before.”
  • “I appreciated Dr. Cook’s lectures. Also, he seemed to genuinely care about us and helped us in any way he could.”
  • “His knowledge on the subject and his encouragement to learn and read on the subject. And although there aren’t too many reactions, I do appreciate the jokes :)”
  • “Funny, a little goofy, but in a good, endearing way. He’s excited and that makes me excited. He likes animals. He’s animated when talking and that is important when keeping people’s attention.”
  • “He cares about student growth as scholars inside and outside the classroom.”
  • “Dr. Cook is well versed in the subject matter that he teaches. He always leaves helpful feedback and explains things thoroughly.”
  • “Flexible, Organized, Genuine.”

Course Syllabi and Select Course Materials

ENG-G 301 Syllabus (Spring 2017)

ENG-G 301 Syllabus (Spring 2020)

Teaching Duo Project (Spring 2017)

Teaching Duo Project Rubric (Spring 2020)

Individual Writing and Research Project (Spring 2020)

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