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Peter Tan

Office: AS5/0604



PeterTan<at> (Replace <at> with the appropriate symbol.)

Office Hours:

by appointment

Historical Variation in English


+65 6516 6038

Lecture slot:

Weds 2.00–4.00pm

Lecture Venue:



·      Dr Peter Tan

·      Mr Vincent Pak

Tutorial group details (click here)


A discussion forum as well as self-assessment is available at the IVLE site for EL2111


This syllabus is located online at:

It will be constantly updated, so please keep don’t download material too early.


Have you ever wondered why some of the basic words in various European languages seem so similar (Welcome, Willkommen, Welkom)? Or why it is that doctors and botanists use so many words that are derived from Latin? Or why some words associated with the law are based on French borrowings (‘treason’, ‘judge’, ‘court’)? Or why the French themselves use English borrowings like ‘le weekend’ or ‘le parking’, like how Malay speakers might use ‘lesen’ (licence) or ‘tiket’ (ticket)? Why did Shakespeare and Chaucer use thou and thee and why don’t we today? Why are there these strange inconsistencies in English, where -ough can be pronounced so many ways (‘bough’, ‘cough’, ‘tough’, ‘though’, ‘thorough’, ‘through’)?

          The answers to these and other questions lie in where English comes from. Before the time of Shakespeare, it was pretty well confined to the few million speakers in Britain; today it is the world’s preferred language.



© brainwise (photo cropped and processed)


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Main Text

Other Prescribed Readings


Additional Print Resources



If you have a fascination with Old English and want to try learning it, look up Stephen Pollington (1997), First Steps in Old English (Norfolk: Anglo-Saxon). Or if your fascination is with Latin, there are some interesting sites: click here to view them.

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Online Material

(Please download a few days before the lecture in case there are updates. Please see download requirements)

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Other Resources


·       The History of English website by Luke Mastin

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The final mark achieved in this module is based on the Continuous Assessment (60%) and a Take-Home Exam (40%). The breakdown is in the table. (Click on the items for further details.)

Class Test (17-ii-2021)

20 marks

Essay (due Tues, 23-iii-2021)

20 marks

Group Project 29.iii–9-iv-2021)

10 marks

Tutorial attendance and participation

10 marks

Take-home Exam (27-iv-2021, 9am–6pm)

40 marks



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EL2111 Time-table (links will be included when they are ready)







Wednesday, 13-i-2021

Introduction and focus.
Setting out of assumptions for the module. The writing system.
(Read Graddol 2007, pp. 50–55)



Wednesday, 19-i-2021

The grammatical system and change. (Read Graddol 2007, pp. 56–59, skim through Ch. 6)



Wednesday,  27-i-2021

The sound system and change. (Skim through Graddol 2007, Ch. 5)

1 Spelling and Grammar


Wednesday, 3-ii-2021

Vocabulary and change. (Read Jackson & Amvela, Ch. 2)

2 Phonology


Wednesday, 10-ii-2021

Reasons for change. (Read Graddol 2007, pp. 61–64; 179–188; 229–232)

No tutorials


Wednesday, 17-ii-2021

Class test. Indo-European: the beginnings of English. (Read Barber, The English Language, Ch. 3)

3 Vocabulary

Mid-term break (21-ii-2020–28-ii-2021)


Wednesday, 3-iii-2021

Video: ‘The Mother Tongue’.
Old English(Read Graddol 2007, pp. 40–50, 74–77)

 4 Reasons for change


Wednesday, 10-iii-2021

Middle English and Early Modern English. (Read Graddol 2007 pp. 64–73) 

5 The Beginnings


Wednesday, 17-iii-2021

Standardisation and the development of academic writing(Go through Graddol 2007, Ch. 3)

6 External and internal history


Wednesday, 24-iii-2021

Essay due Tuesday, 23-iii-2021.
The development of American English. Video. (Read Graddol 2007, pp. 132–148) Alternatively, watch The Adventure of English – English in America on youtube.

7 Standardisation


Wednesday, 31-iii-2021

The rise of the non-Anglo Englishes (Read Crystal, English as a Global Language, Ch. 2; skim through Graddol 2007, Ch. 1; pp. 222–223; 149–152)

8 Presentations I


Wednesday,  7-iv-2021

Global English. (Read Crystal, English as a Global Language, Ch. 4)

9 Presentations II


Wednesday,  14-iv-2021

Overview, revision and discussion of the examination

10 Non-Anglo Englishes


Revision week (19–23-iv-2021)

Exam week 1

Take-home exam: 27-iv-2021 (9am to 6pm)

Exam week 2



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Download requirements                                                                     


Some of the notes are in PDF format. You need the Adobe Reader to view these files. If you haven’t got it, please download it by clicking on the icon on the right.

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Sometimes I will use the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). The font that I use is Times New Roman Phonetic. If you haven’t got the font in your system, you will encounter problems in displaying the characters. You can download this font by clicking on the icon on the right.

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