Shakespeare isn't Old English, students.
January 30, 2008 5:52 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for good, undergraduate-geared resources, articles or book chapters that overview 1) the origins of the English language, 2) Old/Middle/Modern/Contemporary English and things like the Great Vowel Shift, and 3) language development in humans.

I know of a lot of research and have a couple of books on these very subjects, but these might be too much for my undergrads. These topics are not central to the course. They are supposed to have an awareness of these topics, not a mastery. I want them to be able to recognize them, and maybe develop an interest, which they might pursue themselves, but this is strictly intro only (their text books are not cutting it).

Any suggestions are welcome. Magazines, academic journals, TV programs, academic or popular books are all acceptable. I have some inquiries in to colleagues, but I thought I would ask the Green as well. Thanks!
posted by oflinkey to Education (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The Unfolding of Language
posted by inconsequentialist at 5:58 PM on January 30, 2008

bill bryson's mother tongue is a highly readable, pop-nonfiction book with some decent research behind it. also, bryson is friggin' hilarious.

the story of english is also good for the educated layman, if a bit long. i believe there is also a video series based on it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:07 PM on January 30, 2008

Bryson is friggin' hilarious, but Mother Tongue has come under rather hot criticism for its errors. Use with caution.
posted by Liffey at 6:20 PM on January 30, 2008

For 3, do you mean language development in children as they age, or language development in the human species over an evolutionary time scale?
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:20 PM on January 30, 2008

Last year (as a freshman undergraduate) I took a class basically on this, and was assigned The Origin & Development of the English Language along with parts of another book - whose name I cannot remember and which was out-of-print but dealt with Old English grammar - and found them both to be pretty accessible and usable, but they would probably be a bit much if it's only peripheral to the course. We did read some things while we discussed Chaucer that could be of more help; I'll see if I can dig up my syllabus.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 6:34 PM on January 30, 2008

LobsterMitten-- sorry, child language development/acquisition. But that needs to be as basic as possible. I remember about half of my UG Linguistics course on CLD, and it was quite complex. My students don't really need to know the ins and outs of telegraphic speech, per se.
posted by oflinkey at 7:04 PM on January 30, 2008

For 3, I'm not sure if it would be over their heads, but I found some of the chapters in Gleitman & Osherson's volume on Language to be well done, particularly Gleitman & Newport's chapter, and to a lesser extent, those by Pinker (this one in particular).
posted by i love cheese at 8:31 PM on January 30, 2008

This might not be exactly what you're looking for, but it is a good introduction to the study of linguistics, especially sociolinguistics.
posted by mynameismandab at 8:40 PM on January 30, 2008

Albert C. Baugh's A History of the English Language has been a classic for decades, now in its 5th edition. It's assigned often enough in college courses, so there's a fairly good supply of older editions floating around the used market as well. It's meaty, but you could probably cover both #1 and #2 above without having to read the whole thing end to end.
posted by gimonca at 8:50 PM on January 30, 2008

There are some good general references here, in a thread on a related topic. Barbara Strang's A History of English, mentioned by the inestimable languagehat in that post, was the preferred introductory text for my undergraduate history-of-the-language course. but has been superseded by other books.
posted by holgate at 10:31 PM on January 30, 2008

The podcast "A Way With Words" would at least familiarize them some with etymology and some topics on contemporary English language issues
posted by mattbucher at 8:02 AM on January 31, 2008

Inventing English by Seth Lerer just came out recently and was interesting enough for a passing non-linguist like myself to devour in a few sittings.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:48 AM on January 31, 2008

bill bryson's mother tongue is a highly readable, pop-nonfiction book with some decent research behind it.

No, sorry, it's a piece of crap. Bryson is a funny guy, but in my experience the more you know about the topic he's writing about, the less you like his book. Stick to his travel rants.

Heh, I was going to recommend Strang but Holgate beat me to it.
posted by languagehat at 9:06 AM on January 31, 2008

Liffey & languagehat - maybe this really belongs in metatalk, but what's the criticism/errors in Mother Tongue? does he make factual errors? espouse a theory that's generally considered disproven? seriously, this isn't a snark, I really am curious
posted by yggdrasil at 5:41 PM on February 1, 2008

yggdrasil: check the highlighted one-star Amazon reviews. It really is one of those books that annoys those with any expertise in the topic, enough to make you wonder whether Bryson is as sloppy on subjects you're less savvy about.
posted by holgate at 1:56 PM on February 5, 2008

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