Lesson 2: History Lessons


Actually, a whole lot of morphology is a history lesson so this title is too broad and this lesson is actually many lessons. I'll just say this is an overview, and it contains lots of links to lots of other lessons, so you can choose to go in a variety of directions.


English has borrowed and continues to borrow lots of words from lots of languages. The language now known as Old English (spoken from about 700-1100) was greatly influenced by Scandinavian languages because of the Vikings’ presence in England. Then the French invasion of England in 1066 led to a vast amount of borrowing from French, as the French speakers ruled England for several hundred years. The printing press was introduced in England in 1476. It changed the language forever, fixing some spellings and conventions and beginning the process of standardization and prescribed rules about English (which you can read more about here). Mass production of books and pamphlets meant that literacy gradually was becoming more widespread. Because the London dialect appeared in print, other dialects came to be seen as less prestigious because they were no longer written down. Latin had long been an important (though dead) language, and there was renewed and active borrowing from Latin in the 18th century. This age of scientific and intellectual discovery led to the creation of many new words, many of which are based on Latin and Greek roots. Here’s a humorous video of the history of English (in 10 minutes!). And we have a fairly succinct overview of the history of English in chapter 11 of Linguistics for Everyone (by Kristin Denham and Anne Lobeck). Order yours today! (I'm sorry it's so expensive.) There are, of course, lots of others, but we’re partial to this one.☺


TeachLing has some lesson plans (by Anne Lobeck, used in middle and high school English classes) on the history of English, so I'll link and summarize some of them here. 


Origins of namesThis lesson is designed to acquaint students with the languages that contribute to the development of English. The teacher researches the etymology of students' first names, and in discussion it emerges that the languages of origin (French, English, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Spanish) tell us a lot about the history of the language.


Cognates of the name JohnThis lesson is a follow up to Origins of Names. Students will be familiar with the languages from which many English names derive (French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Celtic languages, etc.). This lesson introduces them to cognates, related words across languages, through names. Students see that the name John has many different cognates, and can then investigate other cognates, expanding their knowledge of English vocabulary.


More on Cognates and Language FamiliesThis lesson introduces students to cognates across different languages, and what these cognates tell us about language families (and about Indo European in particular).


English Words from Greek and Roman names of gods: Students learn the meanings of the names of Greek and Roman gods, and explore English words that have those roots and associated meanings. Lesson is set up using flashcards that can be exchanged.


Language is Fluid is a whole series of lessons (6 45-minute) that Mary Buzan put together. This lesson sequence moves from lessons on personal language to solving problem sets in Standard American English and Nicaraguan English. It aims to develop students' awareness that through regular observation, data collection, analysis, and testing, they can recognize patterns in language and acknowledge that variation and change characterize language. (These incorporate several of the lesson plans on TeachLing mentioned above: Cognates of name John, Language Change: Origins of Names, More on Cognates and Language Families, Origins of Names.)


Here’s a good video on why doubt is spelled the way it is if you’re overwhelmed by all of this etymological investigation and just need some screen time.