The History of English in One Hundred Words

Contents (scroll down for an introduction to this series)

1. What
2. Me
3. Is
4. Fart
5. Yoke
6. Raw
7. Pasture
8. Bear
9. Stink
10. Fire
11. Groom
12. Wheel
13. Cow
14. Guest
15. Seed

 

Welcome to The History of English in One Hundred Words! The idea here is pretty straightforward: in each post, I take one English word, and use it as a lens to look at some aspect of how the English language has changed over time. This is not primarily about giving a full etymology of each word, or saying everything that could be said about each entry. Instead, I just focus on highlighting a few points of relevance to the history of English (along with any other random observations I find interesting about the word in question).

I should probably note from the outset that I take a relatively broad view of 'the history of English'. In terms of chronological focus, a lot of overviews of the history of English focus mainly on the history of written English from about the seventh century AD on - but this is only perhaps a quarter of the reconstructible 'history' (actually mostly prehistory) of the language, and we in fact know quite a lot about the language going back some five millennia or so. (Much earlier than that, unfortunately, our evidence mostly fails us.) The idea behind this series is to explore the full extent of this history, going in roughly chronological order. The first posts deal with the earliest reconstructible stages of English, and from there I'll move more-or-less steadily forward in time towards the present day.

I also take a fairly generous approach to what constitutes 'history', which I take to properly include both the 'internal' development of the language (sound change, grammatical developments, etc.) and its 'external', sociolinguistic contexts. Topics like language contact straddle these two senses of 'history', and I'll try not to neglect this ever-present factor in linguistic change.

Who am I, anyway? My name is Nelson Goering, and (at least at the time of writing; academia is not a sector renowned for its job security) I'm a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. I have a doctorate in Comparative Philology and General Linguistics from Oxford, and specialize in the historical phonology and morphology of the older Germanic languages. If you're interested in the sorts of things I write about here, I teach a couple of relevant online courses (an introduction to Old English and a two-term course of Germanic Philology) at Signum University.