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From Hwæt to Whattup: A Bibliography of the History of English (July 2014): Home

by Edwin Battistella


This bibliography originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Choice (volume 51 | number 11).

Abstract and Introduction

English got its start in 449 CE when Germanic tribes of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes invaded post-Roman Britain.  Their speech became Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, which lasted until the dust settled from the Norman Conquest of 1066.  Norman French replaced English as the language of public affairs, and after two centuries a much different Middle English existed in the language of Chaucer.  With the advent of movable type, Middle English gave way, and Modern English—epitomized by the language of Shakespeare and the King James Bible—prevailed from about 1500 forward.  The language settled into a more fixed orthography and a more prescribed grammar, and it became the language first of empire, then of global commerce and culture.  That is the history of English in a nutshell.[1]

Although commentary on the language has existed from the earliest times, modern scholarship finds its shape with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century philologists.  This essay surveys work from that point forward, focusing especially on philological and linguistic studies and resources.  Those who are interested in a survey of earlier scholarship should look to Helmut Gneuss’s English Language Scholarship: A Survey and Bibliography from the Beginnings to the End of the Nineteenth Century.  Allan Frantzen’s Desire for Origins: New Language, Old English, and Teaching the Tradition situates the ideology of earlier work, in particular periods in which Anglo-Saxon origins were celebrated for religious or nationalistic purposes.  Murray Cohen’s Sensible Words: Linguistic Practice in England, 1640-1785 discusses the work of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century orthoepists like John Hart and Alexander Gil, who were concerned with correct diction and spelling.

[1] For an animated nutshell history, see The History of English in Ten Minutes, produced by the Open University in 2011

Edwin Battistella teaches at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. His most recent book is Sorry about That: The Language of Public Apology (Oxford University Press, 2014).


Thanks to my colleagues Michael Adams, David Basilico, Kristin Denham, Anne Lobeck, Geoff Ridden, and Rebecca Wheeler, who commented on an early draft of this essay.