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Sample Essay Questions

Check your understanding of the major aspects of the history of English by answering the questions below.

  1. Why do historians of English tend to divide the stages of the language's development into Old, Middle and Early Modern English? What distinguishes these different forms of the language from each other?
  2. How did Old English differ from Modern English? Can you explain this with reference to both grammar and vocabulary?
  3. What factors caused Old English to develop into Middle English and in what ways did the language change?
  4. What effect has religion had on the development of English over time?
  5. Choose ten place names local to where you come from and, using an etymological dictionary, find out what these names mean and how they have developed over time. What do the place names you have chosen tell you about the settlement of these areas over time?
  6. How and why did a standard form of English develop? When did this occur and what changes did the language undergo during the process of standardisation?
  7. What were the initial causes of the global spread of English and how did these affect the linguistic development of the language?
  8. What were the major external causes of the development of American English?
  9. In what ways did the English language develop during the twentieth century? Try to consider linguistic development at more than one linguistic level.
  10. Based on what you know about the development of English from its earliest inception, can you speculate on how the English language might develop in the future? What kinds of changes might we expect to see and what factors affect the extent to which you can make such predictions?
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