History of the English Language – Past, Present, and Future: A Six-Part Course with Dr. Asya Pereltsvaig

History of the English Language – Past, Present, and Future: A Six-Part Course with Dr. Asya Pereltsvaig


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Welcome to a journey through 15 centuries of history and etymology of the magnificent English language. During this six-part course, we'll look beyond Chaucer and Shakespeare, we’ll listen in to conversations from centuries past, and shed light on many questions about the peculiarities of English as it is today – its pronunciation and spelling, word forms, grammar, and regional variation. 

Why, for example, do we spell “see” and “sea” differently although we pronounce them exactly the same? And what did the Black Death have to do with it? Why is the plural of “foot” “feet” and of “tooth” “teeth” but the plural of “book” is not “beek”? And why are “whither” and “whence” so confusing to us today? Answers to these questions will emerge as we explore the development of English, from its Anglo-Saxon beginnings on the continent, through the influences of the Celts, Vikings, and Normans, and to the globalization of English since the 1700s. 

Led by an expert on linguistics and history Asya Pereltsvaig, Ph.D., this Conversation will shed light on English as it is today, its structure, history, and diversity through the lens of its history. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of English, our beloved mother tongue and lingua franca. 

This course has been designed to be enjoyed as part of a series. We invite you to explore:

Lecture One – English is constantly changing: for better or for worse? The roots of English.

Lecture Two – The Anglo-Saxons and their language, Old English. How the Celts affected English.

Lecture Three – English in the Viking Age. Is English really Engelsk, an offshoot of Old Norse? How the Vikings dismantled Old English.

Lecture Four – The Norman Conquest and Middle English. French influence on English.

Lecture Five – Pronunciation changes in Renaissance English. Why English spelling today is so weird. Other influences in the Early Modern Period: Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, the printing press, and the American Founding Fathers.

Lecture Six – English goes global with the rise of colonialization. 

Asya Pereltsvaig received a PhD in Linguistics from McGill University and has taught at Yale, Cornell and Stanford, as well as in several U.S. and European universities. Her expertise is in language and history, and the relationship between them. Her most recent books, Languages of the World: An Introduction, 3rd edition (2020) and The Indo-European Controversy: Facts and Fallacies in Historical Linguistics (2015) were published by Cambridge University Press.

How does it work?
This is a six-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture. All Context Conversations are advertised in Eastern Standard Time.

When will I receive the Zoom link?
Your link to enter the Zoom room will be the same for all six sessions. It will be sent to the email address used to place your order 30 minutes prior to each lecture's start time.

Is there a reading list in advance?
Though the course is open to participants with no background on this topic, there are suggested readings for further investigation. These will be provided at the course's conclusion.

How long are the lectures?
Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?
The course is $210 USD for six lectures.

Is a recording available?
Yes. All registered participants will be sent a recording link within 48 hours of each session's conclusion.

This conversation is suitable for all ages.

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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