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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Lindsay R Russell
ENGL 270
Seattle Campus

The Uses of the English Language

Surveys the assumptions, methodologies, and major issues of English in its cultural settings. Connects English language study with the study of literature, orality and literacy, education, ethnicity, gender, and public policy.

Class description

There are clear camps when it comes to the English language: For some, it is "the most perfect all-purpose instrument," "the grandest triumph of the human intellect," "the lingua franca of the angels," and, for others, it is "a weapon of war," "a steamroller," "the language of the criminal who committed the crime." It's the engine of angels or the cudgel of demons. But of course, English is not simply one or the other of these things. Over time, it has been lots of different things to lots of different people. And the purpose of this course will be to explore those uses and users throughout the history of the English language.

This course will look to primary texts from major periods in the history of English to begin to answer questions such as: What is English? What does it look like? (Is there one English or are there many Englishes?) Who uses it? (A handful of people or a horde? The vulgar among them or the elevated? The invaded or the invaders?) Where is it used? (In England or elsewhere? In letters, law courts, literature?) How is its use mediated? (Is it spoken or written? Is it transmitted by pen, wire, web?) What does it mean to use it? (Is its use praised or disparaged? Does the language carry or disseminate political or philosophical attitudes or ideologies?) The readings for the course will include contemporary histories of the language but primary attention will be given to texts, recordings, and films that constitute interesting uses of English: the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Beowulf (and the 2007 film Beowulf), the Ancrene Wisse, the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, early dictionaries and grammars, speeches by Elizabeth I, various acts of union passed by the United Kingdom, eighteenth-century elocution manuals, Pygmalion (and the 1950 film Born Yesterday), episodes of NBC's Outsourced, Zadie Smith's 2008 lecture "Speaking in Tongues," and Trainspotting (the book and the movie).

Coursework will include lectures, discussions, presentations, exams, and short response essays. Course texts will be available in the University Bookstore or in the coursepack. No prior knowledge of Old English, Middle English, or linguistics is necessary.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Lindsay R Russell
Date: 10/20/2010