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Lecture 36: Conclusions and Provocations
Conclude the course by reviewing the major themes and approaches you've covered and bringing together some of the details of the historical sweep of the preceding lectures. As Professor Lerer stresses, to know the history of our language is to know ourselves.
Sixteen centuries ago a wave of settlers from northern Europe came to the British Isles speaking a mix of Germanic dialects thick with consonants and complex grammatical forms. Today we call that dialect Old English, the ancestor of the language nearly one in five people in the world speaks every day.
How did this ancient tongue evolve into the elegant idiom of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Twain, Melville, and other great writers? What features of modern English spelling and vocabulary link it to its Old English roots? How did English grammar become so streamlined? Why did its pronunciation undergo such drastic changes? How do we even know what English sounded like in the distant past? And how does English continue to develop to the present day?
Definitely worth multiple listens. There’s a lot of depth and nuance here and Lerer does a great job of not only relaying the history and events, but ties it together in broader themes while still showing the art of the multiple subjects he’s covering.
Lecture 35: Linguistics and Politics in Language Study
Get a compelling introduction to Noam Chomsky, the founder of modern linguistics, and to the social, cognitive, and philosophical implications of his work. The legacy of Chomskyan linguistics, you'll discover, goes far beyond the technical terms of the discipline to embrace a politics of language study itself.
Francis James Child (February 1, 1825 – September 11, 1896) was an American scholar, educator, and folklorist, best known today for his collection of English and Scottish ballads now known as the Child Ballads. Child was Boylston professor of rhetoric and oratory at Harvard University, where he produced influential editions of English poetry. In 1876 he was named Harvard's first Professor of English, a position which allowed him to focus on academic research. It was during this time that he began work on the Child Ballads. The Child Ballads were published in five volumes between 1882 and 1898. While Child was primarily a literary scholar with little interest in the music of the ballads, his work became a major contribution to the study of English-language folk music.
Child considered that folk ballads came from a more democratic time in the past when society was not so rigidly segregated into classes, and the “true voice” of the people could therefore be heard. He conceived “the people” as comprising all the classes of society, rich, middle, and poor, and not only those engaged in manual labor as Marxists sometimes use the word. ❧
Annotated on August 04, 2020 at 09:31AM
Though there were no graduate schools in America at the time, a loan from a benefactor, Jonathan I. Bowditch, to whom the book was dedicated, enabled Child to take a leave of absence from his teaching duties to pursue his studies in Germany. There Child studied English drama and Germanic philology at the University of Göttingen, which conferred on him an honorary doctorate, and at Humboldt University, Berlin, where he heard lectures by the linguists Grimm and was much influenced by them. ❧
Annotated on August 04, 2020 at 09:33AM
Elizabeth Freeman (Mum Bett), the first enslaved African American to sue for her freedom in the courts based on the law of the 1780 constitution of the state of Massachusetts, which held that “all men are born free and equal.” The Jury agreed and in 1781 she won her freedom. Her lawyer had been Theodore Sedgwick. ❧
Annotated on August 04, 2020 at 09:35AM
Delve into the linguistic relationships of Old English to its earlier German matrix. Look at key vocabulary terms—many of which are still in our own language—to trace patterns of migration, social contact, and intellectual change. Also, learn how Old English was written down and how it can help us reconstruct the worldview of the Anglo-Saxon peoples.
I’d gone through the first edition several years back and thought I’d do a quick review, particularly in relation to some history of memory I’ve been working on and thinking about.
Throughout the day and commuting in the car to class, I’ve listened through lecture 4.
The earliest fragments of English reveal how interconnected Europe has been for centuries, finds Cameron Laux. He traces a history of the language through 10 objects and manuscripts.
Lecture 25: A New Perspective on the Story of English
We trace English back to its earliest discernible roots in Proto-Indo-European and follow its fascinating development, including an ancient encounter with a language possibly related to Arabic and Hebrew.
Robert Lowth FRS (/laʊð/; 27 November 1710 – 3 November 1787) was a Bishop of the Church of England, Oxford Professor of Poetry and the author of one of the most influential textbooks of English grammar.
Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia
Lowth seems to have been the first modern Bible scholar to notice or draw attention to the poetic structure of the Psalms and much of the prophetic literature of the Old Testament. ❧
October 16, 2018 at 10:55AM
Lowth’s grammar is the source of many of the prescriptive shibboleths that are studied in schools, ❧
October 16, 2018 at 10:56AM
His most famous contribution to the study of grammar may have been his tentative suggestion that sentences ending with a preposition—such as “what did you ask for?”—are inappropriate in formal writing. ❧
October 16, 2018 at 10:56AM
Lindley Murray (27 March 1745 – 16 February 1826), was an American Quaker who moved to England and became a writer and grammarian.
Lecture 2: When Language Began
We look at evidence that language is an innate ability of the human brain, an idea linked to Noam Chomsky. But many linguists and psychologists see language as one facet of cognition rather than as a separate ability.
Lecture 3: How Language Changes—Sound Change
The first of five lectures on language change examines how sounds evolve, exemplified by the Great Vowel Shift in English and the complex tone system in Chinese.
The English language presents itself to students and non-native speakers as an almost cruelly capricious entity, its irregularities of spelling and conjugation impossible to explain without an advanced degree.