History of the English Language

Course details

From £1365.00

Sun 28 Jul 2019 - Sat 03 Aug 2019

History of the English Language


The Oxford Experience is a residential summer programme providing one-week courses in a variety of subjects aimed at non-specialists. It offers a choice of seminars each week over a period of six weeks.

We will explore some of the key elements of the History of English: its origins; how it developed; its vocabulary; changes in meaning; ideas of good and bad language and the different varieties of English. Language is constantly changing, and a study of its past can give us a better understanding of earlier literature. Moreover, as language users, we are all, consciously or unconsciously, experts in the field, and participants will find they have much to contribute to the class.

Programme details

Seminars meet each weekday morning, 09.15-10.45 and 11.15-12.45, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study or exploring the many beautiful places in and around the city.


Some theories on the origins of language; how English fits into the Indo-European family of languages; how English came to the British Isles; and a brief survey of the development of modern English.


Vocabulary and word-formation – where the words we use come from, how they are put together and why we use them when and where we do. How to work backwards from modern English to read medieval and Anglo-Saxon English


How meaning and expression changes, and how the meaning we find in texts today may be different from the author's original intentions. We will look at some Shakespeare, and see if we can get a better idea of what his words would have meant to his contemporaries.


Sources of authority. How dictionaries and language reference books are put together and the influence of teachers and language authorities on our ideas of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ English. Why we care so much about correctness? Afternoon field trip to Oxford English Dictionaries.


Later and current developments in English. Varieties of English. We will look at how we all use different types of language in different situations and how English varies in different countries and between written and spoken English. Space will also be made to follow up topics of particular interest to participants.

Field Trip:

Oxford English Dictionaries on foot

Excursion Rating: Moderate

Excursion Ratings: Key
(as rated by course tutors)
Easy: Up to an hour's walk on even ground or less than half an hour's walk on rough ground.
Moderate: Up to two hours' walk on even ground or up to an hour's walk on rough and/or steep ground or up lots of stairs and steps.
Demanding: More than two hours' walk on even ground or up to two hours' walk on rough and/or steep ground or up lots of stairs and steps.

Recommended reading

Bryson, B. Mother Tongue. Penguin (UK), Harper Perennial (USA). 2009.


During your course, you will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Christ Church in buildings which range from the 18th to the 20th century. Bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

The fee £1545 includes a bedroom with private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Most are single but a few twins are available for couples or those who wish to share with a friend. Those couples wishing to book a twin room should contact us direct ipoxex@conted.ox.ac.uk, as these rooms cannot be booked online.

There are also a few standard rooms available which all have their own washbasin and shaver point but the bath and toilet facilities on each staircase are shared. To apply for one of these rooms please select the ‘Programme Fee (with single standard accommodation and meals)’ option on the application form.  Early application for these rooms is essential.

Most standard rooms are single but there are a few ‘twin sets’ (two single rooms opening off a sitting room). If you wish to book a twin set, please contact us direct ipoxex@conted.ox.ac.uk, as these rooms cannot be booked online.

Please indicate your accommodation preferences (either online or on your application form) together with a note of any mobility problems.

We regret that we are unable to offer you accommodation at Christ Church prior to or following your course. Additionally, family or friends who are not enrolled in the programme cannot be accommodated in college.


Programme fee (with single en-suite accommodation and meals): £1545.00
Programme fee (with single standard accommodation and meals): £1365.00


Dr Julia Mary Cresswell


Dr Julia Cresswell has long been a regular tutor on The Oxford Experience. She has also taught undergraduates at a number of Oxford institutions, and works as a writer, mostly on aspects of the English language. She is the author of 20 books, and has also worked for many years as a lexicographer.

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Online registration closes on Wednesday 1 May 2019 but please note that this course may be fully booked very quickly so early registration is recommended.