English and its Evolution

A little something for the language buffs among us. The Structure of English Words (iTunes) is another Stanford course. To be exact, it comes out of the Stanford Continuing Studies program (my day job), and we’re opening enrollments for our Fall term next Monday. (If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, give our offering a look. If you live outside the Bay Area, then you may want to check out our popular series of online writing courses.) You can find the course description for The Structure of English Words, taught by Professor Will Leben, directly below. To find hundreds of other free courses, then check out our collection of Free Online University Courses:

Thanks to historical, cultural, and linguistic factors, English has by far the world’s largest vocabulary—leading many of us to have greater than average difficulty with words, and some of us to have greater than average curiosity about words.

Our historical and linguistic study will cover both erudite and everyday English, with special attention to word meaning and word use, to both rules and exceptions. Most words originated with an image. “Reveal” = “pull back the veil,” “depend” = “hang down from.”

Change is constant. “Girl” once meant “a young child of either sex;” an early synonym for “stupid” was “nice.” Despite resistance to change among some experts and some members of the general public, new words are entering at an accelerating rate, from “Frankenfood” to “ungoogleable.” Are there good changes and bad ones? And who gets to decide? Exploring the historical and contemporary richness of English will suggest some answers.

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