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The History of English Podcast

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A chronological history of the English language examined through the lens of historical events that shaped the development and spread of the language from the Eurasian steppe to the entire world.




Episode 98: The Great Debates

Magna Carta is often presented as the culmination of a dispute between King John and his barons, but it didn’t settle the debate. In fact, the charter actually sparked a new debate over the power of the king. That debate … Continue reading →

Duration: 00:59:34

Episode 97: Let’s Put It In Writing

The early 13th Century saw a massive increase in the production of government documents, including charters and official letters. In this episode, we explore the changing role of the written word in the Middle Ages. We also examine how King … Continue reading →

Duration: 01:02:15

Episode 96: From Alpha to Omega

During the early Middle English period, the long vowel sound represented by letter A started to shift to a new sound represented by letter O. In this episode, we explore this early vowel shift, and we also explore the dispute … Continue reading →

Duration: 00:57:50

Episode 95: Old School and New School

The 12th and 13th Centuries saw the rise of new institutions of higher learning called “universities.” In this episode, we look at the changing educational system in Western Europe and the rise of Oxford and Cambridge. We also explore the … Continue reading →

Duration: 01:07:56

Episode 94: From British Legend to English King

The first version of the King Arthur legend to be composed in English is found in Layamon’s 13th century poem called Brut. In this episode, we explore Layamon’s version of the story, and we examine how the text reveals certain … Continue reading →

Duration: 01:05:18

Episode 93: The Two Arthurs

In this episode, we look at the rivalry between John “Lackland” and Arthur of Brittany for control of the Angevin Empire. John eventually emerged victorious, but in the process, he set in motion the events that led to the loss of Normandy and … Continue reading →

Duration: 01:01:55

Episode 92: The Lion Kings

During the Middle Ages, lions were adopted as symbols of European royalty. Many monarchs also acquired nicknames related to lions. That included Richard the Lionheart. In this episode, we explore the origin of that nickname, and we examine the popular … Continue reading →

Duration: 00:51:02

Episode 91: Traders and Traitors

During the Crusades, Christian forces and Muslim forces traded blows in the Holy Land. At the same time, Europeans and Arabs traded goods through an extensive trading network that passed through the Near East and the Mediterranean. In this episode, … Continue reading →

Duration: 01:17:23

Episode 90: Healers, Hospitals and Holy Wars

In this episode, we turn our attention to the Near East to explore the spread of the Islam and rise of Muslim science in the Middle Ages. This scientific and literary revolution in the Near East contributed to the English language in some … Continue reading →

Duration: 00:59:49

Episode 89: ‘I Before E’ and All That

During the Middle English period, scribes developed a variety of spelling innovations to distinguish the sound of the various vowels. Some of those innovations were borrowed from French, and some were native to English. In this episode, we explore those spelling … Continue reading →

Duration: 00:51:42

Episode 88: The Long and Short of It

The Middle English document called the Ormulum is a goldmine for historical linguists because the text explicitly indicated how the vowel sounds in the text were to be pronounced. The text was written at a time when the vowels in many words were changing. … Continue reading →

Duration: 00:53:11

Episode 87: The First Spelling Reformers

Following the Norman Conquest of England, the French-educated scribes encountered the English language used by the Anglo-Saxons. The new scribes discovered unfamiliar letters and strange spellings. Early Middle English documents like the Ormulum show several spelling innovations introduced during this … Continue reading →

Duration: 00:55:50

Episode 86: Family of Rebels

The final years of Henry II’s reign were consumed with putting down rebellions. Those rebels included Henry’s sons and wife. In this episode, we explore Henry’s family of rebels. We also examine the book of homilies known as the Ormulum. … Continue reading →

Duration: 00:49:44

Episode 85: How to Run an Empire

The massive realm of Henry II extended from southern France through the British Isles. The administration of the so-called “Angevin Empire” required an extensive bureaucracy. In this episode, we examine some of the key government officials who administered the government … Continue reading →

Duration: 00:59:11

Episode 84: Law, Order and Murder

In the wake of civil war and anarchy in England, a crime wave gripped the nation. Murders and other violent crimes were rampant. Henry II sought to reimpose law and order throughout the country by reforming the English legal system. … Continue reading →

Duration: 01:00:56

Episode 83: A Trilingual Nation

During the reign of Henry II, the speech of England was dominated by three languages - English, French and Latin. In this episode, we examine the relative roles of those three languages, and we explore how the social barriers between those languages were breaking down in the 12th century.

Duration: 00:52:49

Episode 82: A Marriage for the Ages

The marriage of Matilda's son, Henry, to Eleanor of Aquitaine was a crucial event in the history of England and France. It produced a powerful realm which contributed to the return of peace and the end of Anarchy. In this episode, we explore these political developments, and we also examine the state of marriage in 12th century Europe. We also explore how these events shaped the vocabulary of the English language.

Duration: 00:52:44

Episode 81: Love Songs and Troubadours

While civil war raged in England, a completely different culture was flourishing in southern France. In this episode, we explore the opulent court of Aquitaine and the rise of the troubadours. Love was in the air as a new type of poetry was created in the 12th century. We also examine words associated with Medieval entertainment and courtly life.

Duration: 00:57:46

Episode 78: Under Siege

In this episode, we explore the outbreak of civil war in England as forces loyal to Matilda took up arms against King Stephen. The civil war led to a breakdown of central authority. The power vacuum was filled by local barons who constructed castles throughout the countryside. This ushered in a new era of siege warfare. We explore these events as recorded in the Peterborough Chronicle, and we examine how siege warfare influenced the English language.

Duration: 00:53:56

Episode 77: Rival Relatives and the Land of Scots

Following the death of Henry I, the king's nephew Stephen seized the throne and claimed the English throne before Matilda could get to England. We examine the reasons why Stephen was considered an acceptable alternative to Matilda. As soon as Stephen became king, he experienced challenges from a couple of English nobles. One of those nobles also happened to be the King of Scotland. We examine these initial challenges and explore the origin of Scots - the first version of English spoken...

Duration: 00:50:54

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