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English Language Studies

English Language Studies (ELS) considers the history and present status of the English Language. Study of the English language is an important tool for the study of literature. To paraphrase CS Lewis, in the older periods you know what you don't understand, but in more recent periods the apparent similarity of the words of the text to contemporary usage can mislead us. Words like liberal and conservative, nature and world, require historical perspective before we can understand them fully in either the literature of historical periods or in the present day, when different authors compete to drive their meanings in particular directions. So, too, literature can be an important source of evidence for the study of the language across cultures, regions, nations, and time. ELS can help students negotiate style, both as readers and writers: stylistics embodies the essential connection between literature and ELS in grammar, discourse, and cognition. Some courses, such as History of the English Language, Old English, and American English, treat the issue of language variation and change. Other courses, such as English Grammar, Lexicography, ESL Error Analysis, Second Language Acquisition, Style, and Language Variation and the Linguistics of Speech, treat specific topics and theories related to the English language.

ELS is a descriptive discipline at Georgia, considering what people have actually said and written in English as opposed to giving prescriptive advice about what people should say or write. While students can acquire training in syntax, phonology, and other sub-disciplines of linguistics through Georgia's interdepartmental Linguistics Program, ELS students begin with History of the English Language and develop the knowledge and skills appropriate for, at the MA level, further study in the language or a literary period or commercial jobs that demand close control over language. At the doctoral level, students will compete for jobs as "Dr. Language Person" in an English Department where they can teach and do research in conjunction with the work of their colleagues in literature, creative writing, and digital humanities.

ELS at Georgia features internationally-prominent research in

            --language variation, especially through the Linguistic Atlas Project,, the national center supported by the American Dialect Society for survey research on American English.

            --lexicography, with faculty actively participating in English dictionaries such as the Oxford English Dictionary,  and working on  bilingual and learners' dictionaries, the dictionary as text, empirical research on dictionary use, and the history and theory of lexicography.

            --corpus linguistics, the construction and analysis of large bodies of text by computer in the tradition of Firth and Sinclair, whether for literary (as in the study of Style), commercial, or linguistic purposes.

ELS students will have opportunities to participate in such research, in addition to the opportunities for teaching experience available to graduate students in English. Programs of study will include familiarity with at least one period of English literature;  the flexibility of requirements in English will allow students to follow their own interests in the selection of their coursework. The strengths of ELS at Georgia naturally suggest, but do not require, some affiliation with Digital Humanities (see the description under ‘Areas of Study’).


Professor, Department of English
Harry and Jane Willson Professor in Humanities

Research Spotlight

This area of interest examines theories of form and genre, considering the complex histories of literary forms such as the essay, novel, and lyric, as well as the equally complex histories of theorizing those forms. This area considers forms and genres, not as fixed categories, but as ever…

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