110 thoughts on “Episode 1: Introduction

      • You are studying for “…me final?” In English the possessive pronoun for “I” is “my”.

        I believe you wanted to say “…my final.”

        • Technically, “me” is a regional variant of “my.”
          https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/me#Etymology_2

          Additionally, Middle English and early Modern English (think Shakespeare) usually pronounced “my” as “me” anyway.

          But that’s sort of beside the point: I think Jenna is probably a non-native anglophone; was your understanding of her comment impeded by her non-standard construction? No, you knew what she meant.

          • I think Amadis’s actual point was that Jenna’s English still needs some work in spite of her studying. (Unless she was joking, as EnglishMajor suggests.)

            And just because you know what someone means doesn’t mean you shouldn’t correct them when they make a mistake.

          • Bravo. Nothing irks me like superfluous pedantry, especially when its not strictly correct. “Own the language- dont be owned by it” is a good rule of thumb.

          • Great podcast and this conversation on “me final” I laughed and read it to my wife. The possibility of big fingers on a small screen with predictive text comes to mind. This is creating interesting variations of language often quite comical.

        • Yeah, regardless, the comment left by Amadis sounds pedantic at best; here, I’ll give it a shot. Amadis, you should have written:

          You are studying for “…me final”? In English, the possessive pronoun for “I” is “my.”
          I believe that you wanted to say, “…my final.”

          You see, there are rules governing the use of quotation marks and commas.

        • This depends on where you learn to speak.
          In many parts of England (e.I. Yorkshire) they still use “me”, whereas in common, “proper”, English “my” is considered correct.

          • Indeed, James. Review the comment thread for more context: I was not criticizing the use of “me” as the possessive, but rather Amadis’s apparent need to correct Jenna’s post. So, I returned the nitpicking to Amadis and “took a red pen” to their post. Ultimately, it was to show that we can understand one another despite perceived grammatical errors.

  1. Pingback: History of English Podcast – Amy's ESL Site

  2. I have just discovered your podcast and I’m looking forward to hearing all of the episodes. Thanks for the comparison passages of old, middle, and modern English. We read Chaucer in translation at school, but the other group read it in the original. So unfair!

  3. Just discovered your podcast due to its mention on Stuff You Missed In History’s episode on the vowel shift. Listened to one episode randomly and I was OH MY GOD I HAVE TO HEAR ALL OF THESE so listening from the beginning now and language-nerding out and boring all my friends and kids no doubt (but seriously how could anyone find the letter C boring now?) Thank you thank you and yes I will give you money!

    • Thanks! I’m glad you discovered the podcast and find it so enjoyable. You’ve got a long way to go to catch up. 🙂 Thanks again, and be sure to keep listening!

  4. I’m coming from the same place as Rhiannon! I’m up to episode three, and my roommate thinks I’m a giant dork. I’m totally ok with that. I’m curious to know what you’re all about? What was the impetus for this podcast? Do you teach in real life somewhere?

    • Nadine, a few episodes in Kevin Stroud gives some info about his background, so stay tuned!

      It’s interesting to hear how folks got here. I was sent here from a Reddit thread about four weeks ago, and since then I’ve binged my way to Episode 48.

    • As John noted, I address my background in the first Bonus Episode. I am not a teacher or a professional linguist/historian. I am actually an attorney, and my academic background is mostly in political science and law. However, the history of English had long been a passion of mine

      • I am literally so facinated by this podcast. I got lost somewhere around episode 52 and started over, it’s still so amazing. I came here to find this answer specifically because I was thinking “I want to have his same career” but now I see I need to first become a lawyer to support my endless need for knowledge of history. It’s so amazing you have created all of this and are a lawyer. I already thought you were the most interesting person in the world.

  5. My wife is starting at the beginning again and her sister is just starting. So I have decided to begin again at episode 1. I have an American “pen pal” who says we are separated by our common language. In Australia we do NOT say “I could care less”. We say “I could NOT care less” — or more likely — “I couldn’t care less”

    • Yes, I’ve always found the American “I could care less” rather odd. If they COULD care less, then they are saying that they actually care. Are they just being lazy, or is there there some distorted logic behind that?

      • I live in northern NSW and often call myself Denis from Down Under. I first heard the term as as child in Brisbane Qld. A flotilla of seven US warships had visited Brisbane on a good will visit before the attack on Pearl Harbour and the subsequent invasion of Brisbane by the US Army in 1942. But the fact that we really do live “Down Under” was reinforced in the gift shop at Disneyland in 1992. I had picked up an earth globe to inspect it. I wanted to re-position it correctly, but I was disoriented so I replaced it on its tripod with Northern NSW uppermost. Some passerby soon put it back with the northern hemisphere uppermost. The experiment was repeated four times, always with the same result The polar axis is inclined by about c 23.5 deg but to what? Strangely enough we see the sky “overhead” but the sun moves through our northern sky.

      • I actually discussed the phrase “I could care less” in Episode 55: To Be or Not To Be. There are some interesting theories about its origin and why it is so common in US speech despite its lack of inherent logic.

      • Hi Bob, Tom from the US here. The “I could care less”expression in the US has always bothered me too, but I think there is a certain (as you say) distorted logic behind it, with a basis in smart aleck cynicism. This has to do with what is left unsaid. “I could care less, (but I don’t)”, with an emphasis on the word “could” coupled with the unspoken “but I don’t”. See…it makes a bit more sense that way, but as you say has an element of laziness to it as well. 😁

      • I’m with you. I’ve heard it but it never made since. I had learned “I couldn’t care less.”
        I contribute the alternative as intellectual laziness.

        • I think that people just got confused about whether the phrase is “I couldn’t care less” or “I could…” So some people started saying “could,” and over time, that gained traction because it’s a bit easier to say.

          As for where the confusion came from to begin with, ThomThom’s theory – that the actual meaning of the phrase was obscured by the double negative – makes sense to me. I remember learning it as a kid, and thinking that “I couldn’t care less” meant “I care enough not to want to care any less than I do.” 🙂

    • Yes, it seems that “I could care less” is primarily limited to American English.

      And I hope you enjoy the podcast the second time around.

      • As an American, I’d say “I could care less” is more a sloppyism than anything… a contraction of the contraction “couldn’t”.

        However, I’ve always thought that “I couldn’t care less,” which always means “I don’t care” was a confusingly ironic double negative idiom that hides its true meaning because when you cancel out the negatives, it becomes “I could care.” Maybe 325 million Americans are right! 🙂

  6. I’m enjoying the podcast–I just discovered it and have started at the beginning. How delightful to hear you recite excerpts from Chaucer.

    The history of English helps me to envision the history of how peoples moved from the steppes into western Europe and Britain, really how that part of civilization began to grow. It’s really a window into the history of man in the world, and language is a basic reflection of daily life.

    Anyway, thank you for this wonderful opportunity for continued learning.

  7. I am enjoying your podcasts about the English language, though as yet I have only listened to the first few. As a native English speaker who worked for the UN and has lived in various parts of the US ( New York, DC, Maryland and Tennessee) as well as London, Rome and Jerusalem, and visited approximately 90 countries in all parts of the world, I have come took appreciate not only the ubiquity of English, but the many forms it takes.

  8. Thanks for your podcast. What interesting and useful series document for me as an English learner. I am wondering how I can purchase the transcripts from episode 26. Thank you, David!

    • At the present time, I only have transcripts for episodes 1-25. I also make transcripts available for recent episodes (from episode 89) at Patreon.com/historyofenglish. I hope to have more transcripts available very soon.

  9. I have just discovered what a treasure we have in these various comments. If only we knew more about the back ground of the people making them. Is any progress being made on the voice samples you have been collecting Kevin? In Australia we have a tremendous advantage in that we are exposed to English Language films (and others) from a wide variety of countries and cultures. In fact we often turn on subtitles when listening to English being spoken.

    • I continue to collect the voice samples, and I will have an update in an upcoming episode. I intend to use them as we transition into Modern English, and also throughout the Modern English period to trace the development of modern English accents.

  10. I discovered this gem of a podcast a few days ago, and so far I am loving it. I am looking forward to listen through it all!

    Now, you have probably been asked this before, but from a quick search I could not find the answer to which piece of music you used for the intro/outro of the show. I would like to know!

    Thanks for the podcast!

    • Thanks for the feedback! I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast. The theme music is a stock audio clip by Shawn Pigott called “Medieval Faire.” I acquired it through istockaudio (which has since merged with another company I believe). Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s available as a full audio piece.

  11. Many thanks to you, Kevin Stroud. You do a wonderful podcast–very professional and so interesting. I will listen to all of these. Your podcast is accessible, interesting, and informative.

  12. I’ve been really enjoying the brilliant podcast, and have now bought the alphabet book – thank you so much. Just one tiny point, Bethlehem isn’t “House of Bread”, it’s “House of Meat”.

    • Hi Owain. I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast. I don’t speak Hebrew or Arabic, but according to my sources, the word “Bethlehem” means ‘house of meat’ in Arabic, and ‘house of bread’ in Hebrew. Does the translation depend on the language?

  13. In college, I minored in German and Anthropology (My major regretfully being Radio-TV production), and have since wondered what my life would be like if I had gone into historical linguistics/linguistic anthro instead. I can’t believe I’m just now finding this podcast. Having a blast following along with what I already know from the history (Great Vowel Shift? Oh yeah!).

    Thank you for making this so accessible. I can’t wait to listen to all of them!

  14. I’ve also just discovered this wonderful podcast, thanks to some professor answering an on-line etymology question, and concluding with “I’m writing a book about this, but meanwhile check out an excellent podcast called “the History of the English language.” I’m hooked.
    A question: (I’m only at episode 5 so you may answer this later) Why do all of these consonants gradually shift? People were able to pronounce them as they were. If it was something anatomical, wouldn’t the shifts be the same everywhere?

    • Hi David. It’s really a great question without a simple answer. Throughout the podcast series, I explore lots of sound shifts that impacted different stages of the language. Sound shifts evolve out of pronunciation differences. No language is pronounced exactly the same by all of its speakers. There are always variations – some subtle and some more obvious. Minor differences can evolve into larger sound changes over time. I am not a professional linguist, so I can’t really explain why specific changes develop within certain dialects, but randomness is certainly a factor. Some changes occur within certain linguistic environments. Others occur when one language encounters speakers of another languages There are lots of factors, and I try to address the causes when they are known and generally agreed upon. Otherwise, I tend to focus more on ‘what’ happened rather than the ‘why.’

  15. English doesn’t ‘borrow’ from other languages.

    English lurks in dark alleys, and mugs other languages going through their pockets for vocabulary and loose bits of grammar.

  16. Just discovered this, via a recommendation from an early episode of the History of England podcast. Very excited to hear the rest! Also an attorney, but with a lifelong interest in history and language. Always happy to learn something new!

      • Dear Kevin,

        Thank you very much. This podcast is so enjoyable. I recently gained the opprotunity to start college at the age of 40. Higher education was always a dream for me and your podcast keeps me motivated to always seek to understand more. Once again my sincerest of gratitude for brilliant work shared.

        • Thanks Irene! I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast, and congratulations on starting college. It’s never too late to learn new things.

  17. Born and raised in Friesland this podcast is of special interest to me. And while going through some of the episodes for the third time, I may want to comment on some episodes for things that seem hardly to have changed in Frisian tongue from Old English.

    So here is my first one: a fishing rod is in Frisian language called an “angel” which is one of the Germanic words for spear. Ger/Gar being an other one. Actually even in Dutch it is “hengel”. It looks to me that this has a relationship with “spear-danes” in the Beowulf. So could it be that they actually meant the Angles? I would not be surprised….

    • Thanks for the note. FYI, I discuss the relationship been Frisian and Old English in some detail in Episode 28. Be sure to check that out.

  18. In both Norwegians, we have the word “angel”, which is a fishing hook. The verb “angle” means to put the hook on the line.

    • That too is really interesting from the perspective of possible changes in the meaning of things. But there might be more logic to it than thought of. Since “angle” seems to have been a special kind of spear with barbs where those barbs from an angle to the blade of the spearhead. Nasty to get that in your body as you can not easily withdraw it and throw it back as it is literary hooked in your flesh. In dutch and frisian the meaning of fishing hook is “haak” where a hook(corner) is “hoek” with exactly the same pronunciation. All related to the same shape and being cognates.

      So once more, and even for reasons named by Marianne Hansen… Spear-danes might very well be the Angles.

    • Perhaps someone else addressed this, but: the term “angler” is a fancy way of saying “fisherman.” Now I know where it came from.

  19. Thanks a lot, Kevin!
    Your podcast sounds even more intriguing than detective tv series!
    I’ve just finished the first episode and already look forward to hearing all the rest of them!

  20. Hey, this is good work, I like it.
    I know you said you weren’t an expert in Old English pronunciation, and that’s fine (it’s a specialty of mine).
    I wanted to say that that the f in words like yfele and heofonum in OE were pronounced /v/ like Modern English “v.” In fact, “v” really was never used, so “f” was voiced between vowels, unless written “ff.” I mention it, because it shows how yfel even sounded closer to evil, and heofon like heaven.
    This happened with other fricatives in Old English, specially þ/ð and s. “s” does this still in many cases.

    • Hi Patrick. At the time I recorded this introductory episode back in 2012, I didn’t focus as closely on the exact pronunciation of Old English. However, when preparing the episodes that dealt specifically with Old English (beginning around Episode 27), I tried to get the pronunciation as accurate as I could. So the F’s between vowels are pronounced as V’s in future episodes. In fact, I specifically discussed the pronunciation issue you mentioned in a later episode.

  21. Kevin,
    My hobby is DNA research an in particular am running a project covering a new branch of DNA that we current call ‘South Baltic’. It is a brother branch separate from the R-U106 (often called the Germanic line) and R-P312 (mostly associated with Celtic peoples). We are R-S1194.

    The emergence of the Steppe herders from the region above the Black sea opened a new understanding for us and we have been looking at the ways the Yamnya pastoralists would have reached the region where the Unetice Culture emerged (Bohemia or Czech Republic).

    Your podcasts offer a fascinating way of looking at the movement of these people and them blending with others along their Journey into Western Europe.

    The one aspect of this whole story exemplified in the split and apparent homelands of the Celts & Germanics is the issue of did this westward migration involve two groups of the same people – one moving up south of the Carpathians & along the Danube to perhaps found the R-P312 branch of R1b, and a separate group moving towards Bohemia through the Ukraine and or Russia then Poland and later on to the Scandinavian & Nth German regions.

    The challenge I have been looking at is ‘was there a dual migration of Yamnaya/Kurgan people two groups going both Nth & Sth of the Carpathians’, or, was there only one migration nth of the Carpathians plus a later back migration down south of the Carpathians.

    The reason the dual-migration path has challenges is that the immediate parent SNP for all the branches of R1b (particularly R-U106, R-P312 & R-S1194) is R-L11 and that SNP (even in ancient DNA burials now being analysed) can’t be found other that around Bohemia. It appears to have emerged either in Ukraine or Poland or Bohemia itself. Thus implying their could only be one migration route either via the nth or the sth route around the Carpathians.

    Your podcasts make a very strong case for a dual migration path from the Steppes, with proto-Germanic evolving Nth of the Carpathians and proto-Celtic evolving via a Sth of the Carpathians migration.

    However, this leads to the issue of the missing common R-L11 SNP from below the Carpathians. So was it possible that the Sth Carpathian route reflects a migration of the culture and language for the ‘Celtic’ branch of PIE, rather than the actual people. (i.e. did the language migrate itself, if it turns out that R-L11 people did not do that Sth migration ?

    Again, your podcasts offer an intriguing explanation for how the Celtic and Germanic languages might have reached Hallstatt (Celtic) & Bohemia (both) differently, and, why the daughter languages are so different.

    I recommend to all my project members to try to listen to as many of your podcasts as they are able. The work is excellent and commendable.

    Doug Marker
    Project Admin – R-S1194 (Sth Baltic DNA)
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/southbalticdna/

    • Hi Doug. Thanks for the comments. This is all very fascinating. With respect to the theories I presented in the podcast, I tried to make it clear that they were just theories based on the evidence known at the time, but ultimately no one knows for sure how the migrations occurred. In fact, most of the sources I used were written before the most recent DNA research which has shed additional light on the issue. I think the DNA research will modify some of the traditional theories about the migrations and give us a much better picture over the next few years. Keep me updated as new information becomes available.

  22. Kevin, thanks for a great podcast. It’s especially appreciated how deeply you go into historical events, population movements, and other factors that affect the development of language from the beginnings of Proto-Indo-European on. I’m at #28 right now. Having listened to Mike Duncan’s History of Rome, followed by part of David Crowther’s History of England, your podcast fits right in, illuminating a lot of the events they describe even further.

  23. Wow! Just discovered this podcast thanks to an OP on a Facebook group I belong to. Really interesting. I look forward to listening to more of these podcasts.

  24. Just recently found The History of Ancient Greece Podcast. This was on the recommended page and appears to be perfect for me. I am so happy to have very, very many episodes to go. Thank you

  25. i is loving ur excellent podcast keep up the excellent work u excellent man i am truly impressed with ur excellence in the english language i personally is from russia so very appreciate ur hard work in teaching me the english. thankyouy for everything kevin love from vladimir xxxx

  26. In England we do say “I couldn’t care less” and I’ve never understood why Americans use the slightly different phrasing so I’m excited to hear about this! As well as learning lots of other cool stuff as well of course!

    • Thanks! I specifically discuss the phrase “I could care less” in ‘Episode 55: To Be or Not To Be.’ So check that out for more info.

  27. Just letting you know that you’re still attracting new listeners. I can’t recall exactly where I saw the recommendation for your podcast, but I’ve had the first few episodes downloaded in my podcast player for a couple months, just waiting for an “opening”.

    That happened this past weekend, when I finally caught up on all of the other shows I’ve been binging my way through. I’ve made my way through the first six episodes, and I’m afraid I may have a lot of catching up to do on my other listening, because I have a feeling I may need to set them all aside until I’ve caught up with this one 🙂

    I am particularly enjoying the emphasis on Indo-European and other “pre-English” languages; its a topic that I wasn’t aware I cared anything about, but now I can’t seem to get enough of it.

    • Thanks! I’m glad you discovered the podcast. You’ve got a long way to go to catch up, but there’s no hurry. I still have quite a way to go before I get to the 21st century.

  28. I discovered this podcast last week, and have been beside myself with delight ever since. Seven glorious years of binge-listening ahead.

  29. Today, I found you through my Facebook friend’s post. Her comment was: “Mind blown.” I replied, “Whoda thunk Shakespeare wrote in modern English? Lol. Wink. wink.”
    Also, I find it grating when I hear the rest of my family say, “I could care less.” But, there’s more of them than me, and so the language morphs in their direction. Shakespeare wouldn’t recognize “lol”.
    Thank you for clearly covering and uniting two of my favorite topics: history and language. I’m delighted that I can listen to your excellent podcast. Best wishes to you.

      • Starting over again. I can’t get enough. Many many thanks. You’re podcast has reinvigorated my interest in language so much that after 40 years I’ve returned to college and I’m taking Spanish, French and German, and delighting in all the connections I’m finding, like with joy, jouer and jugete. Please continue.

  30. Hello!
    I am from Ukraine. I’ve learned English and some basic German at school and I’m really into learning foreign languages and acknowledging different cultures. I use this podcast to boost my listening skill. I’ve just listened the first episode and in my opinion it is amazing, though it is sometimes challenging for me to understand every single word. So I’m very grateful for it.

  31. I just discovered this excellent podcast, and I’m looking forward to hearing every episode! Well structured, well presented, excellent illustrations.

  32. Congratulations! No doubt the best podcast I’ve seen until now. I was looking for podcasts in order to practice my very deficient skill in understanding English, and I became so fascinated for the stories that often I forget my first goal and, even thou I don’t understand the whole stuff, the podcast is now not a linguistic exercise but a great and amazing (and huge, fortunately) tale for me.
    Thank you very much for your erudition, but also for your clear voice and the quality of the recording.
    And sorry for my awful expression in English!

    • Thanks for the feedback! I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast series, and I hope you stick with it until the end.

  33. Hi Kevin, love your podcast. I was wondering if you had posted the great vowel shift yet. I am very excited to hear it. Also, are you going to continue making more podcasts. I would be disappointed to see you stop now when there’s still so much to learn. I’d like to join Patreon if you are going to keep producing your informative and interesting podcasts.

    • Hi Deborah. Yes, I release a new episode each month – usually about the third week of the month. The story is told chronologically, and I am currently at the end of the 1300s, so I haven’t gotten to the Great Vowel Shift yet. I have discussed some earlier vowel shifts in Middle English, but the Great Vowel Shift will be covered during the 1400s. That means that I will be addressing it in the upcoming year.

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