Daniel W. Mosser has a good website on “The Evolution of Present-Day English” that has pages on each phase of the history of English, starting with Indo-European. I’m too familiar with the material to be sure of this, but it seems pitched at a level accessible to everyone, whatever their prior acquaintance with the subject. (Thanks to aldiboronti at Wordorigins for the link.)

If you’re wondering, the title is from Chaucer, specifically a remarkable passage in Book 2 of Troilus and Criseyde that could serve as an epigraph for any book on historical linguistics:

Ye knowe eek, that in forme of speche is chaunge
With-inne a thousand yeer, and wordes tho
That hadden prys, now wonder nyce and straunge
Us thinketh hem; and yet they spake hem so,
And spedde as wel in love as men now do;
Eek for to winne love in sondry ages,
In sondry londes, sondry been usages.


  1. Ian Myles Slater says

    I agree that it would make a great title.
    It was in fact used for a collection of readings illustrating the history of English, which is entered in my personal catalogue as:
    Fisher, John H., and Diane Bornstein, editors. In Forme of Speeche is Chaunge: Readings in the History of the English Language. Prentice–Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1974. Five plates (facsimiles). Bibliography. Appendices. VIII + 375 pages. Trade paperback.
    (My copy is in a box in a storage unit, so I’m relying on this information, instead of describing it from memory.)
    It has been out of print for years; Amazon doesn’t have a listing for it, although copies show up on ABEBooks from time to time.
    I can’t see any real obstacle to using it again, especially if it is spelled differently. Except, of course, for another collection of texts illustrating the development of English….

  2. Titles aren’t copyrighted, IIRC. There are twelve different books called “Peace Like A River”, the most recent of which was written by a family friend.

  3. Ian Myles Slater says

    That is true. But I wasn’t thinking of copyright issues so much as practical bibliographic ones, as a “real obstacle.”
    I keep having to ask Amazon to unlink, please, entirely different books with the same title. They don’t always agree that a four-hundred page collection of folktales is NOT the same book as a twenty-page retelling of the title story for children, for example.

  4. That’s a good passage, though I would use “Nice and Strange” as a title myself, unable to resist the snapshot in the history of ‘nice’. It’s moved to ‘unusual, unfamiliar’ just before heading into ‘delicate, dainty’.
    I suppose (being at work and not having books about me) that ‘wonder’ is a zero plural there. If so, what a gem of grammatical change it all is: postposed adjectives, then a dative subject and ‘hem’ from before the Norse borrowing.
    Now wonder nyce and straunge us thinketh hem!

  5. No, I think wonder is an adverb here (‘wondrously’). The plural in -s was well established by Chaucer’s day:
    c1205 LAY. 21738 Tha.. gunnen to fleonnen.. into than watere, ther wunderes beoth inoghe.
    1297 R. GLOUC. (Rolls) 151 Mirabilia Anglie. Thre wondres beth in engelond,..
    But you’re right, it’s a great sentence from that point of view!

  6. hi i’m looking for book to have a speech for my english class ok

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