Applied historical English linguistics

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An Introduction to Applied Historical English Linguistics

Part of the English Language Division.

Goals of the Course[edit]

The goal of this course is to provide learners with skills that allow them to answer questions on “irregular” forms and “strange” phenomena of present-day English with historical linguistic knowledge. Learners shall acquire knowledge of the basic developments in English language history and shall get a primary insight into the literature of earlier periods of English. This wikicourse book tries to use already existing Wikimedia material as far as possible.

Structure of the Course[edit]

Each lesson, or chapter, first presents the key-terms for the corresponding topic, backed up with some information and literary hints. You should first get a general idea of the key-terms presented, unless they are labelled "in detail". In a second section, the learners are encouraged to think about a number of questions. If need be, some notions can then be delved into in a more detailled way. The questions can also be discussed on the talk page.

The single lessons are:

  1. General Introduction
  2. Phonology and Spelling
  3. Morphology and Syntax: Nouns and Adjectives
  4. Morphology and Syntax: Pronouns
  5. Morphology: Verbal System
  6. Syntax
  7. Lexicology: Creating New Words
  8. Lexicology: Re-Applying Old Words
  9. Pragmatics and Text Linguistics
  10. Dialects and Sociohistorical Linguistics
  11. Medieval and Early Modern Literature

Recommended Literature[edit]

There are a number of good introduction to English language history or aspects of it. Those overall introductions that I have experienced as most useful to students are highlighted.

  • Algeo, John (2008), Origins and Development of the English Language, 6th ed., New York: Cengage.
  • Algeo, John and Carmen Acevedo Butcher (2008), Problems in the Origins and Development of the English Language, 6th ed., New York: Cengage. With Answer Key.
  • Bammesberger, Alfred (1989), English Linguistics, Heidelberg: Winter.
  • Baugh, Albert C. / Cable, Thomas (1978), A History of the English Language, 3rd ed., London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Crystal, David (1995), Cambridge History of the English Language, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Denison, David (1993), English Historical Syntax: Verbal Constructions, London et al.: Longman.
  • Görlach, Manfred (1997), The Linguistic History of English, Basingstoke: Macmillan. (important is the collection of synoptic Bible texts)
  • Grzega, Joachim / Schöner, Marion (2007), English and General Historical Lexicology, [Onomasiology Online Monographs 1], Eichstätt: Katholische Universität.
  • Hogg, Richard M. (ed.) (1992-2002), The Cambridge History of the English Language, 6 vols., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Jucker, Andreas H. (2000), History of English and English Historical Linguistics, Stuttgart: Klett.
  • Mitchell, Bruce (1995), An Invitation to Old English and Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Mitchell, Bruce / Robinson, Fred C. (1994), A Guide to Old English, revised ed. with texts and glossary, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Nielsen, Hans Frede (1998), The Continental Backgrounds of English and Its Insular Development until 1154, [North-Western Language Evolution Supplement 19], Odense: Odense University Press.
  • Scragg, D. G. (1974), A History of English Spelling, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Good introductions in other languages are:

  • Brunner, Karl (1960-1962), Die englische Sprache, 2 vols., 2., rev. ed., Tübingen: Niemeyer.
  • Fichte, Joerg O. / Kemmler, Fritz (1994), Alt- und Mittelenglische Literatur: Eine Einführung, 2., compl. rev. ed.., [Literaturwissenschaft im Grundstudium 6], Tübingen: Narr.
  • Obst, Wolfgang / Schleburg, Florian (1999), Die Sprache Chaucers: Ein Lehrbuch des Mittelenglischen auf der Grundlage von Troilus and Criseyde, Heidelberg: Winter.
  • Obst, Wolfgang / Schleburg, Florian (2004), Lehrbuch des Altenglischen, Heidelberg: Winter.

Important text collections:

  • Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse, ed. by the Humanities Texts Initiative.
  • The Riverside Chaucer (1987), ed. by Larry D. Benson, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon Reader in Prose and Verse (1967), revised throughout by Dorothy Whitelock, Oxford: Clarendon.

Important dictionaries and linguistic atlasses:

  • BoTo = Bosworth, Joseph & Toller, Thomas Northcote (1898), An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, repr. and enlarged ed., London: Oxford University Press; (1921), An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary—Supplement, London: Oxford University Press.
  • EDD = Wright, Joseph (1898-1905), The English Dialect Dictionary: Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use During the Last Two-Hundred Years, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • EtymOnline - Online Etymological Dictionary
  • MED = Kurath, Hans et al. (1956-2001), Middle English Dictionary, Ann Arbor (Michigan): University of Michigan Press. [available as part of the Middle English Compendium online
  • OEC = DiPaolo Healey, Antonette (ed.) (2000), Dictionary of Old English – Old English Corpus. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • OED = Murray, James A. H. et al. (1928ff), The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • SED = Orton, Harold & Dieth, Eugen (1964-1971), Survey of English Dialects, Leeds: Arnold.
  • TOE = Roberts, Jane et al. (1995), A Thesaurus of Old English, London: King’s College London, Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies.

Etymological dictionaries:

  • Klein = Klein, Ernest (1966/1967), A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language Amsterdam: Elsevier.
  • ODEE = Onions, C. T. (1966), The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, with the assistance of G. W. S. Friedrichsen and R. W. Burchfield, Oxford: Clarendon.
  • OED = Murray, James A. H. et al. (1928ff), The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Terasawa, Yoshio (1998), The Kenkyusha Dictionary of English Etymology, Tokyo: Kenkyusha.

There are also some useful internet links

Lessons[edit]

General Introduction[edit]

Core Knowledge[edit]

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, entry for 871

English language history is normally divided into the following periods:

  • 450 (449) – 1100 (1066) Old English (Anglo-Saxon): the language of Beowulf
  • 1100 (1066) – 1500 (1476/1492) Middle English: the language of Chaucer
  • 1500 (1476/1492) – 1700 (1776) Early Modern English: the language of Shakespeare
  • 1700 (1776) – present Modern English

Read the following Wikipedia articles:

Make yourself familiar with the books listed in the bibliography and think for what kind of questions (phonetic, morphological, syntactic, lexical, pragmatic) each single work might especially be helpful in later sessions.

You may want to start reading some short Bible passages or other works in various editions to get accustomed to older stages of the English language (cf. the remarks in the last lession).

Questions[edit]

  • On what criterion is the periodization of English language history based?
  • What is meant by the following terms: Norman Conquest, West Saxon, Anglo-Saxons?

Phonology and Spelling[edit]

Core Knowledge[edit]

Great Vowel Shift

Being familiar with the regular sound changes in English language history is one of the two most essential things for explaining Modern English. The second driving force of language change is analogy, i.e. the adoption of another pattern.

Read the chapter on phonological history in Bammesberger's English Linguistics and/or the following Wikipedia articles:

Consult the following overviews:

Make yourself particularly familiar with the following notions (you may need to consult books from the list of recommended literature beyond the Wikipedia articles): the ME sound system (roughly), the development of OE /y(:)/, the elements of the Great Vowel Shift, the developments of ME /u/, vowels before /r/, OE and ME voice opposition in fricatives, the developments of ME /x/, /k-/, /g-/ and stress; the OE sound system (roughly), the developments of OE /a:/ and diphthongs, quantitative changes from OE to ME, the developments of OE geminates, i-umlaut, Grimm's law

Questions[edit]

  • How can the discrepancy between ModE spelling and pronunciation be explained?
  • How do you explain the homophonies of write:right, two:to? How do you explain the homographies in <live> (vb.:adj.), <house> (sb.:vb.), and <record> (sb.:vb.)?
  • What are the differences between BrE and AmE pronunciation and how do you explain them: forehead, gooseberry, dance, clerk?
  • How do you explain the discrepancy between <busy> and [ˈbɪzi]?
  • How do you explain the phonetic history of o’clock, gospel, woman, lord, lady, daisy?
  • What is Grimm's law? Why is this phenomenon called a law? What does it have to do with Grimm Brothers?
  • How do you explain the use of the apostrophe with the possessive marker (e.g. Uncle Tom’s Cabin).

You may want to consult Brunner 1960-62 (vol. 1) and Scragg 1974 for more in-depth treatments.

Morphology and Syntax: Nouns and Adjectives[edit]

Core Knowledge[edit]

As a basis you may want to read Jucker 2000, 26 & 39 & 54f., and the respective sections of the Wikipedia articles:

Make yourself particularly familiar with the following notions (you may need to consult books from the list of recommended literature beyond the Wikipedia articles): a-stems (in detail -- see below), ō-stems, root nouns, n-stems, further development of OE declension classes, further development of plural formations, further development of the OE possessive case, further development of grammatical gender, OE strong and weak adjective patterns and their further developments, OE gradation patterns of adjectives and their further development

The a-stems, which are the origin for the Modern English plural and possessive endings, show the following suffixes in OE:

The a-Stem Declension
Case Masculine Neuter
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative -as -u/–
Accusative -as -u/–
Genitive -es -a -es -a
Dative -e -um -e -um

Here is an example:

The a-Stem Declension
Case Masculine
Singular Plural
Nominative stân stânas
Accusative stân stânas
Genitive stânes stâna
Dative stâne stânum

Questions[edit]

  • How do you explain the following irregular plural forms: feet, women, oxen, dice, children, wives?
  • How do you explain the existence of the following double plural forms: brothers~brethren, mice~mouses, appendices~appendixes, referendums~referenda, fish~fishes, hoofs~hooves
  • We can sometimes read: “America and her 50 states”, “The Titanic—she is the most known ship world-wide.” Moreover, in British and American dialects we find many more instances of he and she with reference to inanimate objects.
  • Explain how we got the choice between I gave my dad this book and I gave this book to my dad.
  • Explain how we got the choice between my dad’s book and the book of my dad.
  • Explain how we got the choice between happier and more happy.
  • Adverbs are regularly formed with -ly. But how did we get the difference between he is a hard-working man vs. he is a hardly working man?

You may want to consult Brunner 1960-62 (vol. 2) for more in-depth treatments.

Morphology and Syntax: Pronouns and Articles[edit]

Core Knowledge[edit]

As a basis you may want to read Jucker 2000, 26f. & 39f. & 55, and the respective sections of the Wikipedia articles:

Make yourself particularly familiar with the following notions (you may need to consult books from the list of recommended literature beyond the Wikipedia articles): personal pronouns of the 2nd sg. vs. 2nd pl., 3rd pl., 3rd sg. fem., 3rd sg. neut.; this/that/these/those, a(n)/the

First Person
Case Singular Plural Dual
Nominative ic, īc wit
Accusative mec, mē ūsic, ūs uncit, unc
Genitive mīn ūre uncer
Dative ūs unc
Second Person
Case Singular Plural Dual
Nominative þū git
Accusative þēc, þē ēowic, ēow incit, inc
Genitive þīn ēower incer
Dative þē ēow inc
Third Person
Case Singular Plural
Masc. Neut. Fem.
Nominative hit hēo hiē m., hēo f.
Accusative hine hit hīe hiē m., hīo f.
Genitive his his hire hiera m., heora f.
Dative him him hire him

Questions[edit]

  • Explain why there is only one form you for both one addressee and more than one addressee.
  • Comment on the bold-printed parts of the following Bible quotation (AV): “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted” (Mt 5.13)
  • Comment on the bold-printed parts of the following Bible quotations (AV): “Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you?”
  • Comment on the bold-printed parts of the following Bible quotation (AV): “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my [in some editions also: mine] head with oil; my cup runneth over” (Ps 23.5).
  • Where does the form ’em as often found in written reflections of colloquial speech come from?
  • Explain how we got the choice between a and an.
  • Explain how we got the choice between Everybody has his rights ~ Everybody has one’s rights ~ Everybody has their rights.

Morphology: Verbal System[edit]

Core Knowledge[edit]

As a basis you may want to use Jucker 2000, 27f. & 35 & 40 & 55, and read the respective sections of the Wikipedia articles:

Make yourself particularly familiar with the following notions (you may need to consult books from the list of recommended literature beyond the Wikipedia articles): strong verb system (classes I, III, IV, V in detail), weak verb system (class II in detail), preterite-present verbs, ablaut, grammatical change, suppletion, development of 3sg. ending

The ModE regular pattern for forming the past and the past participle goes back to Old English weak verbs of class 2. Irregular verbs go back to the weak 1 and weak 3 and to the classes of strong verbs.

Originally, the classes of strong verbs had the following distinguishing features to their infinitive stems:

  1. ī + 1 consonant.
  2. ēo or ū + 1 consonant.
  3. Originally e + 2 consonants.
  4. e + 1 consonant (a nasal or a liquid, plus the verb brecan 'to break').
  5. e + 1 consonant (usually a stop or a fricative).
  6. a + 1 consonant.
  7. No specific rule — first and second have identical stems (ē or ēo), and the infinitive and the past participle also have the same stem.
Stem Changes in Strong Verbs
Class Infinitive First Preterite Second Preterite Past Participle
I ī ā i i
II ēo or ū ēa u o
III see table below
IV e æ ǣ o
V e æ ǣ e
VI a ō ō a
VII ē or ēo ē or ēo

Here are some examples:

Stem Changes in Strong Verbs
Class Infinitive First Preterite Second Preterite Past Participle
I rīdan rād ridon riden
II crēopan crēap crupon cropen
III see table below
IV stelan stæl stǣlon stolen
V etan æt ǣton eten
VI faran fōr fōron faren
VII cnawan cnēow cnēowon cnawen


The third class went through a number of sound changes.

  • breaking: Before <h>, and <r> + another consonant, <æ> turned into <ea>, and <e> to <eo>. Also, before <l> + another consonant, the same happened to <æ>, but <e> remained unchanged (except before combination <lh>).
  • the influence of palatal sounds <g>, <c>, and <sc>: these turned preceding <e> and <æ> to <ie> and <ea>, respectively.
  • before nasals: <e> to <i>, <æ> to <a>, and <o> to <u>.

This results in five sub-classes of class III of strong verbs:

  1. e + two consonants (apart from clusters beginning with l, r, h or nasal) (rare).
  2. eo + r or h + another consonant.
  3. e + l + another consonant.
  4. g, c, or sc + ie + two consonants.
  5. i + nasal + another consonant.
Stem Changes in Class III
Sub-class Infinitive First Preterite Second Preterite Past Participle
a e æ u o
b eo ea u o
c e ea u o
d ie ea u o
e i a u u

Here are some examples:

Stem Changes in Class III
Sub-class Infinitive First Preterite Second Preterite Past Participle
b weorðan wea wurdon (grammatical change!) worden (grammatical change!)
c helpan healp hulpon holpen
d gieldan geald guldon golden
e bindan band bundon bunden

Questions[edit]

  • How do you explain that the paradigm of be is I am, you are, he/she/it is, not I be, you be, he/she/it bes?
  • The two basic ways of forming the preterite is attaching -ed or changing the stem vowel. The form kept seems to be a mixture of both. Is there an historical explanation?
  • Where does the past tense went come from?
  • How do you explain the number opposition was vs. were, absent with other verbs?
  • How do you explain the difference between EnglE dive—dived—dived vs. AmE dive—dove—dived?
  • Comment on the bold-printed parts of the following Bible quotation (AV): “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over” (Ps 23.5).
  • How do you explain that there is no -s with he can/could/shall/should/may/might/ought to/must/will?

You may want to consult Brunner 1960-62 (vol. 2) and Denison 1993 for more in-depth treatments.

Syntax[edit]

Core Knowledge[edit]

As a basis you may want to use Jucker 2000, 121-129.

Make yourself particularly familiar with the following notions (you may need to consult books from the list of recommended literature beyond the Wikipedia articles): word-order patterns in OE/ME/ModE (including the formation of questions), relative clauses, development of the tense and aspect system, development of the subjunctive, grammaticalization

Questions[edit]

  • How do we explain that it is possible to use need and dare either as full verbs or as auxiliary verbs? Is there a difference in meaning?
  • How do we explain the many future forms (will do, be going to do, will be doing, be doing, do, will have done)?
  • Why is it God save the queen, not God saves the queen or May God save the queen?
  • Why is there are differentiation between simple and progressive?
  • Why is there a variation in the following sentences? Is there a difference in meaning? (a) A whole bunch of students is/are waiting out there. (b) The orchestra is/are rehearsing right now.
  • Why do we have to use an auxiliary do to form a question?
  • How come that in an English passive sentence the subject can also go back to the indirect and not necessarily to the direct object of the active clause?

You may want to consult Brunner 1960-62 (vol. 2) and Denison 1993 for more in-depth treatments.

Lexicology: Creating New Words[edit]

A speech community can find designations by way of word-formation, by way of borrowing or by way of semantic change. The first two shall be the topic of this lesson, the latter on the topic of next lesson.

Read the following Wikipedia articles (or section of articles):

A student-friendly introduction to historical lexicology is the book English and General Historical Lexicology (by Joachim Grzega and Marion Schöner).

Core Knowledge[edit]

As a basis you may want to read Jucker 2000, 23f. & 36-38 & 50-53 & 60f.

Make yourself particularly familiar with the following notions (you may need to consult books from the list of recommended literature beyond the Wikipedia articles): loanword sources in OE (Celtic, Latin, Scandinavian), loanwords vs. calques, later loanword sources (northern French, Parisian French, Latin & Greek, other languages), (morphological) dissociation, consociated vocabulary, hard words, inkhorn terms, opaque compounds, transparency, folk-etymology/popular etymology, etymological d(o)ublets, [[w:cognates|cognates], prominent word-formation patterns in OE/ME/ModE (esp. agent-noun formation, conversion), substratum and superstratum

Questions[edit]

  • Where does the form -wright as in playwright come from? Explain what elements the OE consisted of and say what happened to these elements in course of time.
  • How are the words dish, disc, disk, discus, desk, dais related?
  • Where do the following words come from? Try to associate them with the key-terms listed above: chestnut, mistletoe, Sunday, Saturday, OE leorning-cniht vs. ME/ModE disciple
  • English distinguishes between living animal and dead animal as food: swine/pig—pork, calf—veal, ox—beef, deer—venison, sheep—mutton. Where does this differentation originate?
  • Many anatomic terms are inherited and shared by both English and German (and other Germanic relatives), e.g. heart—Herz, lung—Lunge, blood—Blut, tongue—Zunge. But how can we explain the discrepancy between kidney and Niere?
  • Not infrequently you find inherited terms aside from Latin terms in English everyday language: what’s the difference between fatherly—paternal, deep—profound, building—edifice? And what about ask vs. question vs. interrogate?
  • How do you explain the syntax in secretary general and princess royal?

You may want to consult the OED or EtymOnline for etymological information and Baugh/Cable 1978 for cultural information.

Lexicology: Re-Applying Old Words[edit]

Core Knowledge[edit]

Make yourself particularly familiar with the Bloomfield's, Ullmann's, Blank's and Grzega's typologies of semantic change by reading the Wikipedia article on semantic change.

Questions[edit]

  • The words ill, sky, nay, die, take, cast, skin, raise, (to and) fro are Scandinavisms. What happened to the original English words?
  • Describe the further history of the OE words sǣlig ‘happy,’ cniht ‘boy,’ cnafa ‘boy’, cwene ‘girl’?
  • What do the terms sandwich, boycott and kleenex have in common?
  • The semantic ranges of the following terms differ in EnglE and AmE: sick, student, bug, pants, chips, to be through (on the phone). What are the differences and how do you explain them?
  • Explain the use and history of let in the formula without let or hindrance.
  • Explain why corn means ‛wheat’ in England, ‛oats’ in Scotland and ‛maize’ in the US.
  • In older songs of the 20th c. you can still hear a couple of a boy and a girl being described as “gay”: What’s the semantic history of this word?

You may want to consult the OED or EtymOnline for etymological information and Baugh/Cable 1978 for cultural information.

Pragmatics and Text Linguistics[edit]

Core Knowledge[edit]

Read the following Wikipedia article:

A more thorough introduction with examples is given in Jucker 2000, 90-109. As an example for a study in the field of historical pragmatics you should read the article "Adieu, Bye-Bye, Cheerio: The ABC of Leave-Taking Terms in English Language History" (by Joachim Grzega, 2005).

Questions[edit]

  • How do you explain the existence of one pronoun only as both an informal and a formal address term (you), in comparison to other European languages.
  • Explain the history of the following salutation terms: Welcome!, Hi!, How do you do!, Hello!, Good-bye!, Cheerio!
  • What’s the history of the word please and its use?
  • Where does the interjection Gee! come from and how did we get this ModE result?
  • In polls and archaic speech you can occasionally read or hear yea and nay instead of yes and no. Where do these forms come from?
  • In e-mails we not infrequently come across the preposition re and the verb to cc. What’s the origin of these terms?
  • The more formal the style, the higher the probability that you will step over one of the following abbreviations in an English text: etc., e.g., i.e., cf., et al., viz., RSVP, Esq., &. What do these signs mean, where do they come from?

You may want to consult the OED or EtymOnline, Grzega 2005 (cf. above).

Dialects and Sociohistorical Linguistics[edit]

Read the following Wikipedia articles:

A more thorough introduction with examples is given in Jucker 2000, 16 & 29f. & 33-36 & 61-65 & 82-88.

Core Knowledge[edit]

Questions[edit]

  • Where do General American (GA) and Received Pronunciation (RP) originate in?
  • Is it true that American English is more innovative and that British English is more conservative.
  • In IrE the present perfect of some verbs is formed with be instead of have, e.g. He is gone out, she is run to the store, he is come in, she is swum to other side of the river, he is stood up. Do you see any system? Where does it come from?
  • A Cockney cab driver tells a professor: In Hapril there’s halways a big festival at the Hapollo Theater and some other ’ouses. Explain these aberrations from standard speech.
  • Explain the following differences.
    • StandE: I love, you love, he/she/it loves, we love, they love
    • Wessex: I loves, you loves, he/she/it loves, we loves, they loves
    • East Anglia: I love, you love, he/she/it love, we love, they love
  • Here are some features of African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Try to explain them historically: (a) existential it: it is a lot of a people here, (b) lack of copula vs. habitual be: He busy right now vs. He be busy every Monday. (c) lack of 3rd sg. marker: She like ice-cream very much.
  • Is there any medieval work where English authors play with dialects, comparable, for instance, to Mark Twain, who played with dialect in Huckleberry Finn?

You may want to consult Brunner 1960-62 and Crystal 1997 for more in-depth treatments.

Medieval and Early Modern Literature[edit]

First page of the Beowulf manuscript
Canterbury Tales manuscript, beginning of General Prologue


Core Knowledge[edit]

The earliest document of the English language are glosses. The most important literary work of the OE period is the epic Beowulf. Apart from that a linguistically as well as historically interesting work is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, or Peterborough Chronicle, shedding light on English history until 1154. The most important piece of ME literary work are the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. The most important writer of EME is William Shakespeare. Read the respective Wikipedia articles.

The Wikisource project offers the following texts:

You can actually hear Chaucer texts on The Chaucer MetaPage

You may want to proceed your voyage into older English literature the following way:

  1. synoptic reading of Bible passages
  2. Shakespearean texts
  3. introduction of the Canterbury Tales
  4. Anglo-Saxon chronicle
  5. other passage from the Canterbury Tales, other OE texts from the Anglo-Saxon reader
  6. Beowulf

Questions[edit]

  • Can you give an outline of the Beowulf story? How are Beowulf verses structured?
  • What are glosses, what are homilies?
  • Why are King Alfred and Aelfric so important for OE?
  • What makes the Canterbury Tales the outstanding work of ME literature?
  • What is the structure of the Canterbury Tales, content-wise and language-wise?
  • Is Shakespeare's language conservative or innovative for his times?
  • Can you translate the text given out in class?


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