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University of Oxford Faculty of English

Horobin, Simon

Position: Professor of English Language and Literature; Tutorial Fellow, Magdalen College
College: Magdalen
Period/Subject: Medieval, Language

Email address:


Research Interests:

The History of the English Language, especially in the Medieval period. 

Teaching Areas:

Old and Middle English. History of the English Language. Palaeography and the History of the Book.


I have appeared on numerous radio and TV programmes to discuss language issues. Recent appearances include BBC Breakfast TV, BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine Show, BBC Radio 4 Stephen Fry's English Delight, BBC Sportshour, NPR Here and Now.

I have been interviewed for various articles appearing in national newspapers:

'Spelling it out: is it time English speakers loosened up?' The Guardian

'Why the comma is heading towards its own full stop' The Times

'Autocorrect allows apostrophe to hang on in there' The Times

General Interest:

'What will the English language be like in 100 years?' The Conversation

'Toilet or Lavatory? How words Britons use betray national obsession with class' The Conversation

'Why do we say "sorry" so much?' The Conversation

'Emojis and ambiguity in the digital medium' OUP Blog

'Do we need the apostrophe?' OUP Blog

'Does Spelling Matter?' OUP Blog

'Battels and subfusc: the Language of Oxford' OUP Blog

'Clues, code-breaking, and cruciverbalists: the language of crosswords' OUP Blog

I have published nuermous articles on the Oxford Words Blog, including:

'Talking Proper: The Language of U and Non-U'

'From teaspoons to tea-sots': The Language of Tea'



How English Became English: A Short History of a Global Language. Oxford University Press, 2016

Does Spelling Matter? Oxford University Press, 2013

Studying the History of Early English. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009

Chaucer’s Language. Palgrave Macmillan, 2006; 2nd edition, 2012

[‘Highly recommended’ Times Higher Education Supplement]

The Language of the Chaucer Tradition. Chaucer Studies 32. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2003

[Awarded the English Association’s Beatrice White Prize for outstanding scholarly work in the field of Medieval and Renaissance studies.]

An Introduction to Middle English. (with J.J. Smith) Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002; Oxford University Press USA/Canada.

Edited Books:

Middle English Texts in Transition. (with Linne R. Mooney) York: York Medieval Press, 2014

New Perspectives on English Historical Linguistics. Volume 1: Syntax and Morphology, eds. C. Kay, S. Horobin and J. Smith. Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 251. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2004.

Articles/Chapters in Books:

'Thomas Hoccleve: Chaucer's First Editor?' Chaucer Review 50 (2015), 228-250

‘The Nature of Material Evidence’, forthcoming in Tim William Machan (ed.), Imagining Medieval English (Cambridge University Press)

‘Manuscripts and Printed Books’, forthcoming in Merja Kyto and Paivi Pahta (eds), The Cambridge Handbook to English Historical Linguistics (Cambridge University Press)

‘Stephan Batman and the Making of the Parker Library’ (with Aditi Nafde), Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society (forthcoming).

'The etymological inputs into English spelling’, forthcoming in Vivian Cook and Des Ryan (eds), The Routledge Handbook of the English Writing System (Routledge)

‘The scribe of Corpus College Oxford MS 201 of Piers Plowman’ in Simon Horobin and Linne Mooney (eds.), Middle English Texts in Transition' (York: York Medieval Press, 2014), pp. 21-39

‘Beaupré Bell and the Editing of Chaucer in the Eighteenth Century’ in Derek Pearsall and Carol Meale (eds.), Makers and Users of Medieval Books: Essays in Honour of A.S.G. Edwards (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2014), pp. 214-223

‘John Cok and his Copy of Piers Plowman’Yearbook of Langland Studies 27 (2013), 45-58

‘What’s wrong with English Spelling?’ Babel: The Language Magazine 3 (2013), 36-40.

‘Forms of Circulation’, in Julia Boffey and A.S.G. Edwards (eds.), A Companion to Fifteenth-Century Poetry (Boydell and Brewer, 2013), pp. 21-32.

‘Manuscripts and Readers of Piers Plowman’, in Andrew Cole and Andrew Galloway (eds.), Cambridge Companion to Piers Plowman (Cambridge University Press), pp. 179-197

‘Compiling the Canterbury Tales in Fifteenth-Century Manuscripts’, The Chaucer Review 47 (2013), 372-89.

‘Chaucer Manuscripts and the Middle English Dictionary’, in Eugenio Contreras and Ana Laura Rodriguez Redondo (eds.), Focus on Old and Middle English Studies (Madrid, 2011), pp. 11-23.

‘Editing’, in Terttu Nevalainen and Elizabeth Traugott (eds.), A Handbook to the History of English (Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 53-62.

‘Chaucer and Late Medieval Language’, Literature Compass 8:5 (2011), 258–265.

‘Stephan Batman’s Manuscripts of Piers Plowman’, Review of English Studies 62 (2010), 358-372.

‘The scribe of Bodleian Library MS Digby 102 and the circulation of the C text of Piers Plowman’, Yearbook of Langland Studies 24 (2010), 89-112.

‘Further Books annotated by Stephan Batman’ (with A.S.G. Edwards), The Library 7th series, vol. 11 (2010), 223-7.

‘Adam Pinkhurst, Geoffrey Chaucer and the Hengwrt manuscript of the Canterbury Tales’, Chaucer Review 44 (2010), 351-67.

‘Richard James and the seventeenth-century provenance of British Library MS Cotton Caligula A.XI’, Journal of the Early Book Society 13 (2010), 249-254.

‘Manuscripts and Scribes’, in Susanna Fein and David Raybin (eds.), Chaucer: Contemporary Approaches (Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Press, 2010), pp. 67-82.

‘The Professionalisation of Writing’, in Elaine Treharne and Greg Walker (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 57-67.

‘Mapping Text and Word’, in Alexandra Gillespie and Daniel Wakelin (eds.), The Production of Books in England, 1350-1530 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 59-78.

‘Middle English Language and Poetry’, in Corinne Saunders (ed.), A Companion to Medieval Poetry (Blackwell: Oxford, 2010), pp. 181-95.

‘The Language of Chaucer’, in Alexander Bergs and Laurel Brinton (eds.), Historical Linguistics of English: An International Handbook (Mouton de Gruyter), pp. 576-87.

‘The Language of the Vernon Manuscript’ (with Jeremy Smith) in Wendy Scase (ed.) A Digital Edition of the Vernon Manuscript (Bodleian Library), pp. 27-47.

‘Speaking and Writing in Suffolk speech’: the language and dialect of Osbern Bokenham’, in Marcin Krygier and Liliana Sikorska (eds.), ße laurer of oure Englische Tonge (Peter Lang, 2009), pp. 9-19.

‘What C.S. Lewis really did to Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde’, C.S. Lewis Society Chronicle 6:2 (2009), 20-29.

‘The Scribes of the Vernon Manuscript’, in Wendy Scase (ed.), The Making of the Vernon Manuscript (Brepols, 2013), pp. 27-47.

‘Adam Pinkhurst and the copying of British Library MS Additional 35287 of the B Version of Piers Plowman’, Yearbook of Langland Studies 23 (2009), 61-83.

‘The Edmund-Fremund Scribe Copying Chaucer’, Journal of the Early Book Society 12 (2009), 191-201.

‘The Scribe of Bodleian Library MS Bodley 619 and the circulation of Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe’, Studies in the Age of Chaucer 31 (2009), 109-124.

‘The Criteria for Scribal Attribution: Dublin, Trinity College MS 244 Reconsidered’, Review of English Studies 60: 345 (2009), 371-81.

‘Chaucerian Word Formation’, Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 110 (2009), 141-57.

‘Reconsidering Lincoln’s Inn 150’ (with Alison Wiggins), Medium Ævum 77 (2008), 30-53.

‘Harley 3954 and the Audience of Piers Plowman’, in Graham D. Caie and Denis Renevey eds., Medieval Texts in Context. (Routledge, 2008), pp. 68-84.

‘A manuscript found in the library of Abbotsford House and the lost legendary of Osbern Bokenham’, English Manuscript Studies 1100-1700 14 (2008), 132-164.

‘Politics, Patronage, and Piety in the Work of Osbern Bokenham’, Speculum 82 (2007), 932-49.

‘Teaching the language of Chaucer Manuscripts’, in Gail Ashton and Louise Sylvester (eds.), Teaching Chaucer in the University (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), pp. 96-104.

‘A new fragment of Chaucer’s Romaunt of the Rose’, Studies in the Age of Chaucer 28 (2006), 205-215.

‘Chaucer as a Philologist: The Reeve’s Tale’, in Michael Drout ed, J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment (Routledge, 2006), pp. 93-4.

‘Scribe D’s SW Midlands Roots: A Reconsideration’ (with Daniel W. Mosser), Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 106 (2005), 32-47.

‘The scribe of Rawlinson Poetry 137 and the copying and circulation of Piers Plowman’, Yearbook of Langland Studies 19 (2005), 3-26.

‘The angle of oblivioun: A lost medieval manuscript discovered in Walter Scott’s collection’, Times Literary Supplement 11 November 2005, 12-13.

‘“In London and opelond”: The Dialect and Circulation of the C Version of Piers Plowman’, Medium Ævum 74 (2005), 248-69.

‘Southern copies of the Prick of Conscience and the study of Middle English Word Geography’, Poetica 62 (2005), Special issue on Medieval English Dialectology, (ed.) Michiko Ogura, 89-101.

‘A Piers Plowman Manuscript by the Hengwrt/Ellesmere Scribe and Its Implications for London Standard English’ (with Linne R. Mooney), Studies in the Age of Chaucer 26 (2004), 65-112.

‘The Dialect and Authorship of Richard the Redeless and Mum and the Sothsegger’, Yearbook of Langland Studies 18 (2004), 133-52.

‘Pennies, Pence and Pans: Some Chaucerian Misreadings’, English Studies 84 (2003), 426-32.

‘Chaucer’s Norfolk Reeve’, Neophilologus 86 (2002), 609-12.

‘The English Ordinance and Custom in the Cartulary of the Hospital of St Laurence, Canterbury’ (with J.J. Smith), Anglia 120 (2002), 488-507.

‘Towards a new history of Middle English Spelling’ (with M. Black and J.J. Smith), in P.J. Lucas and A.M. Lucas (eds.), Middle English from Tongue to Text. (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2002), pp. 9-20.

Phislophye in The Reeve's Tale (Hg 4050) in Answer to Astromye in The Miller's Tale (3451)’, Notes and Queries n.s. 48 (2001), 109-110.

‘J.R.R. Tolkien as a Philologist: A Reconsideration of the Northernisms in Chaucer’s Reeve's Tale’, English Studies 82 (2001), 97-105.

‘The Language of the Fifteenth-Century Printed editions of the Canterbury Tales’, Anglia 119 (2001), 249-58.

‘Chaucer’s Spelling and the Manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales’, in I. Taavitsainen et al. (eds.), Placing Middle English in Context. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2001, pp. 199-208.

‘Research questions and opportunity costs: the Digitisation of Middle English manuscripts and the Middle English Grammar Project’ (with J.J. Smith), in M. Deegan and H. Short (eds.), DRH 99: Selected  papers from Digital Resources for the Humanities 1999. London: Office for Humanities Communication, 2000, pp. 49-55.

‘The Language of the Hengwrt Chaucer’, in E. Stubbs (ed.), A Digital Facsimile of the Hengwrt Chaucer. Leicester: Scholarly Digital Editions, 2000.

‘The Middle English Grammar Project’, ICAME Journal 24 (2000), 172-4.

‘The Scribe of the Helmingham and Northumberland manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales’, Neophilologus 84 (2000), 457-65.

‘Some Spellings in Chaucer’s Reeve's Tale’, Notes and Queries n.s. 47 (2000), 16-8.

‘A Database of Middle English Spelling’ (with J.J. Smith),  Literary and Linguistic Computing 14 (1999), 359-73.

‘The Middle English Grammar Project’, Journal of the Early Book Society 2 (1999), 184-7.

‘Linguistic Features of the Hammond scribe’, Poetica 51 (1999), 1-10.

‘A New Approach to Chaucer’s Spelling’, English Studies 79 (1998), 415-24.

‘The “Hooked g” Scribe and his Work on three Manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales’, Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 99 (1998), 411-17.

‘Editorial Assumptions and the Manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales’, in N.F. Blake and P. Robinson (eds.), The Canterbury Tales Project Occasional Papers Volume II. London: Office for Humanities Communication, 1997, pp. 15-21.

‘Additional 35286 and the Order of the Canterbury Tales’, Chaucer Review 31 (1997), 272-8.

Forthcoming talks

Oxford University Press, 27 March 2013

Chipping Norton Literary Festival, 21 April 2013

Swindon Literary Festival, 14 May 2013

Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival, 27 and 28 May 2013

Norman Blake Memorial Lecture, Sheffield University, May 2013

Yale University, 26 and 27 September 2013

Bangor University, 29 October 2013

Tucker Cruse Lecture, Bristol University, 19 November 2013

Lausanne University, 4 December 2013

Leiden University, 13 December 2013

Cambridge University, June 2014

Notre Dame University, September 2014

Doshisha University, Kyoto December 2014

Oxford Japan Office, Tokyo, June 2015

Plenary speaker, International Conference on English Historical Linguistics, Essen University, August 2016

Editorial Work

Consultant, Oxford English Dictionary

I also write occasional posts for the Oxford English Dictionary words blog

Member of Editorial board, The Yearbook of Langland Studies

Member of Editorial board, The Chaucer Review

Member of Editorial board, Poetica

Honorary Secretary, Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature

Visiting Appointments

I was Charles Owen Visiting Professor at the University of Connecticut in 2011 and Houghton Mifflin Visiting Fellow at the Houghton Library, Harvard University in 2013.