School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies

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Nicola McLelland

Professor of German and History of Linguistics, Faculty of Arts



I studied German and French at the University of Sydney, Australia. After two years on a scholarship in Bonn, Germany, I gained my PhD from the University of Sydney in medieval German literature. An MPhil in Linguistics at the University of Cambridge sparked my interest in the history of people's ideas and beliefs about language and how to use it. My first post was at Trinity College, Dublin; I've been in German, now part of the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, at Nottingham since 2005. In 2020, I was awarded the Grimm Prize, awarded annually to an academic working in German Studies outside Germany who has made an outstanding contribution to international work in the area. You can read more about my personal interest in German here, in a profile for the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) who award the Grimm prize.

I've never stopped learning languages. In addition to French and German, I have made good headway with Latin, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Russian, and, most recently, Chinese.

Expertise Summary

My research explores the history of people's ideas about languages, how to learn them and how to use them. Together with Richard Smith (Warwick) I established an AHRC-funded research network on the History of Language Learning and Teaching (HoLLT) in Britain and beyond (2012-2014), which continues as the HoLLT network. My most recent book, Teaching and Learning Foreign Languages provides a comprehensive history of language teaching and learning in the UK from its earliest beginnings to the present, including the history of languages policy and assessment. My previous book, German Through English Eyes, published in 2015, is a history of how German language and culture has been presented to English-speaking learners of German since 1500. Other research interests include German medieval literature (the subject of my PhD), German sociolinguistics, language standardization, codeswitching, language and gender, and linguistic purism.


Professional Service: I have been a member of the AHRC Peer Review College since 2010. I have previously been member of the Philological Society's Council, and am currently President of the Association for German Studies. I am also Chair of the Henry Sweet Society for the History of Linguistic Ideas, and was lead editor of the journal Language & History,for ten years to 2020. I also serve on the editorial board of a number of other journals.

Teaching Summary

I teach German linguistics across the board, from the early history of the Germanic languages to current developments in German speech and grammar, as well as German sociolinguistics, including such… read more

Research Summary

My main area of research is the history of ideas about language, especially the history of grammar, lexicography (dictionaries) and foreign language education, and issues in language standardization… read more

Recent Publications

Read about our 2019 visiting Leverhulme Visiting Professor Douglas Kibbee here, reflecting on "Rethinking language and inequality"


Plurilingualism in the flesh - tales from an academic's travels (26 November 2019)

Noticing languages - noticing language inequality (20 April, 2019)

Dipping a toe into language standards and variation in multilingual China (16 January 2018)

'I am the circumflex'- language rules, language purity, and language rage (23 November 2016)

Podcast: For a podcast about questions of correct language, part of the MEITS project (, see here:, "What's good and bad about the language(s) we use - and who even cares about correctness anyway?"

In the media

Radio 3's Free Thinking (June 5, 2018): The rise of translation and the death of foreign language learning

In May 2014 I was on BBC Nottingham talking about the learning of European languages in the UK:

I have talked about the words Deutsch, Achtung and Standard as part of Nottingham's Words of the World project:: and

For a paper which I gave to the University of Newcastle School of Modern Languages about the history of German language learning in the UK, see

For a (very brief) appearance on Radio 4's Making History to discuss Germans visiting Britain as part of the Grand Tour in the eighteenth century, as reflected in language teaching materials, see

For an accessible introduction to the history of learning German in England, see here.

I teach German linguistics across the board, from the early history of the Germanic languages to current developments in German speech and grammar, as well as German sociolinguistics, including such questions as how Germans have felt over the centuries about borrowings from other languages (currently mainly English!) or how gender-fluid identity is dealt with in German, where grammatical gender is hard to avoid.

I also enjoy teaching German language at all levels.

Postgraduate supervision: I currently supervise students working on German, French and Chinese, and have previously supervised projects in the history of language teaching and in various aspects of sociolinguistics and historical sociolinguistics, working on Latin, French, Spanish and Ukrainian.

I welcome enquiries about supervising undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations in any of the areas listed above, or any of the areas mentioned in my research summary.

Current Research

My main area of research is the history of ideas about language, especially the history of grammar, lexicography (dictionaries) and foreign language education, and issues in language standardization and variation. I was Deputy Director and strand leader on the project Multilingualism - Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies (MEITS) funded by the AHRC under the Open World Research Initiative (July 2016 to July 2020). For more information about the research strand at Nottingham, see here.

I warmly welcome enquiries about postgraduate supervision. I am currently co-supervising students working on German online youth language, especially in YouTube comments; on minority languages in France; and on the history of teaching Mandarin Chinese to Mongolian speakers. Recently completed PhD projects include work on the Ukrainian language in the UK; French language advice columns from the 19th century and the present day; teaching Latin in 19th-century Germany and England; and a discourse analysis of exchanges in the Mexican Congresss.

Thanks to a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship, in 2017 I published the first comprehensive history of language learning in Britain, including teaching methods, policy, and assessment (Teaching and Learning Foreign Languages). An AHRC fellowship in 2011 funded a project on the history of textbooks of German for English speakers, resulting in my book German Through English Eyes in 2015 (reviewed here).

An AHRC-funded research network (2012-14) with Richard Smith (Warwick) on the history of language learning and teaching the UK (HOLLT), led to a special issue of the journal Language & History, and a special issue of the Language Learning Journal. A three-volume collection on the History of Language Learning and Teaching appeared in 2018. The network continues as under the aegis of the International Association of Applied Linguistics. The research has led to a new AHRC-funded collaboration with Simon Coffey (King's College London) to produce teacher-training packages that examine five key issues in current teaching practice in their historical context.

My other research interests include sociolinguistics, especially language standardization and variation, language and gender, linguistic purism, language and soft power, and medieval German literature (the subject of my PhD).

Past Research

I have previously worked on the history of German grammar-writing and linguistic reflection from the Middle Ages to the present day. My monograph on the major 17th-century language theorist J.G. Schottelius appeared in 2011. The research was funded in part by two fellowships from the Humboldt Foundation and from the Irish Humanities and Social Sciences Research Council.

Future Research

I welcome collaborations with colleagues in the UK and beyond in any of the above areas, whether in German, the history of foreign language learning and teaching (in the widest sense) and language standardization in Europe and beyond. I am currently developing my interest in the history of bilingual dictionaries in Europe.

  • NICOLA MCLELLAND and HUI ZHAO, eds., 2021. Language standards and variation in multilingual contexts: Asian perspectives Multilingual Matters.
  • NICOLA MCLELLAND and HUI ZHAO, 2021. Introduction: Language Standards and Variation in Multilingual Contexts – Asian Perspectives. In: Language Standards and Variation in Multilingual Contexts – Asian Perspectives Multilingual Matters. 1-18
  • NICOLA MCLELLAND, 2021. Briefe in Lehrwerken für englischsprachige Deutschlernende im achtzehnten Jahrhundert [=Letters in 18th-century textbooks for English speaking German learners]. In: JULIA HÜBNER and HORST SIMON, eds., Fremdsprachenlehrwerke in der Frühen Neuzeit: Perspektiven – Potentiale – Herausforderungen [open access] 49-65
  • MCLELLAND, NICOLA, 2020. Translation and ideology in the history of language learning and teaching: changing purposes, practices and prejudices in the teaching and learning of modern languages Zeitschrift für Fremdsprachenforschung. 31(1), 23-40
  • MCLELLAND, NICOLA, 2020. The history of language learning and teaching (HoLLT) in the history of linguistics. In: AUSSANT, EMILIE and FORTIS, JEAN-MICHEL, eds., History of Linguistics 2017: Selected papers from the 14th International Conference on the History of the Language Sciences, (ICHoLS 14), Paris, 28 August – 1 September Benjamins. 189-204
  • NICOLA MCLELLAND, 2020. Women in the history of German language studies: “That subtle influence for which women are best suited”. In: AYRES-BENNETT, WENDY and SANSON, HELENA, eds., Women in the History of Linguistics Oxford. 193-217
  • NICOLA MCLELLAND, 2019. Förderung von DaF in Großbritannien. In: ULRICH AMMON, BIRTE KELLERMEIER-REHBEIN and GABRIELE SCHMIDT, eds., Förderung der deutschen Sprache weltweit: Vorschläge, Ansätze und Konzepte De Gruyter. 599-614
  • NICOLA MCLELLAND, 2018. Deutsch als Fremdsprache und die deutsch-englische Lexikographie bis 1900. In: STEFAN ENGELBERG, HEIDRUN KÄMPER and PETRA STORJOHANN, eds., Germanistische Sprachwissenschaft um 2020 Vol. 2: Lexik: Theorie und Empirie. Institut Deutsche Sprache. tbc (In Press.)
  • NICOLA MCLELLAND, 2018. Mining Foreign Language Teaching Manuals for the History of Pragmatics Journal of Historical Pragmatics. 19(1), 28-54
  • NICOLA MCLELLAND, 2018. The history of language learning and teaching in Britain The Language Learning Journal. 46(1), 6-16
  • RICHARD SMITH and NICOLA MCLELLAND, 2018. Histories of language learning and teaching in Europe: (special issue, with introduction by the editors) The Language Learning Journal. 46(1), 1-5
  • 2018. Der Schüler ist fleißig. Learning German in colonized China, ca. 1906. In: NICOLA MCLELLAND and RICHARD SMITH, eds., The History of Language Learning and Teaching.Vol. III. Across Cultures III. Legenda.
  • HENRIKE LÄHNEMANN, NICOLA MCLELLAND and NINE MIEDEMA, eds., 2017. Lehren, Lernen und Bilden in der deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters narr/francke/attempto.
  • NICOLA MCLELLAND, 2017. From Phonetics to Phonograph: Teaching Spoken German in the 1930s. In: ANDERS AHLQVIST and PAMELA O'NEILL, eds., Germano-Celtica, a Festschrift for Brian Taylor University of Sydney Celtic Studies Foundation. tbc (In Press.)
  • NICOLA MCLELLAND, 2016. German global soft power, 1700-1920. In: KARENE SANCHEZ-SUMMERER and WILLEM FRIJHOFF, eds., Linguistics and Cultural Foreign Policies of European States 18th-20th centuries Amsterdam University Press. 45-68
  • MCLELLAND, NICOLA, 2015. German Through English Eyes.: A History of Language Teaching and Learning in Britain, 1500-2000 Harrassowitz. Open Access download available at
  • MCLELLAND, NICOLA, 2015. Teach Yourself Chinese - how? The history of Chinese self-instruction manuals for English speakers, 1900-2010 Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association. 50(2), 109-152
  • ANDERSEN, ELIZABETH, BAUSCHKE, RICARDA, MCLELLAND, NICOLA and REUVEKAMP, SILVIA, eds., 2015. Literarischer Stil. Mittelalterliche Dichtung zwischen Konvention und Innovation.
  • NICOLA MCLELLAND, 2015. German as a Foreign Language in Britain - The history of German of a ‘useful’ language since 1600 Angermion Yearbook for Anglo-German Literary Criticism, Intellectual History and Cultural Transfers. 8(1), 1-34
  • 2014. French and German in Competition in British Schools, 1850-1945 Documents pour l'histoire du français langue étrangère ou seconde: Special issue:, ed. Marcus Reinfried: French, English and German: three languages in competition between 1850 and 1945. 52, 125-151
  • NICOLA MCLELLAND, 2014. Language description, prescription and usage in seventeenth-century German. In: RUTTEN, GIJSBERT and VOSTERS, RIK, eds., Norms and Usage in Language History, 1600–1900. A sociolinguistic and comparative perspective Benjamins. 251-276
  • MCLELLAND, NICOLA, 2013. Du bon usage dans la tradition allemande 1200-2000. In: AYRES-BENNETT, WENDY, ed., Le Bon Usage Paris: ENS. 207-220 (In Press.)
  • MCLELLAND, NICOLA, 2013. Law and language: Schottelius’s treatise Von Unterschiedlichen Rechten in Teutschland Wolfenbüttler Barocker Nachrichten. 39, 85-105
  • MCLELLAND, NICOLA, 2013. Mittelhochdeutsch in DaF-Lehrwerken für englischsprachige Lerner des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts. In: MIEDEMA, NINE and SIEBER, ANDREA, eds., Zurück zum Mittelalter. Neue Perspektiven für den Deutschunterricht. Lang. 173-194 (In Press.)
  • MCLELLAND, NICOLA, 2012. From humanist history to linguistic theory: the case of the Germanic rootword. In: LANGER, NILS, DAVIES, STEFFAN and VANDENBUSSCHE, WIM, eds., Language and History - Linguistics and Historiography Frankfurt: Lang. 89-109
  • MCLELLAND, N., 2012. Germanic virtues in linguistic discourse in Germany (1500-1945). In: LEE, C. and MCLELLAND, N., eds., Germania remembered, 1500-2009: commemorating and inventing a Germanic past ACMRS (Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies). 75-97
  • LEE, CHRISTINA and MCLELLAND, NICOLA, eds., 2012. Germania Remembered 1500-2009: Commemorating and Inventing a Germanic Past Tuscon, AZ: MRTS.
  • MCLELLAND, N., 2012. Rules for the neighbours: prescriptions of the German language for British learners. In: PERCY, C. and DAVIDSON, M.C., eds., The languages of nation: attitudes and norms Multilingual Matters. 245-270
  • MCLELLAND, NICOLA, 2011. Sehen und Nicht-Sehen am Beispiel von Harmann von Aue’s Iwein.. In: BAUSCHE, RICARDA, COXON, SEBASTIAN and JONES, MARTIN H., eds., Sehen und Sichtbarkeit in der Literatur des deutschen Mittelalters Tübingen: Niemeyer. 161-176
  • MCLELLAND, NICOLA, 2011. Lessons from literary theory: applying the notion of transtextuality (Genette, 1982) to early modern German grammars. In: HASSLER, GERDA, ed., History of lingusitics 2008 Amsterdam: Benjamins. 187-200
  • MCLELLAND, N., 2011. J.G. Schottelius's Ausführliche Arbeit von der Teutschen Haubtsprache (1663) and its place in early modern European vernacular language study Wiley-Blackwell.
  • MCLELLAND, NICOLA, 2011. Research traditions up to and including the 18th century. In: KORTMANN, BERND and VAN DER AUWERA, JOHAN, eds., Berlin: de Gruyter. 791-804
  • MCLELLAND, NICOLA, 2010. Justus Georgius Schottelius (1612-1676) and European linguistic thought Historiographia Linguistica. 37(1), 1-30
  • MCLELLAND, NICOLA, 2009. Linguistic Purism, Protectionism and Nationalism in the Germanic Languages Journal of Germanic Linguistics. 93-112
  • BRABER, NATALIE and MCLELLAND, NICOLA, 2009. Modal particles in Dutch and German: clustering and combining Journal of Germanic Linguistics. 21(2), 93-112
  • MCLELLAND, NICOLA, 2009. Understanding German grammar takes centuries.... In: LANGER, NILS, HORAN, GERALDINE and WATTS, SHEILA, eds., Landmarks in the history of the German language Frankfurt: Lang. 57-84
  • MCLELLAND, NICOLA, 2008. Justus-Georg Schottelius and his influence on European vernacular grammatography outside Germany Germanistik in Ireland. 3, 71-84
  • MCLELLAND, N., 2008. Approaches to the semantics and syntax of the adverb in German foreign language grammars Beiträge zur Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft. 18(1), 37-58
  • MCLELLAND, N.J., 2007. ÄDoch mein Mann m?chte doch mal wissen.Ã… A discourse analysis of 19th C emigrant womenÃs private correspondence.. In: Language History From Below. Linguistic Variation in the Germanic Languages Berlin : Mouton de Gruyer.
  • MCLELLAND, N.J., 2007. Seht ir dort jene hohe lin? (Frauendienst [1185: 2]) Der unerreichbare Innenraum in Ulrichs von Liechtenstein Frauendienst (ca. 1255).. In: , ed., Innenr?ume in der deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters Tübingen : Niemeyer.
  • MCLELLAND, N.J., SCHIEWER, H.-J. and SCHMITT, S., eds., 2007. Humanismus in der deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit Tübingen: Niemeyer.
  • MCLELLAND, N.J., 2006. Letters, sounds and shapes: reflections on the sounds of German in early modern linguistic awareness Transactions of the Philological Society. 104(2), 229-258
  • MCLELLAND, N.J., 2006. Reformation, Northern European.. In: BROWN, K., ed., Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics 2nd ed. Amsterdam : Elsevier. 464-468
  • MCLELLAND, N.J., 2005. Authority and audience in seventeenth-century German grammatical texts Modern Language Review. 100(4), 1025-1042
  • MCLELLAND, N.J., 2005. German as a second language for adults in the seventeenth century? Jacob Br?cker's Deutsche Grammatic (1620).. In: MCLELLAND, N.J. and LINN, A.R., eds., Flores Grammaticae: essays in Memory of Vivien Law 171-185
  • MCLELLAND, N.J. and LINN, A.R., eds., 2005. Flores Grammaticae: essays in memory of Vivien Law Münster : Nodus.
  • MCLELLAND, N.J., 2004. A historical study of codeswitching in writing: German and Latin in Schottelius' Ausführliche Arbeit von der Teutschen HaubtSprache (1663) International Journal of Bilingualism. 8(4), 499-523
  • MCLELLAND, N.J., 2004. Dialogue & German language learning in the Renaissance.. In: HEITSCH, D. and VALLéE, J-F., eds., Printed Voices: The Renaissance Culture of Dialogue Toronto : University of Toronto Press. 206-225
  • MCLELLAND, N.J., 2003. Niederdeutsch und Hochdeutsch in der satirischen Flugschrift 'Hans Pumbsack' (Rostock 1627). Niederdeutsches Jahrbuch.. 126, 107-32
  • MCLELLAND, N.J., 2003. Schottelius, the notion of Teutsch and sleight of hand.. In: JONES, W.J., KELLY, W.A. and SHAW, F., eds., 'Vir ingenio mirandus'. Studies presented to John Flood Göppingen : Kümmerle. 835-854
  • MCLELLAND, N.J., 2002. Schottelius, language, nature and art: buildings and banyans Beiträge zur Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft. 12, 65-92
  • LINN, AR and MCLELLAND, N, eds., 2002. Standardization: studies from the Germanic languages Amsterdam : J. Benjamins Publishing Co..
  • MCLELLAND, N.J., 2001. Albertus (1573) and Olinger (1574): Creating the first grammars of German Historiographia Linguistica. VOL 28(PART 1/2), 7-38
  • MCLELLAND, N, 2000. Ulrich von Zatzikhoven's Lanzelet: narrative style and entertainment Cambridge : D.S. Brewer.

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