Language Change - William Caxton and the Printing Press

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  • Created on: 30-04-13 20:54
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William Caxton
Born: Approx. 1422
Birth Place: Kent
Education: Multilingual ­ spoke French, English, Dutch and Latin
Career: Apprentice merchant at London and Bruges, centre of wool trade (he was successful
and important member of merchant community)
His printing business was located in Westminster, where he printed works such as
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Gower's Confession Amantis and Malory's `Le Morte
Aristocracy: He was affiliated with Margaret, duchess of Burgundy, sister of Edward IV. She was
one of his most important patrons
Literacy: Interested in French Literature, which he translated into English
Attitudes: With regards to the English language, it is likely he would have favoured French
influences and regarded Latin as a superior language, but would want little more
change to the English language, possibly even favouring some form of
standardisation to make printing easier
Translation of the preface of Caxton's Eneydos
And certainly our language now used varies from that which was used and spoken
when I was born, for we English men, born under the dominion of the moon, which is
never steadfast, but ever wavering. It wanes one season and wane and decrease
another season and the common English that is spoken in one shire varies from
another. In so much that in my days it happened that certain merchants were in a ship
on the Thames, for to have sailed over the sea into Holland, and for lack of wind,
they tarried on forward and went to land to refresh themselves; and one of them
named Sheffield, a merchant, came into a house and asked for meat, and specifically
asked for eggs. The good wife answered that could speak no French. The merchant
was angry for he could also speak no French, but would have eggs, and she did not
understand him. Then, at last, another said he would have (eyren) eggs. Then the
good wife said she understood him well. Low, what should a man in these days now
write: egges (eggs) or eyren (eggs). Certainly it is hard to please every man by
cause of diversity and change of language.
He identifies the problem of lack of standardisation in his day; it was unknown what form of
spelling he should use when printing a word. He may have preferred some standardisation.


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