Assess William Caxtons contribution to the English Language

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Assess William Caxton’s contribution to the English Language

In this essay my main aim is to assess William Caxton contributed to the English language, Therefore to do this I am going to have to look at his life, some of the problems he faced and his influence on the language that we use today. In my opinion it is important to say that Caxton was not the inventor of the printing press but was the first person to set up a Printing Press in England and that he was neither a linguist or a scholar.

William Caxton is thought to have been born between the years 1415 and 1424. In the early 1440’s he went to Bruges as a Mercer, Whilst in Bruges he was appointed governor of the Merchant Adventurers. In 1469 he began work on his first translation which was a French account of the Trojan wars. Caxton went to Cologne in 1471 to learn the techniques of printing, This resulted with him setting up the first printing press within the precincts of Westminster in 1476 (Crystal 2003). Where he printed the works of Chaucer and Mallory and translated bestsellers from France (McCrum, Macneil & Cran 1986)

Firstly to look at one of his contributions we have to look at times before Caxton, where we can see that linguists before him had identified that there were many different dialects in the English Language (Harris & Taylor 1989). Caxton was the first person to see the problem that this posed for those who wanted to make an attempt to standardise the Language (Harris & Taylor 1993). This was because the various dialects of England were not only pronouncing but spelling words in different ways. Caxton explained this problem with his “egg story”; he noted that there were some regions where “egges” was said and in other regions “eyren” was used. The problems were that those that said one didn’t understand the other (Crystal 2003) and that these dialects were constantly undergoing changes and even went through several changes in his lifetime (Harris & Taylor 1993). His contribution was to start making English a standard language, this is “a language that provides the agreed norms of usage usually codified in dictionaries and grammars” (Graddol, Leith, Swainn, Rhys & Gillen 2007). He did this by achieving one of the four main processes of standardisation, the one he achieved was selection (Graddol, Leith, Swainn, Rhys & Gillen 2007). Caxton chose the area of London and the South East (this was the East midlands dialect). Caxton also realised that printing the different versions of the same books in different varieties would cost more money (Culpiper 1997). Caxton made the decision to set up his printing press in Westminster for many reasons which include not only being the geographic centre, but it was also the political, administrative and commercial capital of England (Culpiper 1997). Thus it was the language of his intended audience (Hogg & Denison 2006) and so he could see that this was where it would be most valued.

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For his second contribution we need to look at some of the historical events that took place in and around Caxton’s lifetime. From this we can see that Caxton was born around the time of King Henry V’s death. King Henry V’s reign had linguistic significance because he defeated the French at the battle of Agincourt in 1415, consequently becoming the first English King since before 1066. Therefore this marked the first time that the English language was not competing with French (Harris & Taylor 1989). When Caxton chose to print in English, for the first time English could be ...

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