The Impact of the Introduction of Printing on the Development of the English Standard

September 25th, 20115:09 am


The Impact of the Introduction of Printing on the Development of the English Standard

Printing came to England through the work of William Caxton, a merchant born in Kent, who traveled extensively in Europe as a diplomat. The first book to be printed in English was produced in 1473: Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye (the Recounting of the History of Troy), a translation by Caxton himself. Bringing the knowledge back to his native land, he set up a press at Westminster in 1476 where he remained as a printer until his death in 1491.

The first book known to have been issued there was an edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Another early title was Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophies (Sayings of the Philosophers), first printed on November 18, 1477, written by Earl Rivers, the king’s brother-in-law. Caxton’s translation of the Golden Legend, published in 1483, and The Book of the Knight in the Tower, published 1484, contain perhaps the earliest verses of the Bible to be printed in English. The most important works printed by Caxton were Le Morte d’Arthur and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Me produced two editions of the latter.

In Europe Caxton saw the rapidly expanding industry producing books, mostly scholarly in Latin, but he chose to exploit a different area of the market, namely for books in the English language, as well as in other languages for the English market, such as religious books, quickly establishing a virtual monopoly in this area. Many of these books were literary in nature, betraying Caxton’s own interest in English literature. On his death, Caxton’s press was taken over by his assistant, Wynkyn de Worde.

Printing spread slowly to other parts of England during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth, partly due to the monopoly on printing which was obtained by the Stationer’s Company, which effectively confined printing to London, and by special dispensation to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

The advent of the printing press was one of the major factors in the development of the language. Books became cheaper and as a result, literacy became more common. Publishing for the masses became a profitable enterprise, and works in English, as opposed to Latin, became more common. Finally, the printing press brought standardization to English. The dialect of London, where most publishing houses were located, became the standard. Spelling and grammar became fixed, and the first English dictionary was published in 1604.

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