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Although I don’t usually talk about medieval times, Monday’s posts are called Medieval Mondays, because I like alliteration. In these posts, I look at the history of the English language.

William Caxton (Literary Hero #46) introduced the Printing Press to the United Kingdom in 1476.

William Caxton, English etching.

The first book to be printed in English was the – well-known – Recuyell of the Histories of Troye in 1473/1474.

Caxton translated it, had it printed in Bruges, and fell so in love with the printing press, as well he might, that he decided to bring one home with him.

Imagine he hadn’t, imagine it had never been invented.

A book would take one professional three months to scribe. That’s someone who does knows what they’re doing, as well.

Spelling would vary between different areas and dialects. For example, there were 500 different spellings of the preposition “though”.

The same language from one end of the country would be incomprehensible for the other end.

Basically, the world would be a different place. Communication, education, leisure; nothing would be as we experience it today.

This is reason #1 for Caxton being a literary hero.

Facsimile of page 1 of Godefrey of Boloyne, pr...

Text printed by the Hero that is, Will Caxton, or Cax to his friends

On top of introducing the thing which brought the modern world from Middle English to Present Day English, Caxton (and other, slightly less heroic printers) chose how we speak today.

They had to make decisions between different varieties of each word they came across. They knew that this would make a difference; they knew that they were setting the language in stone. They made life changing decisions everyday, not for one or two people but for generations – if not the entire future – of the English-speaking world.

More often than not, the London dialect was chosen. This was not bias, but because London was a trading capital; a ‘hub’, with a transient population. Features from all over were in the London dialect, so more people would know words chosen from this dialect.

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