What was the First Book to be Printed in English?
By: Ricky vela
The first-ever book to be printed in English was “The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye” by William Caxton. He was the first man who went to print a book in the English language. This book was first produced in 1473. The exact location of the book is still unknown though.
The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye is a translation of a French court romance written by the original French author Raoul Lefevre, who was chaplain to Philip III, Duke of Burgundy. It was the first-ever book printed in the English language. The translation of this book is done by William Caxton.
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William Caxton - The Translator
A lot of facts are unclear about William Caxton. As per the speculations, his birth was in c.1422 and he died in 1491. William’s place of birth as suggested was either Hadlow or Tenterden. William Caxton was not only a writer or translator, he was a merchant, printer, and diplomat as well.
Despite the lack of major details, he is known as the first-ever person to bring a printing press into England during the 15th century. The first-ever published book in England was Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. A few other books included Dictates or Sayings of the Philosophers, the Golden legend, Ovid’s metamorphoses (the first edition in England), and the book of the knight in the tower.
Background of the Translation
William Caxton started translating this book from French in 1469 continued the work and eventually completed it in cologne on 9th September 1471 reaching the milestone of publishing the first-ever book in English.
He translated this book over a period of three years,
he was also the first one to pioneer the printing press in England. It is also interesting to note that during the time he published this book in English, other books usually printed were in Latin or Ghent and Bruges, Belgium.
The term Recuyell which is now recueil in Modern French means “collection” in the English language. Therefore, the modern English work of this language would read as “A collection of the Histories of Troy”. In the work of Caxton and his translations, he often incorporated his titles from other European languages.
The translator Caxton along with Colard Mansion and Johann Veldener printed the translation of this book in 1473 or around 1474 as ut us written traditionally “ca. 1475” in Bruges. According to the reports around 18 copies of this book exist and these are expensive and rare. In 2014 when the Duke of Northumberland sold one copy, it happened to fetch £1 million.
Also, a presentation copy of the first edition was made, particularly engraving the Caxton who is presenting the book to Margaret of York, she was the wife of Duke of Burgundy. This copy is now present in the Huntington Library, California.
Also, it was previously included in the collection of the Duke of Roxburghe and Duke of Devonshire. It is also stated that this royal patronage is more than a form of advertising and a representation of traditional and medieval patronage relationships.
The Story of the Book
This book is a collection of stories that are loosely based on the tales of the Trojan War. This story is an epic romance. The heroes of Greek mythology have been featured in this tale. They are portrayed as chivalric figures. This was quoted by Sotheby’s who auctioned it. It was presented to Margaret, the new wife of the Duke of Burgundy. She was the sister of King Edward IV.
The book was offered for auction by none other than the Duke of Northumberland. He was selling off dozens of family heirlooms after his state saw massive flood damage. A lot of sculptures, ceramics, furniture, and paintings also got offloaded. It also included the statue of Aphrodite, a first-century marble statue. She was the Greek goddess of love and the statue fetched £9.4m alone.
Caxton intended for a court readership. The tales of war and love were quite famous for reading. Caxton worked on a new typeface to make it more appealing and attractive for the readers. The typeface was created using handwriting in manuscripts that were made for the Burgundian court.
Chances are, Johann Veldener created it, he is the one who made Caxton’s cologne type. Caxton printed another book titled The Play of Chess. It is also worth mentioning that it was not the only book to be published in English, An edition of The Canterbury Tales was already published in England by William Caxton.
English is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family. This language was originally spoken by the inhabitants of the early medieval language. It was named after the Angles, who were one of the ancient Germanic people who migrated from Anglia, this was a peninsula on the Baltic sea to the area of Great Britain.
The closest relatives of the English include Scots, Low Saxon, and Frisian languages. As English is the genealogically West Germanic language, the vocabulary of the language is also mainly influenced by Old Norman French and Latin as well as Old Norse. Anglophones are used for English speakers.
Different Ages of the English Language
English has evolved a lot over the years. The old English which evolved from west Germanic dialects was brought to Great Britain by settlers of Anglo Saxon during the 5th century. The Old English was further mutated by the Norse-speaking Viking settlers back in the 8th and 9th centuries.
Middle English began during the late 11th century after Norman’s conquest of England. It was the time when quite a considerable amount of French and Latin-derived vocabulary words got incorporated into English over the period of three hundred years.
It was the late 15th century when early modern English started. It began with the start of the Great Vowel shift and the Renaissance trend of taking Latin and Greek words into English. With the introduction of the printing press in London. This was the era that notably culminated in King James Bible and William Shakespeare’s plays.
Modern English has taken over everywhere since the 17th century. This consequently happened due to the worldwide influence of the British Empire and the United States of America. It is due to all the printed and electronic media that English is now a leading language of international discourse and a lingua franca in a lot of regions and also in professional contexts such as science, and navigation.
It is worth mentioning that modern English mainly relies on auxiliary verbs and word order for the expression of complex tenses and mood, also the passive construction, interrogatives, and a few negations.
English Language and its Popularity
English is undoubtedly the world’s most spoken language if Chinese is divided into variants. Also, it is the third most spoken native language in the world after Standard Chinese and Spanish. English is also the second most widely spoken language that is either official or one of the official languages in more than 59 sovereign states.
It is interesting to note that people who have learned English as a second language are more than the actual native speakers of the English language.
As per the calculation till 2005 there are over 2 billion speakers of the English language.
Fun Facts About the English Language
- English has originated from Old High German, Old Norse, and other Anglo-Norman. Modern English started being used in the 14th century and the closest relatives of the English language are Dutch and West Flemish.
- More than 340 million people speak English as their first language and 603 million speak it as a second language. Moreover, it is the official language of 67 countries and also 27 non-sovereign countries.
- There are standardized rules for English grammar. In the main dictionary, Dr. Johnson sets out 1755 rules of English grammar and spelling. It was the first comprehensive document that has the English lexicon and also one of the most famous dictionaries in English. It took 8 years to compile it.
- It is an interesting fact that the most common noun in the English language is ‘time’ and the most mispronounced and also misspelled often is the English language’s word pronunciation.
- English is the language of the sky. All the pilots have to identify themselves in English during their international flights. Likewise, the air traffic controllers who are in service in international airports should be able to communicate with the pilots in English.
- One of the longest words in the English language has 45 letters in it. The word is ‘pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis’. It refers to a lung disease that is caught by the inhalation of fine silica dust. The second-longest English word is ‘Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia’ which ironically is the phobia of long words.
- All-time favorite poet and playwright of the English language, William Shakespeare had a great influence on the English language. He has a great contribution to the English language and its evolution. He had introduced thousands of new words and phrases.
- Last but not least a few English words are created by combining two words. Hangry is one such example. It combines hungry and anger and describes the feeling of irritability as a result of extreme hunger. This word has also been added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2018.
English is a universal language and is an official and second language of more than 59 states. The first-ever book which was printed in English is Recuyell of the Histories of Troye and it has been translated by William Caxton who was a writer, translator, and diplomat. There are only 18 copies of this book available now and they are really precious and expensive. read more