Reading: / Matching Headings / Part 5

Reading Passage

England’s First Printer


A    The modern printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg, a German blacksmith, goldsmith, printer, publisher and inventor, in 1443. His first usage of movable type printing laid the basis for the information age; the old way of copying manuscripts by hand was replaced by a printing technology that saw the first publication of books. As news and books began to travel across Europe in a cheaper format than laboriously hand-copied manuscripts, learning very slowly became available to the masses and heralded the beginning of a social revolution. On British soil, William Caxton is probably the most important figure in the history of English book printing which, considering the tremendous impact the arrival of the printing press had on the English language, is no small achievement.

B    William Caxton was a young Englishman living in the thriving merchant town of Bruges in the late 1440s. He had been originally apprenticed to a textile dealer but went on to do very well as a salesman, selling not only cloth but other goods as well. Amongst his wares, he also sold manuscripts which were in great demand at the time. In the 1460s, Caxton developed an interest in printing. He went to Cologne to learn the art and in late 1473, upon his return to Bruges, he set up a printing press and printed the first ever book in the English language. Seven hundred pages long, it was his own translation of the French version of the History of Troy.

C    In 1476, Caxton returned to England and set up his own printing business. The very first book published in England, The dictes or sayengis of the philosophres, was completed in 1477 while the first known piece of printing was a Letter of Indulgence by the Abbot of Abingdon; both of them published by Caxton. Before his death in 1491, he had published 96 items including romances, books of conduct, philosophy, history and morality. He was also responsible for the first illustrated English book called the Myrrour of the Worlde in 1481. His choice of books may seem odd but he based his decisions on what to print according to what he thought would sell; after all, he was in business to make a profit. He also worked under patronage and, of the 77 original works that he published, 23 of them were supported financially by influential personages.

D    In the 15th and 16th centuries, the English language bore only a small resemblance to the language as it is known today. Early English history is rife with invasions, royal intrigue and battles for power; the victors of which would decide which language would be spoken and used for official purposes. The Romans, the French, Germanic tribes and the Vikings of the North are just some of the peoples that crossed oceans to leave their mark on a language that would eventually become known to all as ‘English’. Historian Peter Gilford (2011) points out, “It was a virtual Tower of Babel to the extent that Caxton found that few could understand the words uttered by another in a different part of the country. It was also not uncommon for laws to be written in one language and the majority of the country to understand another.”

E    It is the writing of a language that eventually brings uniformity to it and as the first printer in England, Caxton basically became the original arbiter of what would become the accepted standard in relation to the English language. For example, it is due to his choice between two words that we refer to eggs nowadays as eggs and not as 'eyren', the Dutch-influenced term favoured by those living in the South of England in the late 1400's. Many of the choices he made were based on the language he heard around him which was the speech of London and the south-west, though there was a lot of influence from the Central and East Midlands. The magnitude of his task is reflected in the difficulty he often faced when having to choose one word among so many. While spoken English remained diverse and localised, written English slowly but surely went through a process of standardisation; a process completed more conclusively by Caxton's successor, Wynkyn de Worde through the development of a standard spelling system.


Questions 1-5

Reading Passage has five paragraphs, A-E.

Choose the correct heading for paragraphs A-E from the list of headings below.

Write the correct number, i-x in boxes 1-5 on your answer sheet.

List of Headings



The word in London


A change of career


A printer's apprentice


Decisions about words


Influencing English printing


The Economics of printing


The birth of radical change


Gutenberg's invention


Royal sea journeys


Multicultural influences


1      Paragraph A

2      Paragraph B

3      Paragraph C

4      Paragraph D

5      Paragraph E