Caxton's 'egges' story

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  • Intro

    Because of the diversity of English regional dialects at this time, and the changing nature of the language, it was difficult for Caxton to choose which words to use in his translations. In this book, Caxton tells the story of some merchants from the North of England trying to buy eggs from a woman in the South of England. The northerner uses the word egges, derived from Old Norse, but the Southern woman, who uses the word eyren from the Old English, does not understand. A humorous misunderstanding ensues.

     

    Caxton needed to write in a dialect that would be understood by as many readers as possible, and decided to base his translations on a London dialect aimed at ‘a clerke and a noble gentylman’. Caxton felt his own Kentish dialect was 'broad and rude'; the London dialect was thought to be more refined, and included many words derived from French or Latin.

     

    William Caxton, Eneydos, 1490.

    Shelfmark: G.9723.

  • Transcript

    Extract from Caxton's 'egges' story

    Original text:

     

    And specyally he axyed after eggys. And the good wyf answerde that she coude speke no frenshe. And the marchaunt was angry for he also coude speke no frenshe but wold haue hadde egges and she understode hym not. And thenne at laste a nother sayd that he wolde haue eyren. Then the good wyf sayd that she understood hym we.

     

     

    In present day English:

     

    And he asked specifically for eggs, and the good woman said that she spoke no French, and the merchant got angry for he could not speak French either, but he wanted eggs and she could not understand him. And then at last another person said that he wanted ‘eyren’. Then the good woman said that she understood him well.

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