Americanisation of British Children's Fiction

Random Chappie   Monday, August 09, 2004, 21:01 GMT
Recently, I have been rather peeved at the ruthless Americanisation of British children's fiction.

At first, I thought that only the Harry Potter books had been Americanised, due to their immense popularity, and even so, the Americanisations in the later Potter books are rather minor, being limited to spelling, syntax, and usage and leaving the peculiarities of the British vernacular and academic terminology intact.

Unfortunately, many British children's books have been Americanised to a much greater extent. "The Schoolmouse", by Dick King-Smith, is one of my favourite stories for 5-8 year-old children. King-Smith is a British author and consequently, it is natural for him to use British terms such as "zed" and "infants and juniors". Apparently, King-Smith's American editors decided to transpose Flora the Schoolmouse into the United States and converted the aforesaid terms into "zee" and "kindergartners, first graders, and second graders". Deplorable and meaningless.

I have no complaints to register against publishers who decide to change British spelling and syntax into American spelling and syntax and vice versa, though those publishers ARE wasting their time and energy. However, I think it is absolutely ridiculous that any publisher would want to take all the characters from a British children's book and dump them in the middle of the United States (for nowhere in the UK will you find first graders and second graders).

What say you?
Elaine   Monday, August 09, 2004, 21:43 GMT
Don't get so worked up about it. The American editors are simply tailoring the book to cater to US children, many of whom are not going to know what is meant by "zed" and the context of "infants and juniors". Do you have a problem with French editors translating this book into French, German editors translating the book into German, et. al.? Why should "translating" it into American English be any different? It's not like the British version is going to eliminated in place of the American version.
Random Chappie   Monday, August 09, 2004, 23:04 GMT
Oh, no, I have no problem with simple translation into American English.
In fact, I could excuse the translation of "zed" into "zee", "colour" into "color", "mum" into "mom", "roundabout" into "merry-go-round" and so forth. These translations, though a royal waste of the translators' time, are of no consequence at all.

But yes, I do have a problem with the transposition of British characters and schools into the United States. "Infants and juniors" should remain the way they are because, after all, the school is in the UK and British schools don't have "first grade", "second grade", etc. A British "managing director" shouldn't be a "CEO" in the American edition because the term "CEO" is rarely used to refer to the head of a British company. Similarly, if a British novel mentions A-levels, I wouldn't want them referred to as the "baccalauréat" in the French translation or the "Abitur" in the German translation.

And anyway, what harm can a few British terms do to American children? British children are exposed more and more to American popular culture and American English through television programmes, entertainment, the media, etc. Why, then, must American children be sheltered from all things British?

Is it possible that French and German children know more about the UK than American children do, even though Britons and Americans share (nearly) the same language? Perhaps. It's certainly true that Australians, Britons, and Canadians in general know more about the US than Americans in general know about the Australia, Canada, and the UK. Something to ponder...

To Elaine:

You wrote "It's not like the British version is going to [be] eliminated in place of the American version."

This last comment of yours is, most unfortunately, a reality in the case of Harry Potter, for it is illegal (due to some obscure agreement or copyright law) to sell or distribute the British Bloomsbury editions of the Harry Potter books in the United States.
Random Chappie   Monday, August 09, 2004, 23:06 GMT
Caught my own grammatical error...

"...than Americans in general know about Australia, Canada, and the UK."

"...than Americans in general know about *the* Australia, Canada, and the UK."
David Winters   Monday, August 09, 2004, 23:18 GMT
Random Chappie:

Shut up and stop being so goddamn pedantic. Let the Americans use terms they are familiar with.

Or do you intend to move to the U.S. to tell the parents that they should be teaching their 4 year olds British terms and phrases so they can read the "proper" versions of their kiddie books?

I hate those dullard Americans as much as you do, but Christ, complaining about children's stories is pathetic.
Dulcinea del Toboso   Monday, August 09, 2004, 23:28 GMT

{ "Infants and juniors" should remain the way they are because, after all, the school is in the UK and British schools don't have "first grade", "second grade", etc. }

I have to agree completely with Random Chappie on this. It's less effort and more educational to leave the book as it was written, possibly just adding a footnote to explain an unfamiliar term.

If I'm reading a story from a different country, I want it to be genuine. It is a disservice to younger readers to have them think everything everywhere is just like the U.S.
Random Chappie   Tuesday, August 10, 2004, 02:58 GMT
Oh, no, no, no, I don't hate Americans. I'd rather be pedantic and pathetic than a hater. And yes, I have moved to the United States and make it a regular habit of enlightening my colleagues' children in British English. Charming children, really, how can I ever hate them? Most of them have brains like sponges and it really would be a disservice to withhold any extra knowledge from them.
Random Chappie   Tuesday, August 10, 2004, 03:03 GMT
Dulcinea del Toboso wrote:
"If I'm reading a story from a different country, I want it to be genuine."

So do I, if I know the language in which the original story was written. I read Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, Les Trois Mousquetaires, Les Misérables, and countless children's books (yes, sometimes I like to be pathetic) in French.
David Winters   Tuesday, August 10, 2004, 05:22 GMT
>>Charming children, really, how can I ever hate them? Most of them have brains like sponges and it really
>>would be a disservice to withhold any extra knowledge from them.

To use an Americanism: "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

Those "charming" children are tomorrow's imperialists. I pity you.
mjd   Tuesday, August 10, 2004, 05:48 GMT
When I was growing up I remember reading many British books and stories in school and none of them were never posed any problem and I remember learning of the whole "color/colour" thing at a fairly early age. I wouldn't say that this Americaniz[s]ation occurs all the time. I can understand why they did it (as Elaine said, to appeal to a particular audience), but I think one must exercise caution when editing books.

Pay no attention to David's rudeness...he's here for, shall we say, comic relief.
David Winters   Tuesday, August 10, 2004, 06:03 GMT
>>Pay no attention to David's rudeness...he's here for, shall we say, comic relief.

And what the hell is *that* supposed to mean?
Budvar   Tuesday, August 10, 2004, 10:56 GMT
It means that your post is ridiculous, pathetic and quite disturbing, worse of all it's got nothing to do with the matter in hand.

I do pity you David
Paul   Tuesday, August 10, 2004, 15:20 GMT
I was looking up some questions on pronunciation of certain sounds in regional dialects of American English and came across this message board through the Google. Good I did. I hate Americans as much as any other normal being would (not a big deal since Americans hate the entire world), although I have nothing against American English. I must agree with Random Chappie that Americanization of British concepts is annoying. Besides being annoying, it is also a uniquely American phenomenon, which is not restricted to British fiction. American xenophobia is unsurpassed. In some cases, as with American hatred of Muslims or inexplicable American Russophobia, it is also clearly pathological and open, in other cases their phobias are expressed though “harmonization” or by making Americans understand the alien world in simplified context that is a familiar to them. From the perspective of culture and language it places the entire world at a huge disadvantage vis-a-vis the United States. Outsiders generally accept American culture "as is" while Americans hate the world with a passion, fear it and do not relate to other cultures (although they believe they do and some say that out loud). Hence the misbalance in cinema or book publishing, when American authors get published in direct translation all over the world but few foreign authors ever get an equal chance in the US – those foreigners who do break through into US “market” are more often than not from other English speaking countries. Nonetheless, their works have to be “adopted” for the US audience. Here is similar example but one of a different sort. French food conglomerate Danone, which is the world’s largest dairy group, operates under brand name of... Danone all over the world – from South America to Russia. Only in the United States (!) did Danone’s change its name – from Danone to Dannon – so it would sound more “American” and so become more acceptable to the US consumers. This fact alone is revealing because usually companies go to extraordinary lengths to preserve their brand identity or to make it uniform all over the world. Here we’ve got an astounding example of company keeping a separate identity just to flatter American xenophobia. Nowhere else in the world do foreign films get routinely licensed or have plots stolen in order to be reproduced as “local remakes” since a film set in France is of no interest to the average American (here the French, who are human, are at a great disadvantage because they do watch American films. On the other hand, except for a limited artsy audience, Americans don’t watch foreign films). Here is another language absurdity and an example of American xenophobia which, like the notorious “book adaptations,” is not encountered anywhere else: when a foreigner, be it a Chinese or Russian or South American, speaks on an American television program/me or featured in a documentary, his or her voice is narrated over by another foreigner (!) or an actor who reads the translation with deliberately strong “accent.” Although it is total idiocy, - since people do not speak in their own languages with foreign accepts, it is a reflection of the strength of American xenophobia. If you get a French, German or Russian version of an American film, - or any film for that matter, - in which one of the participants speaks in American English, the actors who read translated narration would never attempt to recreate American accent, in fact they would read the text in the perfect French, German or Russian.

Ever noticed how the villains in American movies speak with the “British accent?”
chris   Tuesday, August 10, 2004, 16:32 GMT
What the hell is wrong with some of you people? It appears as though hating Americans is an acceptable form of bigotry. If I ever heard this sort of shite in person, I'd feckin right chin one of you bastards. Owroight?
Random Chappie   Tuesday, August 10, 2004, 16:44 GMT
Well, I'd have to say that I agree with 80% of Paul's points, though I most certainly do not hate the Americans with whom I work everyday. Americans should learn to accept the world as it is, not an Americanised version of it. After all, Europeans and Asians are embracing American culture wholesale.

Now, to the question of why this barmy and pathetic old nutter Random Chappie is agonising over children's books, here's my explanation...

My father, who is officially retired and has come to the US with me, is a part-time English tutor. In his reading list for young elementary-school children, he included "The Schoolmouse". So, his pupils went to buy copies of "The Schoolmouse" and when they returned to discuss the story with their tutor, mutual misunderstanding and miscommunication ensued due to the differences between my father's British edition of the book and the children's American edition.

Tutor (My father): "So, by the end of the book, Flora the Schoolmouse had progressed through her studies so rapidly that she found herself in the Upper Juniors' classroom and had begun to teach her family the Infants' curriculum."
Pupil: "What?!?!?!"

This sort of miscommunication and misunderstanding would never have occurred if the editors had agreed on a single edition for children in all English-speaking countries.