Racist Language Removed From Classic Fairy Tale

This is an edited version from The Guardian (Africa)

German row over whitewashing the n-word from children's books:

Father delighted that racist words will be removed from bedtime storybook but decision generates hate mail from opponents

A German man whose letter to a publishing house prompted it to expunge the racist sentiment from a classic children's book has spoken of his relief that about the decision, despite the angry backlash and hate mail it has generated.

Mekonnen Mesghena wrote to one of Germany's oldest children's publishers urging it to revise the text of Die Kleine Hexe (The Little Witch) after stumbling across a passage in which two children dress up as "neger", which can be translated from German as both "nigger" and "negro". "I am hugely relieved to have been told that all the words to do with the skin colour will be abolished," he said.

Mesghena wrote to Thienemann Verlag after realising that he could not continue reading the book to his seven-year-old daughter, Timnit, one bedtime. "Suddenly it was full of racist language referring to little niggers and gypsies and basically a lot of labeling of people. I was not prepared,” he said.

Many of the country's intellectuals have accused Thienemann of censorship and of unnecessarily meddling with a beloved classic. Both Thienemann and Mesghena have been inundated with angry correspondence, even hate mail.

The publishers agreed to change it after consulting with the author, Otfried Preussler, who is 90.

"I told them what it means for a black girl to be confronted with that chapter and how exclusionary it is," Mesghena added.

Thienemann's director Klaus Willberg, said the decision was necessary to allow the publishing house to stay up to date with changes in language and politics." He added: "We will now be trawling through all our classics."

The full article can be found at - http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/29/germany-race

Thank you, but I just happened to know that a Latin word for black (also Italian) was used, so I looked up the two countries that sprang to mind. Constantinople, named after Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus or Constantine I, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, whilst İstanbul was always the Turkish name. The Orthodox churches in all countries where they exist still use Constantinople. You roll out a whole interesting thing about substitutions, disambiguations and such things. Best leave it there though, fascinating but miles away from Glyn's question.

Kerry, you got me thinking. What do we do with the country names Nigeria and Niger, plus the river Niger from which both get their name? It is an alteration, influenced by the Latin niger (black) of the Tuareg name egerew n-igerewen for the river but which in Nigeria has entirely different Hausa, Yoruba and such names. It is the area from which the transatlantic slave trade developed and gave the description that always means black or is derivative of that to the people of African origin and, by extension, to people originating from other places, then later to the aboriginal peoples of Australia. It would take a lot of undoing history and persuading two nations who have established themselves with those names.

It is a good question Kerry. Harriet Beecher Stowe was an abolitionist who wanted the end of slavery and wrote in the language of her time. To change 'Uncle Tom's Cabin', especially editions with the Hammatt Billings original illustrations, would be like taking the spirit of what she was wishing to see end through her work.

Just imagine taking all the 'sexist' and 'racist' language out of the Christian Bible and the uproar that would cause? Yes, in today's context these things are racist and unacceptable but if we respect them as documents of their time and use them sensibly, then we gain a lot by knowing how things were before. There are many fiction authors whose work is very sexist and racist and where on earth would it all end trying to edit all of those works. Samuel Beckett was a nasty bit of work, but destroying his writing, ditto Hemingway, Hesse and so on; men and women whose writings would lose too much.

Is there not an easy solution? Publish unexpurgated versions that tell us that they are just that and then language modified. I have the complete 'Kinder- und Hausmärchen' by the Grimms in three volumes and would be very disappointed if only a sanitised version was available. I am grown up enough to make the difference myself. As for translations, yes go ahead and lose translation into demeaning or politically incorrect words and phrases. As long as the story is not lost it is no problem. However, if we are to preserve folklore, we must also take into account changes in language use and keep the original usage in context and stop beating drums about that.