Monday, July 26, 2010

Five Go Mad on Mephedrone

The news that Enid Blyton's classics children's series, The Famous Five is to have its language updated has upset some and pleased others. The Famous Five books were originally published over 60 years ago and have been huge sellers since then (I even read them when I was a little boy back in the 1970s.) but have often come under fire for their old-fashioned representations of boys' and girls' social roles and for their apparently class-ridden stereotypes. So, will we see the stories themselves updated to meet the demands of a 21st Century audience: teenagers indulging in binge drinking, chopping out lines of miaow-miaow while updating their Facebook profiles, casual threesomes and the like? Not on your nelly.

While the stories will remain the same, Hodder Children, which is revamping them for publication next month, is planning to update the language. So gone will be "we shall have a gay old time", "he's a queer looking fellow" and "school tunic", and in will come "I is cotching at my yard innit" and "Man's gotta make money y'feel me". Well, not exactly... Apparently the changes are relatively minor ones such as explained by Anne McNeil in this extract from The Guardian's piece last week:


Other changes include "housemistress" becoming "teacher", "awful swotter" becoming "bookworm", "mother and father" becoming "mum and dad", "school tunic" becoming "uniform" and Dick's comment that "she must be jolly lonely all by herself" being changed to "she must get lonely all by herself". McNeil said references to a "tinker" have also been changed to "traveller". "Enid Blyton wouldn't have meant that ['tinker'] pejoratively. It's a description of a person, in order to place the character. So 'dirty tinker' has become traveller."

 For anyone looking at the A2 topic of Language Change, this would be a fertile area for investigation. Why are some expressions being changed and others left the same? Is there any kind of pattern to some of the words being changed? Are they (for instance) dated slang terms that no one will recognise these days, or words that have shifted in meaning? Later in the article, an opponent of changes to the original books makes an interesting point about the names of characters:

Tony Summerfield, who runs the Enid Blyton Society, said he was "thoroughly against unnecessary changes just for the sake of it, from adults who underestimate the intelligence of children". He added: "I am in approval of changing language which has perhaps become offensive or has different meanings, or any racist references," he said. "And certain words such as 'gay' or 'queer' obviously have different meanings nowadays and it's fair enough to change them. But changes for the sake of them, I disapprove of."

Summerfield had heard Hodder would change the name of the circus boy, Nobby, in Five Go Off in a Caravan, to Ned, which struck him "as very strange". "How can you change Nobby to Ned and yet leave Dick and Fanny? It doesn't make sense.

Elsewhere, Zoe Williams of The Guardian argues that we shouldn't change the books, claiming that "In expunging the dated words, you strip out their personality: and even if you don't particularly like that personality, it's better than none at all, a skeletal adventure without the flesh of authorial voice".

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