Language Differences in British and American Versions of
Little Red Riding Hood
Julia von Mandel, Fall 2008
FAST-US-1 (TRENPK2) Introduction to American English (Hopkins)
The FAST Area Studies Program
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere


Virtually everyone remembers the lovely hours when mother or father would sit on their bed reading stories from the world of fairy tales. One of the best-known of these stories, perhaps especially for young girls, is that of "Little Red Riding Hood."


Little Red Riding Hood
(Image source: Project Gutenberg, via Wikipedia)

Many variants on the story exist in many languages, with differing titles. Both fairytale editor Rohini Chowdhury and the anthropological linguist John Bruno Hare report that the story was first recorded by the Frenchman Charles Perrault in 1697 in his book Contes De ma Mere L'Oye, under the title Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, from which the most popular English title for the story, "Little Red Riding Hood," is derived.

The story is also known as "Little Red-Cap," from the German version Rotkäppchen, as popularized by the German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, born in 1784 and 1786, respectively (see Ashliman, Little in the Works Cited for both the Perrault and Grimm versions). The Grimms were among the most popular collectors and writers of fairy tales. Before their time, the tales mainly had been transmitted by word of mouth. According to Louise Betts Egan's foreword to The Classic Grimm's Fairy Tales, the Grimm Brothers were the first to write down many of the stories, which resulted in their much wider distribution in a more 'standardized' form. Subsequently, translations and adaptations in many other languages spread the fairy tales all over the world. Indeed Jacob and Wilhelm were so successful that today one can hardly think of fairy tales without also thinking of the Brothers Grimm. (More on the Grimms can be found in Ashliman, Grimm in the Works Cited.)

This paper is based on two English versions of the story: the British Little Red-Cap, published in 1997 in The Brothers Grimm. The Complete Fairy Tales, and the American Little Red Riding Hood, published in 1989 in The Classic Grimm's Fairy Tales. The main character in both is a young girl whose outfit consists of a red "cap" (GB) or "riding hood" (US) [see images], who has been asked by her mother to walk on a path through the woods to deliver food to her grandmother, who is ill in bed. Her mother warns the young girl not to wander from the path for fear of the evil wolf, who may eat her. The developments of the story reinforce its chief moral, "not to wander from the path." In the end the young girl learns her lesson.


Little Red-Cap
(Image source: WindyCity Dolls)

The focus of this paper is on differences in vocabulary, expressions and grammar. How do the British and American versions differ in their use of terms? Which differences in grammar and punctuation are related to deviations between American and British English?

Differences in Terms Between the Versions

The differences in terminology begin with the titles: Little Red-Cap (British) vs. Little Red Riding Hood (American).1 As such, these are not distinctions between British and American English, but rather reflect the British version being a fairly close translation of the German Rotkäppchen, whereas the American version is a 're-told' version of Perrault's original French title Le Petit Chaperon Rouge. Nonetheless the different titles may reflect differences in how the story is known in Britain and the United States.

When reading the two variants of the actual story, one can recognize several differences in the use of special terms or vocabulary. Many of these are different expressions for the same thing which would be acceptable in either British or American English (such as beautiful flowers (US 16) vs. pretty flowers (GB 140) in the table below. Other differences may result from how common certain words or expressions are in either British or American English (for example "a sweet little girl" (US 16) vs. "a dear little girl" (GB 139).

Two others, however, are examples of differences between standard British and American English. These are the American "she has been sick and weak" (16) vs. the British "she is ill and weak" (139), where British English would not normally use the word "sick" as the equivalent of "ill" or "not feeling well," but rather only for "nausea" or "vomiting" (Hopkins 08 September); and the British "into the wood" vs. the American "the woods. While in Britain it is common to speak of "a wood", Americans would usually refer to "a woods" in its sense as "a wooded area" or "a small forest."

The following table lists these and other terms by which the story has been differently expressed, giving the page number(s) of the respective edition(s) on which the corresponding phrase was located.

American Version
Page
British Version
Page
"a sweet little girl"
16
"a dear little girl"
139
"a little riding hood of red velvet"
16
"a little cap of red velvet"
139
"She has been sick and weak," []
16
she is ill and weak, []"
139
"[] not to stray from the path."
16
"[] not run off the path, []"
139
"[] through the forest."/ "[] through the woods."
16, 17
"[] into the wood, []"
140
"Look at all the beautiful flowers!"
16
"See, [] how pretty the flowers are about here []"
140
"a basket of cakes and wine"
16
"What have you got in your apron?"2
140
"Grandmother would certainly like a bunch of wildflowers," []

"[] she skipped off the path and began gathering a big bouquet."

17
"Suppose I take grandmother a fresh nosegay; []"

"[] she ran from the path into the wood to look for flowers."

140
"[] the wolf sprang out of bed and gobbled up poor Little Red Riding Hood in a single swallow."
19
"[] with one bound he was out of bed and swallowed up Red-Cap."
142
"Out jumped Little Red Riding Hood."
20
"[] the little girl sprang out."
142
huntsman, hunter3
20, 21
huntsman
142
"So he took out his knife and carefully cut open the wolf's belly."
19
"[] but took a pair of scissors, and began to cut open the stomach of the sleeping wolf."
142

Differences in Expressions

Differences in expressions are related to the different ways British or American English speakers might describe various objects, situations or types of behavior. Therefore one or the other expression would be more suitable in the different versions of the fairy tale. They do not necessarily have the same meanings, but paraphrase the same fact.

In the following examples, the only distinction between what might normally be considered more British rather than American (or vice-versa) would be the British "the huntsman drew off the wolf's skin" rather than the American "the brave huntsman skinned the wolf." To "draw off" a skin would not be common usage in American English (Hopkins, Interview)

American Version
Page
British Version
Page
"There was once []"
16
"Once upon a time []"
139
"pleased the girl so much []"
16
"suited her so well []"
139
"a basket of cakes and wine"
16
"a piece of cake and a bottle of wine"
139
"[] and this food will surely strengthen her."
16
"[] they will do her good."
140
"[] the wolf walked along beside her []"
16
"So he walked [] by the side of Little Red-Cap[]"
140
"Little Red Riding Hood looked around []"
17
"Little Red-Cap raised her eyes []"
140
"[] the wolf sped through the woods all the way to grandmother's cottage []"
17
"[] the wolf ran straight to the grandmother's house []"
140
"[] swallowed her in a single gulp."
17
"[] devoured her."
140
"[] put on her nightgown and her lace cap, and settled down []"
17
"[] put on her clothes, dressed himself in her cap, laid himself in bed []"
141
"But, Grandmother! What big teeth you have!"
19
"Oh! but grandmother, what a terrible big mouth you have!"
142
"[] fetched some large stones. These she placed inside the sleeping wolf's belly, []"
21
"[] fetched great stones with which they filled the wolf's belly, []"
143
"[] he fell down at once and died."
21
"[] he collapsed at once, and fell dead."
143
"Then the brave huntsman skinned the wolf []"
21
"The huntsman drew off the wolf's skin []"
143

Differences in Spelling

Although differences in spelling often occur when comparing British and American English texts, there was only one difference in these stories (with even this more a question of broader orthography than 'spelling' as such). Possibly the editors of both versions had chosen words where British and American spelling was consistent to increase their international market. Or possibly it was just coincidence.

American Version
Page
British Version
Page
"[] who was loved by everyone."
16
"[] who was loved by every one."
139

Differences in Grammar

In the two versions, the American character knocked on the door of the grandmother's house, whereas the British character knocked at the door. This is a typical difference in the use of prepositions between American and British English (Hopkins, 08 September).

American Version
Page
British Version
Page
"[] and knocked on the door"
17
"[] and knocked at the door."
140

Differences in Punctuation and Use of Commas

In the direct speech the American version separates the name "grandmother" from the rest of the sentence by using commas, closing with an exclamation mark, while the British version takes two exclamations without a comma. This may be a difference in editing rather than a distinction between British and American English as such. Curiously, in the examples below, the American form of full "quotation marks" have been used for the reported speech, rather than the British 'inverted commas' which are characteristic of British English (Hopkins, 22 September).

American Version
Page
British Version
Page
"One day, her mother []"
16
"One day her mother []"
139
"Oh, Grandmother, what big ears you have!"
19
"Oh! grandmother, she said,"what big ears you have!"
142

In the example shown in the table below, however, inverted commas have been used in the British version, while the American version uses quotation marks. This reflects the standard distinction between British and American usage, though it does not explain why this usage has not been consistent throughout the story.

American Version
Page
British Version
Page
[] so she became known as "Little Red Riding Hood."
16
[] so she was always called 'Little Red-Cap.'
139

Short Forms

American Version
Page
British Version
Page
"Who's there?"
"Isn't the forest lovely today?"
16
17
"Who is there?"
141

The American edition uses more short forms in the direct speech. In this case, questions asked by the grandmother and the wolf. The British version only uses "don't" in the direct speech of the mother: "[] don't forget to say,[], and don't peep []" (139).

Word Order

There are not many differences in the word orders of the British and American versions. In this example the British version changed the word order to emphasize the word "dark".

American Version
Page
British Version
Page
"It was so dark inside the wolf!"
20
"How dark it was inside the wolf";[]
142

The Moral

The moral is the most important part of every fairy tale or story. The basic function of a moral is to leave an insight about what is "right" or "wrong" behavior. Especially children should learn their lesson from it.4

In the British edition the moral is shown as an interior monolog by Little Red Cap, in contrast to the general third-person version in the American edition. However, this is not really a distinction between British and American English, but rather a different narration mode.

American Version
Page
British Version
Page
"But she had learned her lesson for she never strayed from the path again!"
21
"As long as I live, I will never by myself leave the path, to run into the wood, when my mother has forbidden me to do so."
143

How Do the Two Translations Compare to the Original?

Of the two compared stories, the British version equates best to the original German version 5. It is more detailed in both the translations of the German words and the plot of the story, and even includes another version of the fairy tale that was added to the German original. The American version was a retold story; therefore it is not as detailed and exact as the British version. It also leaves out the additional part.

Both the British and the American translations show some differences in the terms and expressions used over the course of the story, but the main idea of the fairy tale stays the same. No matter what her name, "Little Red Cap" or "Little Red Riding Hood" had wanted to deliver food to her grandmother but strayed from the path she had been instructed to follow. Both she and her food were swallowed by the wolf. Subsequently rescued by the hunter, the little girl had learned her lesson.


Notes

  1. According to a discussion on the website leo.org (in German) on 27 September 2007 "This description may refer to typical clothes for horse rides, " but this point is not explained or proved within the story.
  2. The difference between the words "basket" and "apron" should be emphasized.
  3. The American version uses both expressions.
  4. See Robert Samber's 1729 translation of the original moral at the end of Charles Perrault's version of "Little Red Riding Hood" here (via the University of Southern Mississippi LRRR Project) for exactly what the "wolf" represented.
  5. The 'original German version' referred to here is the one I had grown up with in Germany, having heard it many times.

Works Cited

  • Ashliman, D.L., ed. Little Red Riding Hood (and other tales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 333). Last Updated May 13, 2008.
  • - - - . Grimm Brothers' Home Page. Last Updated 12 August 2008.
  • Chowdhury, Rohini, ed. Little Red Riding Hood. Viewed 11 November 2008.
  • Egan, Louise Betts. Foreword. The Classic Grimm's Fairy Tales. Philadelphia: Courage Books, 1989, 1990.17-21
  • Hare, John Bruno, ed. Little Red Cap. Viewed November 11, 2008.
  • Little Red-Cap.The Brothers Grimm. The Complete Fairy Tales. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 1997.139-143
  • Little Red Riding Hood.The Classic Grimm's Fairy Tales. Retold by Louise Betts Egan. Philadelphia: Courage Books, 1989, 1990.17-21
  • Hopkins, John. FAST-US-1 Introduction to American English Lecture. Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere, Finland. 08 September 2008
  • - - - . FAST-US-1 Introduction to American English Lecture. 22 September 2008
  • - - - . Interview on Distinctions Between American and British English. 11 November 2008.

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