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Religions 2012, 3(3), 544-555;

The Global Consequences of Mistranslation: The Adoption of the “Black but …” Formulation in Europe, 1440–1650

The School of History, Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS, UK
Received: 6 June 2012 / Revised: 19 June 2012 / Accepted: 25 June 2012 / Published: 26 June 2012
(This article belongs to the Special Issue From the Renaissance to the Modern World)
PDF [256 KB, uploaded 26 June 2012]


This article investigates the genesis of a linguistic model occasioned by a mistranslation that was taken up in the Renaissance, and had an enduring global impact. I call this model the “black but…” formulation, and it is to be found in the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries throughout written texts and reported speech, in historical as well as literary works. It was modeled grammatically and ideologically on the statement “I am black but beautiful” often attributed to the Queen of Sheba in 1:5 of the Song of Songs, and had a detrimental effect on how members of the early African forced diaspora were viewed by Renaissance Europeans. I argue that the newly adversarial nature of the phrase was adopted as a linguistic and cultural formulation, and introduced into Western European cultures a whole way of approaching and perceiving blackness or looking at black African people. View Full-Text
Keywords: Black; linguistic formulation; Renaissance; slave; “Song of Songs” Black; linguistic formulation; Renaissance; slave; “Song of Songs”
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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Lowe, K. The Global Consequences of Mistranslation: The Adoption of the “Black but …” Formulation in Europe, 1440–1650. Religions 2012, 3, 544-555.

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