The first act of “Translations” presents several different instances of translating. Jimmy translates Homer from Greek to Gaelic; Owen translates from English to Gaelic and back; Hugh has his students translate Greek and Latin while he is speaking. In particular, Owen holds a certain power over the people he is translating for. Because neither side understands what the other is saying, Owen can translate however he likes.
When he is confronted by Manus for not translating exactly what Lancey was saying he replies “?uncertainty in meaning is incipient poetry’? ” (342). He translates Lancey’s comments, but where Lancey uses often complex words and formal phrases, Owen translates it into more basic sentences and words. His intention is to help the Irish understand what is being said. His basic interpretation of what translating entails is illustrated with his disregard of the English soldiers’ calling him by the wrong name. He says “Owen? Roland? what the hell. It’s only a name. It’s the same me isn’t it?” (342).
He basically believes as long as the “meaning” is the same, it’s ok if the words are slightly different. This could lead to a mistranslation that could start all sorts of problems for which he could be blamed for. He has the power to determine what should be said and what shouldn’t and this could lead to miscommunication or forgetting to translate a certain fact that may be important in the long run. The English Soldiers are there to translate the Gaelic place names to English.
Although Owen tells the Irish that they are there because “A new map is being made of the whole country” (340), and that it’s being made “so that from now on you will know exactly what is yours by law. “(340). However, Manus understands somewhat what the officer said and knows that it is not as simple as Owen made it seem. That it is really a military operation to anglicize Ireland. However, if Owen had made this clear, the others would not be as willing and accepting of the English.