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Language Issues in Brian Friel's Play Translations

Brian Friel’s play ‘Translations’ demonstrates an important issue that has been circling society for many years that continues to the present. The difference in language and derelict and the violence and disturbance it leads to is something that society is yet to overcome and the need to challenge or change these still lingers. Brian Friel is one the most accomplished play writes of the 21st Century and this particular play show his tremendous skill in which he can address an issue and illustrate the affect it has on society and life.

He was born in Omagh, Co.

Tyrone in 1929, and the play, ‘Translations’ was written in 1980, a time of particular aggression and uproar in Ireland. Friel commented in an interview of his own, that he knew the only way this play would be appreciated and it issues explored properly was if it was written and performed in English. This way he believed that the large number of English speaking countries would not overlook and dismiss this play at first glance as what would have most likely happened had it been written in Gaelic Irish.

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At least this way the most important points would be understood – “…

the sad irony, of course, is the fact that this play is be written in English. It ought to be written in Irish. ” – FRIEL 1980 Brian Friel cleverly expresses the views and the problems in the form of a play. Therefore, evident from the very beginning is a manner of translation which produces this most suitable and affective title.

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It is an extremely clever choice due to the large number of meanings that Friel adapts the word ‘translations’ to. Most obvious of all is the translating of the place names. This forms the basis of the play and the cause of much aggregation, the translating of Irish to English.

The process of this is most important to two individual characters – Owen and Yolland, it being there job to do this. The stage directions in the novel tell us what is happening; “The sappers have already mapped most of the area. Yolland’s official task which Owen is now doing, is to take each of the Gaelic names – every hill, stream, rock, even every patch of ground which is possessed its own distinctive Irish name – and Anglicise it, either by changing it into its approximate English sound or by translating it into English words.

For example, a Gaelic name like Cnoc Ban could become Knockban or – directly translated – Fair Hill. These new standardised names were entered into the Name-Book, and when the new maps appeared they contained all these new Anglicised names. Owens’s official function as translator is to pronounce each name in Irish and then provide the English translation. ” – Act II-Scene II-38 The large extract above illustrates the most obvious connection to the title ‘Translations’. From this quotation we learn not only about their roles in this play but an insight of their characters.

We learn that Owen is doing Yolland’s job for him. And in the following text it is clear that Yolland’s thoughts are else where. More important than what we learn about their actual character is what we learn about their attitudes about the relationship between the English and the Irish. It is evident that both these characters are ones who want to break this hostility and abhorrence between the two. Owen is one of the few Irish characters who have worked with the English and is trying to resolve the problems between them.

He is a key character throughout the whole play and illustrates the process of translation most clearly. Owen is known to Yolland at this stage by the name Rolland due to a misunderstanding when meeting. – “… They seemed to get it wrong form the very beginning – or else they couldn’t pronounce Owen… ” – Act I-Scene I-36. This misunderstanding affectively sums Owen up as a character – what he is known as to one character is different to another. Owen’s name has been affectively anglicised itself to Rolland, by Lancey and Yolland, just as the Irish place names are being changed as well.

The change in Owen’s name is a metaphor for change and confusion involving the anglicising of the place names. This is a form of translation where the Irish-ness is Owens name is lost. There is also an apparent likeness between the two names, Yolland and Rolland. This suggests an understanding between the two characters; however it could be argued that it is a false understanding. Despite the obvious evidence that the character get on well with each other Yolland does not know Owen’s actual name, so he lead to believe he is a different person.

However this is proved wrong when Owen tells Yolland about the mistake and the two laugh at their misinterpretation. “YOLLAND – “… It was never Rolland? ” OWEN – “Never. ” YOLLAND – “O my God! ” Pause. They stare at one another. Then the absurdity of the situation strikes them suddenly. They explode with laughter. Owen pours a drink. As the rolls about their lines overlap…. ” – Act II-Scene I-Page 55 The quotation above comes from a scene in which these two characters represent optimism for the relationship between the English and the Iris.

There is hope as we see these two characters working together. This is quite different from the disaster into turns into in Act III. Owen now wishes to have no connection with the English and Yolland has been killed. It is as if the two characters that personified hope, had had their ambitions, which represent the want for the Irish and the English to accept each other, flattened and destroyed. Hugh’s last speech sums this up. “And it was the goddess’s aim and cherished hope that here should be capital of all nations – should the fates perchance allow that.

Yet in truth she discovered that a race was springing from Trojan blood to overthrow some day these Tyrian towers – a people kings of broad realms and proud in war who would come fourth for Lybia’s downfall… ” – Act III-Scene I-Page 91 Hugh recognises that the Irish and English would never be able to connect properly without the feeling of domination from the English. One of Friel’s important forms of translation is apparent at the beginning of the play. This involves the character Sarah and her speech defect. This speech defect has lead the locals to believe that she is dumb and convincing her too.

Her only way of communicating is by using grunts and unintelligible nasal sounds. At the beginning of Act I, Scene I, Manus is trying to get Sarah to say her name. With much coaxing and encouragement by Manus, Sarah manages to verbalize her name. Sarah’s form of translation is from silence to words. Friel uses it as a sign of hope which is expressed in the words of Manus; -“Marvellous! Bloody Marvellous!… … Now we’re really started! Nothing’ll stop us now! Nothing in the wide world… ” – Act I-Scene I-Page 3 The next character Friel uses to demonstrate in translation is Jimmy Jack.

Jimmy is an eccentric, old, smelly tramp whose main love is the speaking and reading of Greek and Latin. Jimmy turns to these scripts because of his loneliness. – “… But what I’m really looking for, Hugh – what I really want – companionship, Hugh – at my time of life, companionship, company, someone to talk to. Away up in Beann na Gaoithe – you’ve got no idea how lonely it is… ” – Act III-Scene I-Page 86 Jimmy uses the scripts to compensate this feeling, on the occasion above he is very drunk and the truth behind his intellectual image is revealed. The drink translates his misery while the scripts substitute it.

Brian Friel illustrates the negative attitude of the Irish towards the English largely through the character of Doalty Dan Doalty. We learn at the beginning that Doalty, in his first scene, that he moved some of the English armies equipment, which they are using to map the land. They need the markers to effectively translate the land into meaning and Doalty interferes with that translation. Brian Friel cleverly introduces another form of translation. The naming of a child is used as a weapon to reveal the father. This way of revealing fatherhood is very is clever and strategic way of revealing it to the community.

It almost takes the form of gossip, which appears elsewhere in the play to translate a terrorist action of the English towards the locals. One of the most important scenes of the play is that of scene II in Act II between Marie and Yolland. Most importantly in this scene is the body language and breath use of both characters. Neither character speaks the others language so the two techniques above are used to communicate and translate their feelings. Both parts are written in English but Friel has arranged and written it so the audience understands what language each character is speaking.

This is down to the Friel’s skill as a playwright and the word that he uses. At the beginning of the scene it appears that Marie and Yolland understand each other. The audience could here be led to believe that they do in fact understand each other, but I believe that Friel intending this to happen. It’s mean to represent the connection between the two characters. Every now and again Friel cleverly includes phrases said by both characters in their own language, by perhaps slightly different but the other way round.

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Language Issues in Brian Friel's Play Translations. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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