Translations by Brian Friel

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Kevin Matthews
May 12, 2013
ENGL 224
Language in Translations

Translations is a three-act play written by Brian Friel set in the small town of Baile Beag, a fictional Donegal village in Ireland. The play deals with issues ranging from language and communication barriers to Irish history and cultural imperialism by the English. The clash of cultures coupled with misunderstanding and misinterpretations leads to chaos within the small town. The difficulty of trying to communicate without an effective method extends to show how difficult establishing a stable relationship is without a strong grip on language or an accurate interpretation.

The plot evolves around the appearance of members of the British Army, Captain Lancey and Lieutenant Yolland, whose purpose is to translate place names around town from Gaelic to English. They do not understand each other, there is no real communication between them, and so Owen translates the words of the British to the Irish townsmen. “A new map is being made of the whole country. (Lancey looks to Owen: is that all? Owen smiles reassuringly and indicates to proceed) (31).” Owen does not seem to translate effectively as he simplifies what the Englishmen are saying in an attempt to protect his friends and also to keep his real duties a secret. Manus later questions Owen’s interpretation abilities and confronts him saying, “What sort of translation was that Owen? You weren’t saying what Lancey was saying! (32)” This seems to suggest to the reader that if the truths are known by the locals, chaos and hardship towards the Englishmen would follow. The Englishmen are there to create an ordinance map of Ireland so as to accurately apply taxes and eventually develop military tactics if needed. The role of language plays a positive role for Owen because the act of interpreting leads to truths and perceptions being lost in translation.

Throughout the play, Lieutenant Yolland becomes fonder of Ireland and the locals and, in...
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