The Use of Language and the Image of Irishness it Portrayed in "Translations" by Brian Friel and "Playboy of the Western World" by J.M. Synge.

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Language is very much associated in what we think of as culture. There are very few places where this is more true than to Ireland. Language is very much part of our national identity, yet it has almost entirely died out despite numerous attempts to revive it. The questions that arises in this context from these two plays are; is it necessary to speak Irish to be truly Irish, and should language be sacrificed in the name of progress or is language part of the progress of the culture that it inhabits and finally is it necessary to speak Irish to be truly Irish? In these two plays we get two very differing viewpoints on the study of language, and in particular the Irish language. They differ in the fact that one studies the death of the language from a modern point of view, while the other sentimentalises the language and the people that use it. "The Playboy of the Western World" uses language to inadvertently portray us in the way that we think that we were and are, while "Translations" uses language to show how far from ourselves we have come.

In "Translations" we see language as empowering, as it is through language that we create an identity for ourselves. Throughout the play, language is shown as not just a tool of expression, but also a receptacle for the past, and a means of constructing a culture. The power to do this is taken away from the Irish by the English in the form of the mapping survey, and this is not only changes the place names, which creates the situation where the Irish can become lost in their own village, but also destroys their past, no matter how forgotten it is. This is essentially the dismantling of the Irish culture by the English, in that it is removing the fabric of their society which has formed traditions and mythology which has become part of their collective memory, while at the same time also being the taking over of Gaelic religion, as the long-established Catholic names of the region are being malformed to the Anglican equivalents. This disempowerment is the cause of all the conflict throughout the play, and this all comes to a head with the English sweeping through Baile Beag in search of Yolland. We see this final conflict as a culmination of the power struggles which have been apparent throughout the play, and perhaps as a last stand by the inhabitants of Baile Beag against their oppressors.

The last passage of the play is quite interesting, and involves Hugh trying to recite Virgil , a text which he has no doubt read countless times. This is the last example of symbolism in the play, as it shows the weakening to the Irish people under the relentless English, as he has lost the power of his memory; his link to the past. This last moment captures the hopelessness of the Irish position, and is an acceptance by Hugh of the need to continue forward, and not to let a culture so diverse stagnate and be overcome and resigned to being a meaningless part of folklore, much like that of Tobair Vree.

"Translations" portrays the old culture and language as somewhat doomed but there is also many grounds for optimism that Friel shows us. The extensive use of Latin and Greek in the play shows us that whereas some language seems to be all but dead, its legacy lives on, dissipating itself over one or a multitude of cultures. The fulcrum of the piece is the scene between Yolland and Marie. Through their paradoxical positions on language, fumbling to repeat place names, Friel shows us how that it is not language that brings us together, but rather communication.

The fundamental drama in "Translations" is in change. The compromise which is needed to bring culture and language forward is found in abundance throughout the script, particularly with the characters of Maire and Owen who are two of the most progressive characters in the play. This compromise can often be seen as weak by the natives of a land, and it would be hard to argue against that, yet however much a language may change it is not...
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