The play “Translations” by Brian Friel laments the loss of the Irish language that bespeaks the loss of national identity. Through the experience of the O’Donnell family the author portrays the whole of Ireland.
Maire is not sure how to speak in English at the beginning of the play. Her knowledge is limited to three words and the quirky phrase “In Norfolk we bespot ourselves around the maypoll” (Friel: 8). She talks about her lack of knowledge in a careless manner thoough. Jimmy is in pretty much the same position: he speaks only Irish, although he knows one English word “bo-som” that he gets across with difficulty (Friel: 8-9). The end of the play finds Maire intensely absorbed in the study of English: “I must learn it. I need to learn it” (Friel: 89). Maire is an adept of studying English: to her, sticking to Irish can result in stagnation.
An opposing viewpoint is represented by Hugh who despises English as the language of commerce and industry, the two branches that are not necessarily good for the language refinement. However, Hugh is not committed to preservation of obsolete names and forms of the Irish language. Instead, he recognizes that the language has to acquire a new meaning to survive. “We must learn those new names,” says Hugh. “We must learn where we live. We must learn to make them our own. We must make them our new home” (Friel: 66). Clinging to older forms will result in hampering progress in Irish homes, just as Jimmy Jack fails to move forward retaining his knowledge of Greek and Latin.
Owen is the character who is most distinctly manipulating language. He consciously distorts the words of Captain Lancey when translating his words for Gaelic listeners, which incurs the anger of his brother Manus. By removing the flamboyance of Lancey’s speech Owen demonstrates control over the information possessed by the Irish thanks to their language. Yolland, for instance, who speaks only English is rebuffed by Doyalty’s “Wasting your time. I don’t know a word you’re saying” (Friel:39). He later admits that he feels excluded from the community because “the language of the tribe” alienates him. Manus, on the other hand, feels threatened by the advent of English and the British public school system. He demonstrates his attitude towards English by refusing to talk to Yolland in this language. Yet the elimination of Irish schools and language is only a matter of time – and British soldiers will in the end win over the Irish scholars.
Friel, Brian. Translations.