Brian Friel\'s Translations

Language has been the topic of many debates throughout history. It is an issue,
which can cause upheaval and even bloodshed. A modern day example of this can be
found right here in Canada. A great amount of time, and emotional input, among
other things, has been invested into Quebec\'s sovereignty debate. There has been
no long-term solution to the problem. This may be due to the lack of
understanding the majority tongue has of the issues. Language is a part of one\'s
identity. One might even venture to say the most important component. It is the
framework used to make sense of the world. Of course other methods are adequate
to do this, but language is paramount. To understand one must interpret and
internalize. One\'s language is interwoven with culture; consequently morals,
values, and traditions are passed down by language to future generations. In

Friel\'s Translations correlation of language and identity are best exemplified
through the character Owen who embraces English, forgets what language actually
means, and in essence slights who he is. Owen is the Irishman in Translations
who seizes English. He believes it to be an element of success. Language is to
be manipulated to fulfill his needs. The culture that is a vital part of the

Irish tongue is forgotten, or more conveniently brushed aside to allow for
"betterment". A major problem that arises from this is that
"...culture is socially constructed, symbolically maintained and
transmitted..." (Sackney 59). Without Irishmen speaking and experiencing
their language it will die, and inevitably be only a memory of better times. As
far as Owen is concerned his mother tongue is outdated, and for the uncivilized.

This attitude is highlighted when he speaks to his long time friends and family
members at the hedge-school. "My job is to translate the quaint, archaic
tongue you people persist in speaking into the King\'s good English" (Friel

29). The Gaelic tongue is becoming obsolete in the wake of colonization. Owen
has boarded the ship of "progress" disassociating himself from his
foundation. The language and culture in which he was raised is left secondary to
success. In the shuffle his identity has been unquestionably watered down.

Assimilation is the key to the "divide and conquer" tactic used by
colonists throughout the centuries. Owen has been divided from his people. He
has become a nameless face in the struggle to prevail. For Owen names seem to be
insignificant. He has lost sight to why they are meaningful. "Owen: Back to
first principles. What are we trying to do? Yolland: Good question. Owen: We are
trying to denominate and at the same time describe..." (Friel 35). The
question that arises is Dun na nGall or Donegal, Muineachain or Monaghan?

Congruent place; therefore nothing has changed? As Owen states about his own
name "Owen-Roland-what the hell. It\'s only a name" (Friel 33). He does
not comprehend that the primary function of a word is not only its meaning, but
also its implication. The importance lies in the significance of those names in
a specific context, and being heard from a unique and individual mouth. It is
near impossible to convey identical meaning of terms in any contrasting
languages, because words are specific to a culture, and that experience. Diverse
traditions and cultures are being assimilated into the English masses with the
fallout being a destruction of heritage. The effects of this dilemma are evident
in the Gaelic League of Austin\'s mission statement quoted here. "We strive
to preserve the language and culture of Ireland, and feel that with hard work
and dedication, those in Ireland and abroad can make a genuine step towards
promoting the beautiful and vital culture against threats of standardization.
...It [Irish] is worth saving and perpetuating for generations to come."

Owen is an example of the type of people who reduced Irish to this level. He has
taken on the English language to replace Irish, not just the Irish language, but
everything that is interwoven within it. Owen has acquired the English language,
but does not realize that he will never be English. There is a divider, which
prohibits this second language speaker from completely being embraced into the
language. He is the colonized, not the colonizer. Owen will always be Irish to
the British, even though he is their ally. He is an outsider on the inside, but
overlooks this. He is finally faced with this reality when he is just the
translator. "Lancey: ...commencing forty-eight hours from now we will
embark on a series of evictions and a leveling of every abode... Owen: You\'re
not---! Lancey: Do your job. Translate" (Friel). Owen