How is the play Translations by Brian Friel about language?
The central debate in this wonderful play concerns the relationship of the Irish to their ancient language of Gaelic and then the language that has been imposed upon them through history by the English. At the outset of the play, this is highlighted through the assertion of Maire Chatach that Gaelic is an "old language" and also a "barrier to progress." The arrival of Captain Lancey, who has been tasked with mapping the area and giving Anglicised names to the landscape brings this issue to the forefront of the play. Differing attitudes to this act are presented in the play, with some linking the Gaelic language to the Irish identity, an identity that is based strongly on mythology and the hardships they have suffered throughout the years. Some argue that Captain Lancey's act is deplorable, and yet others state that what he does reflects the modern realities of the world and the decline of the Gaelic language. What becomes clear, however, is the importance of language in relation to identity, as the following quote suggests:
...it is not the literal past, the 'facts' of history, that shape us, but images of the past embodied in language.
The play stresses the importance of language, therefore, through the way that it "embodies" those past memories and histories, which become part of a people and their rich and vibrant culture. The cultural annexation that is presented in this play is something that is presented in a wholly negative light.