Translations by Brian Friel explores how language shapes cultural identity. The British have taken control of Ireland. Much of the play focuses on their attempts to make Ireland a part of the British Empire. One of the methods they use to achieve this is renaming key Irish landmarks with an English name. They also force the Irish to use English in the schools and make speaking English an important part of professional success in the country. All of these changes reduce the importance of the historical Irish language, Gaelic.
Many of the Irish resent these changes. However, some of them embrace the changes as a necessary step toward modernization. In his play, Friel explores how language shapes the way that we view the world. He writes,
it is not the literal past, the "facts" of history, that shape us, but images of the past embodied in language.
Through this lens, we see the Anglicization of Ireland as an act of destruction. The British mandate English language laws so that they can reduce Irish culture and replace it with their own. Friel shows us that this is one method colonizers can use to bring a colony under the thumb of their empire.