Translations Questions and Answers
by Brian Friel

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It might be of interest to note that Brian Friel’s play is called Translations (plural), not Translation (singular). Identify several ways that “translation” takes place in the play.  What needs to be translated?  How does it occur (or how successfully does it occur)? What are the obstacles to a successful translation?  Do not simply answer such questions.  And don’t assume translation is exclusively about language, or at least what we mean by language in the narrow sense of the term.

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The play is about lifestyles, about social values, about how we judge and interpret actions from cultures other than our own. While the obvious meaning of “Translations” is the work of the English survey team there in Donegal to “translate” the Gaelic placenames into English, the cultural “translation” is the loss of local sovereignty and control to the English government – even the title of the surveying team – “Royal Engineers” – shows that the incursion is far from purely geographical. The characters, too, are undergoing “translation.” For example, Manus, the cripple son, must translate himself from a local oddity to a world citizen. As each character and each character relationship is modified by the cultural invasion of the modern imperialistic life, they must translate their emotions, their worldview, their personalities into a new ”language.” While the action takes place in 19th century rural Ireland, the audience “translates the dramatic conflict into its own times, when such cultures and languages as Welsh, Corsica, and Basque are being challenged daily. In the final analysis, “Translations” is a social photograph of the fact of Change itself.

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