Analysis

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

At its heart, Brian Friel's Translations is a play about the erosion of a culture in the face of colonialism. Specifically, the play is about the erosion of Irish culture and language in the face of English colonial incursions and the translation of Irish place names into English. The theme of translation is an important one, as one might expect in a play called Translations; indeed, the translation of Irish place names into English becomes a symbol of colonial hegemony, with the emergence of English place names signifying colonial ownership not only of the landscape, but also the people who inhabit it.

While every scene in Friel's dense play is important, perhaps the most important moment is in act 2, scene 1, in which Yolland and Owen are busy trying to find a suitable way of translating the name of an insignificant parcel of land in the surrounding area. Try as they might, the two men can't find a good English name to replace the Irish one, as each English name they conceive seems to miss some important meaning conveyed in the original Irish. The "untranslatability" of language thus becomes a key theme throughout the play, gesturing toward an Irish cultural essence forever lost in the face of English colonial occupation.

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