Analysis of "Translations" by Brian Friel

Elsa Cross
Elsa Cross
May 15, 2012

Brian Friel's play Translations is about the unfortunate decline of the Irish language, and the resulting loss of Irish identity. This issue is central to the play, and the O'Donnel family's experiences bring forth the issue to the audience.

At the start of the play, the Irish Maire is not very good at speaking English. She only knows a couple of words and a select phrase "In Norfolk we bespot ourselves around the maypole" (Friel,8). Jimmy is in a similar situation, though Maire is more vocal about her lack of knowledge. Jimmy only knows Irish, and the one English word he does know is "bo-som", which he finds difficult to pronounce (Friel. 8-9). They improve their skills throughout the play, and by the end Maire is studying hard to learn the language. She feels that she must learn the language for her own future prosperity, while feeling that sticking with only Irish would be a disaster.

Her views contrast with the character Hugh, who sees English as a crude language of business and industry. He is not conservative with his own language however, and believes that Irish must evolve if it is to survive. He states that they need to learn the new names, and parallels this with making the language with a new home (Friel. 66). Keeping the old language is viewed by him as a barrier to progress in Irish Homes, which relates to Jimmy who cannot retain the beneficial Greek and Latin languages.

Owen is an interesting character who takes the most pleasure in subverting language for his own humor and gain. When he translates for Gaelic listeners, he does so inaccurately on purpose, which angers his brother. When viewed in detail, we can see that Owen is demonstrating the power of the Irish language, eliminating the whimsy of the text he is translating.

One of the few English only speakers in the play ends up feeling alienated since many of the Irish are unwilling to learn English (Friel, 39). A similar negative on the other side lies with Manus, who feels threatened by the imperial English Language. He even refuses to talk to Yolland because of his language. His anger may be justified with the closure of Irish schools to make way for the British school system.


Friel, Brian. Translations.