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Conference Proceeding

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Brian Friel‘s acclaimed Translations, suggestively written in English, captures the moment in the history of Ireland when the British, in a clear sign of imperial dominance, initiated the remapping and renaming of the Irish territory, generating a linguistic uncertainty that eventually led to the capitulation of the Gaelic language and placed the colonizing tongue – English -- on central stage. The fact that this contemporary Irish playwright in 1980 wrote Translations in English and not in Gaelic speaks for itself. But Friel‘s choice of English as the vehicle for his play is far from trivial, and to assume that this decision owes to a question of attracting a larger audience would certainly undermine his purpose. In this work, then, I will analyze the effects of the British remapping and renaming of Ireland from a post colonial theoretical angle, focusing on its most invasive and lasting consequence: the replacement of the native language and its cultural repercussions. I will therefore explore Friel‘s Translations within the context of post colonial theories developed by such critics as Ngugi Wa Thiong‘o (usually referred to as Ngugi), Salman Rushdie, and Declan Kiberd. Because these writers have addressed the language/identity question for the writing of native literature from seemingly divergent angles, their analyses can shed light on understanding Friel‘s portrayal of the different --and often ambivalent-- feelings toward the language question in Ireland. Thus in Translations, the playwright leaves it up to the audience to decide, while he presents the whole spectrum of attitudes towards a problem that has clearly not reached one definite conclusion yet. Indeed, that is precisely the question Friel articulates here.


Presented at Graduate English Association New Voices Conference 2007, pp. 1-13.