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Explore the range of linguistic and stylistic effects used to bring out the central themes and issues of Brian Friel's play "Translations"

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Remind yourself of Act II Scene I beginning with the first speech by Owen, "Now where have we got to?" to the end of Hugh's speech, "Gentlemen." [he leaves]. Explore the range of linguistic and stylistic effects used here by Friel to bring out the central themes and issues of the play. In the play 'Translations Brian Friel explores many issues, one of which is the process of naming. The play is based on the introduction of the first Ordnance Survey, bringing with it the inevitability of anglicizing place names. In the extract naming is emphasised by constant references to various places in Ireland, and their English equivalents; for example "Bun na hAbhann...Burnfoot!". The link between a place and historical events is also emphasised; "And you place names-what was the one we came across this morning?-Termon, from Terminus, the god of boundaries." The theme of naming is very closely linked to the loss which occurs as a result. As place names are anglicized, something is lost. Communities such as Baile Beag lose their cultural and political identities, and the original meaning is distorted. ...read more.


He speaks with intelligence, and always in Standard English; "I like to think we endure around truths immemorially posited." Hugh often uses linguistic terms, such as "a syntax opulent with tomorrows", and makes use of an analogy-"you don't dispose of the cow just because it has produced a magnificent calf, do you?"-in order to communicate his message to Yolland. Hugh is an educated man, who uses many literary features in his everyday speech, and is one of the few characters who realises Ireland's inevitable future. This shows Friel's desire to emphasise the importance of education for the new, modern world. Another theme in the play is one of cultural identity. The town of Baile Beag, according to Hugh, makes up for the lack of wealth with "a rich language". The Irish language gives them an identity separate from the English, one that may seem "hermetic" to some, including Yolland, but which allows them to be unique and uphold tradition through their place names. Perhaps it is also for tradition that Friel has used the conventional three Act structure as a literary framework for the play. ...read more.


These strong accents show the difference in status of a young English soldier and an Irishman such as Doalty. A dialect and colloquialism could be said to be characteristic of working class people in 1833, expressing Friel's political view regarding social class explicitly. Hugh, perhaps the most articulate character, brings up the final point. He understands that change is necessary to every country in order for them to progress. Hugh realises that words are not "immortal", and uses the metaphor "a civilisation can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of fact" to address this. When it is considered in the context of the time in which the play was written (1981), when America was the dominant country and Ireland's identity was fading, Hugh's idea that change is necessary seems very wise. It should also be noted that not only is the play written in English for what Friel himself called a 'dramatic conceit', but also because Gaelic had become so rarely used that a large majority of the audience would only understand the play if it was written in English, including, ironically, an Irish audience. Rebecca Hong 'Translations' essay ...read more.

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Response to the question

This is a competent essay which makes some good comments around the central themes of Friel's 'Translations' with regard to the linguistic tools he uses in order to do so. Quite often though, the answer is vague - "He [Hugh] ...

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Response to the question

This is a competent essay which makes some good comments around the central themes of Friel's 'Translations' with regard to the linguistic tools he uses in order to do so. Quite often though, the answer is vague - "He [Hugh] speaks with intelligence, and always in Standard English [...] in order to communicate his message to Yolland". Some times statements like these come backed up with quote and sometimes they do not. Usually, the comments on them are insightful and illuminating, though other times they are completely absent, and this inconsistency is one of the greatest issues for this candidate as they appear capable of analysing well, but don't seem to maintain a high level across the entire essay. It is very good to see reference to Friel's own thoughts on the play as this shows external research has been conducted and indicates enthusiasm to the examiner to push your essay above everyone else's.

The structure is fair, but the conclusive paragraph is not conclusive - there is still some very acceptable analysis in the last paragraph and there shouldn't be any. This is easy enough to rectify, but please be aware that structure marks are lost if the introductory paragraph and conclusive paragraph are not apparent and clear.

Level of analysis

The Level of Analysis is slightly inconsistent, though the contextual analysis is very good, and the candidate makes good use of Friel's own comments about the play and his beliefs about language. One part of the answer screams for an incorporation of Michel Foucault's thesis "Discourse is power which is to be seized", but no marks are lost for not having it included.

I would like to see more of an understanding of character though, as particularly Hugh seems slightly misunderstood. Yes, he is educated and very intellectual, but he is one of few characters who knows from the very start what the English are planning to do and that the Irish have no chance in stopping them, hence his phrase "landscape of... fact". He may seem to be making a satirical jibe at the English (particularly Yolland, whom he knows is far too uneducated to understand what he is saying) here, but actually it is hinting at the general submission of the Irish language and how Friel believed the language only died out because the Irish let it die out (Hugh also agrees to teach Maire English and speaks at length in very articulate English so he can be said to be slightly contradictory). With English, the newly formed language of commerce, many beauties of the Irish language were lost in favour of simplicity, and this theme is recognised by Hugh's comment "It [Irish] is a rich language". He knows the futility of the language and how it will soon come to be taught and spoken by very few. What I want to see is something like the above - more depth given to the specific uses of words (the above analysis pertaining simply to Hugh's use of the word "fact"; furthermore, why does he pause before saying it?). All this would help the candidate score better, and would prevent the vagueness from dragging the marks down.

Quality of writing

The Quality of Written Communication is excellent. There is absolutely no cause for concern with regard to any English writing errors, with all things spelling, grammar and punctuation-related having plenty of care and attention put into them to ensure maximum clarity in written expression.

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Reviewed by sydneyhopcroft 27/08/2012

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