Translations and Things Fall Apart, examine how Friel and Achebe present the issue of linguistic imperialism and how successful they are.

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“…a civilisation can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of…fact.” With reference to your independent research and critical opinion, examine how Friel and Achebe present the issue of linguistic imperialism and how successful they are.

Linguistic imperialism can be defined as the enforcement or imposition of one language onto another; it tends to be a key tool of the colonialist seeking to mend the ‘backward’ societies that they find, generally to their own purpose. Thus, writers such as Friel and Achebe have sought to rectify the still ever present colonialist perceptions of the west by attacking the use of language in their societies, for example, Hiberno-English in Translations. Furthermore, it is necessary to analyse the form and structure of the primary texts, for instance, how Achebe and Friel both manage to structure their texts in such a way that it gives a distinctly ‘foreign’ aesthetic, whilst still creating a subtly intelligent and critical narrative. Also, it is important to look at the literary techniques and devices that are used within Translations and Things Fall Apart, for example, dramatic irony (e.g. the reference to the potato famine in Translations) or symbols like Mr. Brown in Things Fall Apart, who represent a could-have-been harmonious presence between two vastly different cultures. In addition, it is necessary to contrast and compare the primary texts with secondary texts such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s ‘The Language of African Literature’, and analyse how relevant or constructive Things Fall Apart and Translations are in their underlying criticism of linguistic imperialism. Overall, it is a crucial to explore these various threads of investigation to come to an overall conclusion in terms of how Friel and Achebe present the issue of linguistic imperialism and how successful they are.

George Steiner, in After Babel, writes that “Translation exists because men speak different languages” (1998, p. 51). He goes on to question it, by asking “Why should human beings speak thousands of different, mutually incomprehensible tongues?” (1998, p. 51), that homo sapiens are basically biologically the same; why have we not evolved to speak one common language? Steiner's study of language and communication concludes that with the death of a language comes the dissolution of cultures and identities: “Each takes with it a storehouse of consciousness” (1998, p. 56). This was of consequential influence to Brian Friel and Translations, notable throughout the play. For instance, the various ways in which Friel portrays translation – the cartographers; Owen's “not-completely-correct” translation of Lancey; Maire and Yolland's romantic tryst and so forth – create the notion that the English language is not compatible with Irish culture. This is an overarching idea that reaches its crescendo with the Donnelly twins, Friel's representation of the Provision IRA within the play i.e. the violent end of Yolland, inferred by the actions of the Donnelly twins, is an echo of 1980s era conflicts. These conflicts were created by tensions still remaining today, by Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland; the Catholics calling for the reunification of Ireland, and Protestants wishing to remain separated – realistically, these tensions would have not necessarily existed had there been no British colonising of Ireland, and Translations has been identified as echoing Friel’s political interest in the matters.

The reader or audience of Translations are bound by Friel to a highly complex idea of translation and the place of language in a culture; similarly, we are made aware of this in Things Fall Apart. One of the most accessible passages that exemplify this goes as follows:

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“When they had all gathered the white man began to speak to them. He spoke through an interpreter who was an Ibo man, though his dialect was different and harsh to the ears of Mbanta. Many people laughed at his dialect and the way he used words strangely. Instead of saying ‘myself’ he always said ‘my buttocks’.” (Things Fall Apart, p. 136)

Subtly, Achebe feeds the reader linguistic perspective alien to most Western culture – that Africa was not, and is not, a land full of savages who cannot communicate as well as the Europeans, and instead a variety of ...

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