Brian Friel Translations Essay

355 WordsJan 13, 20152 Pages
Act 2 Scene 1 opens with Yolland and Owen, bent over a name book and a large map, embarked upon their task of transposing the Gaelic toponymy of Baile Beag into an English alternative.The translation of names also involves a translation of namers - the role of the colonizer becomes the role of the colonized, as Yolland and Owen undergo and exchange of identity. While Owen is patiently engrossed in the mapping process, Yolland is lost in a world of dreams, savouring each Gaelic word upon his tongue, reluctant to ‘traduce’ it into its Anglo-saxon equivalent. So that when Owen offers the practical suggestion of rendering “Bun na hAbhann” as “Burnfoot” Yollands reaction is one of protective defence toward the original. “Theres no English equivalent to a sound like that”. However, its not just the sound which is at stake. Its the stored heritage of local history which Gaelic name recollects and secretes. The translation of these place names closes off rather than discloses their mnemonic secrets, distorts their former meaning. Yolland describes his first encounter with the Gaelic language as a quasi-mystical revelation. The linguistic divide is experienced by him as a threshold demarcating fundamentally heterogeneous modes of consciousness. He speaks of discovering a new continent of feeling, one belonging to a totally different order. It was a movement into a consciousness that was striving nor agitated, but at its ease and with its own conviction and assurance. The threshold is also a frontier. It cannot be crossed with impunity, as Yolland will discover to his cost. Already he has intimations of the impenetrable barrier of words with no translation, however well intentioned can traverse. “Even if I did speak Irish” “I would always be an outsider”. Owen’s reassuring rejoinder “you can learn to decode us” has an ominous ring, it scarcely veiled sarcasm
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