In the Play ‘Translations’ the characters are separated into the two groups the English colonists, Captain Lancey and Lieutenant Yolland, and the Gaelic speaking Irish population, Manus, Sarah, Jimmy Jack, Maire, Doalty, Bridget, Hugh and Owen. Coming from different backgrounds mean the two groups the characters speech has been carefully written by Friel to display different cultural identity within their speech, such as different syntax, dialectical lexis and colloquial language.
The two English sappers, Lancey and Yolland, speak in standard English both being formal and correct although Yolland also includes politeness, he apprises negative face needs Lancey dose not although the translation by Owen is changed to do so, in his idiolect where as Lancey seems not to do so, for instance when the two are Hugh by his son Owen, Lancey says, “Good Evening”, and then continues to use Minimal responses to address the questions posed to him where as Lancey greets Hugh by saying, “How do you do.
” which carries more polite connotations with it, although his responses are short to the questions he is asked are short they are not minimal responses, like Lanceys, and show he is more willing to engage in phatic communication. Lancey also conveys an authoritive attitude lacking personal tone, incorporating a definite modality, using military tones and speaking in complex sentences, “If by then the Lieutenant Hasn’t been found, we will proceed until a complete clearance is made of this entire section”.
His speech conveys the dominant colonist culture, this is due to his background and belief in how he should behave as a “colonial servant”, as Yolland describes him. Yolland, although a British sapper like Lancey, doses not display the dominant colonist culture. He speaks in Standard English very correctly and formally like Lancey but he is not authoritive but rather a romantic who sees Ireland and its Gaelic language as things of beauty. He is a recent soldier, not by choice but rather by mistake, and shows little or no interest in his position in Ireland as a colonist.
He seems to display a romanticising culture seeing beauty in everything including the Gaelic sounds of the language even when he has no understanding of their meaning. Both of the English sappers have a common ground in their speech, both use Standard English and speak in a formal register, but overall they are shown to have very different styles of addressing people and interacting with other character showing that although close, thus the similarities, the cultures of the two are very different.
The Irish characters within the play have a very strong culture liked to the ancient worlds of Greek and Latin literature with each of the parish members being able to speak some of the languages as well as their native Gaelic, although none of them, except Hugh and his sons Manus and Owen, speak English, which is ironic as they can only speak dead languages, from the point of view of the audience in 1980.
The whole of the parish being taught these languages shows a shared history within the community of learning the languages. Although the characters are speaking in Gaelic on the stage they speak in English but the audience are made aware of this as the English has been given Irish twists, except in the case of Hugh who elevates himself above the others by using Standard English. The Irish idiom is conveyed through colloquialism expressions, “yoke” and rhythm and syntax, “The Infant Prodigy doesn’t know what we’re at. ”
Other features include the topics which the discuss and the knowledge the people have of them, for instance the “sweet smell” which is caused by the potato blight, binds them together showing they share a common background and knowledge. These group the Irish into a community as they are a group of people who share historic background, which has influenced the way they speak as what they say contains parts of that background, this is true even for Hugh who although dose not speak with the Irish idiom does share in the background and understanding of the Irish culture.
Friel creates culture within his characters and displays them in his characters speech well. Although each character on stage speaks the English language obvious separation of cultures can be seen where groups of character have a shared historic background, customs and traditions. These shared features change their speech to allow them to express themselves efficiently and so the changes emerge in the syntax and lexis conveying the culture and its inclusion of characters to the audience.