The Role of Communication

Comparing Language in Brian Friel's Translation and Abbie Spallen's Pumpgirl

Seminar Paper, 2010
15 Pages, Grade: 1,0

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Language and Communication:
2.1 Anglicisation and the Loss of the Irish Language
2.2 The Role of Communication in Northern Ireland´s Peace Process
2.3 Language as a Theatrical Medium

3 Brian Friel´sTranslation
3.1 Plot Analysis
3.2 Communication Between the Characters
3.3 Symbols and Themes

4 Abbie Spallen´sPumpgirl
4.1 Plot Analysis
4.2 Communication Between the Characters
4.3 Symbols and Themes

5 Conclusion


1 Introduction

Deeply rooted in Irish and English history, the conflict between the occupied and the occupiers has several aspects that contribute to the violent outbreaks such as the Northern Irish Troubles. Every attempt to mediate between the two nations faces a wall of hatred and scorn that nowadays is based on prejudice as much as on historical facts. To briefly outline the conflict, which is rooted in the Plantation of Ulster by Scottish and British settlers, important events where: the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 when William of Orange, a protestant, defeated the catholic King James II; the Penal Laws in 1695 to oppress the catholic inhabitants; the Anglo-Irish War of Independence from 1920-1922; the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921, which created the Irish Free State; the Bloody Sunday in 1972, initiating the outbreak of the Troubles in Northern Ireland; and the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 which is generally supposed to end the Troubles.

It has always been one of the first actions of those who won the war to deprive the oppressed nation of their cultural heritage which can include traditions as well as land or language. During the Norman conquest1, for instance, the occupiers brought along their Norman French as the new official language. Therefore, language seems to be an important part of the culture and identity of a nation. To give the reader a definition, language is “a system of communication consisting of sounds, words and grammar, or the system of communication used by the people of a particular country or profession“ (Good 2008: 804).

On the one hand, this paper shall focus on the aspect of language in general, meaning on the conflict between the British and Irish people. First, the topic of Anglicisation and the loss of the Irish language will be examined. Then, language will be analysed as a theatrical medium, and finally the role of communication in Northern Ireland´s peace process will be investigated. On the other hand, the paper shall focus on the aspect of language in the two playsTranslationsby Brian Friel (1981), andPumpgirlby Abbie Spallen (2006). Both will be analysed in detail, regarding their plot, the communication between the characters, and their symbols and themes. A comparison will be drawn with regard to similarities and differences in the use of language and communication.

2 Language and Communication

2.1 Anglicisation and the Loss of the Irish Language

Anglicisation or “become(ing) English in sound, appearance and character“ (Good 2008: 49) is one means the British Empire used to build up their colonies and to ensure the loyalty of the colonists. The attempt to make the colonies more “English“ was meant to improve identification with the British culture and therefore uprisings of the new Royal Subjects could be avoided or at least minimised. Measures, such as trade to spread British goods among the native people or, more seriously, the establishment of British law, church, and especially language were never likely to happen without force. In case of the conquest of Ireland, the most important measure taken with regard to the aspect of language was the Act of Education in 1695 as part of the famous Penal Laws2.

Whereas it has been found by experience that tolerating at papists keeping schools or instructing youth in literature is one great reason of many of the natives continuing ignorant of the principles of the true religion, and strangers to the scriptures, and of their neglecting to conform themselves to the laws of this realm, and of their not using the English habit and language, no person of the popish religion shall publicly teach school or instruct youth, or in private houses teach youth, except only the children of the master or mistress of the private house, upon pain of twenty pounds, and prison for three months for every such offence. (William III 1695:An Act to Restrain foreign Education)

Language here is seen as a tool to keep culture alive and therefore encourage the Irish not to accept the subjection by the British forces and to plot against them. The Irish language is particularly rich in cultural connections, such as the Gaelic place names that in the same instance describe the area which is named and tell something about its history[1]. To anglicise this Irish place names, the Ordnance Survey Office was established in 1824 as part of the British Army.

Today, the spoken language all over Ireland is English. However, this is another type of English called Hiberno-English or Irish-English which is a kind of English dialect. There are a few native speakers of Irish Gaelic left in certain areas as well, and the number of second-language speakers is increasing. The Republic of Ireland was able to establish Irish as the official language again and an increasing number of people becomes interested in their cultural heritage. As Declan Kiberd wrote inInventing Ireland: “once Anglicization is achieved, the Irish and English instead of speaking a truly identical tongue, will be divided most treacherously by a common language.“ (Kiberd 1995: 622).

2.2 The Role of Communication in Northern Ireland´s Peace Process

When Ireland was politically divided by the Government of Ireland Act in 1920, the Troubles seemed to switch into Northern Ireland only. With a population of nowadays nearly 50% Catholics and 50% Protestants, there are two nations with different identities in one land. Northern Ireland is divided in itself. The centre of the Troubles has been Derry or Londonderry where such bloody riots as the Battle of the Bogside or the Bloody Sunday took place. The Sunningdale Agreement in 1973 was the first attempt of communication by the government. However, to force Unionists to share power with the Nationalists was not the right way. There were several other agreements, all pushed forward by the government or single politicians, until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was signed that officially ended the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

However, this communication among politicians and parties did not spread among the ordinary people. Separated by so called “peace lines”, the Catholic and Protestant districts faced each other with hatred. Children were raised in the belief that the opposing group is evil and that they are not allowed to talk with each other. Communication that could lead to comprehension and sympathy, is impossible when everyone is contaminated with prejudice. Although the political conflict is officially ended, it will take a long time for the wounds to heal and for the people to overcome cut and dried opinions.

2.3 Language as a Theatrical Medium

The usage of language in theatre is manifold. Depending on the genre, language is used to develop the plot; for descriptions of places or persons; to hint at secret intentions or characteristics, and to create a feeling of unity and a sense of belonging among one people. As this paper focuses on two plays, the genre of drama shall be highlighted here. According to the language spoken by the characters on stage, the audience gets to know who belongs to each other and where and when the play is set. A play of Shakespeare, for instance, would use Elizabethan English or at least, to make it understandable, a certain dialect and style. During the dialogues the audience can figure out who is more dominant according to amount of speech and so on. A monologue can reveal hidden intentions and thoughts of the characters. In Brian Friel´sTranslations(1981), for instance, language is the core of the play. It has all those functions mentioned above and even more.


1The Norman Conquest took place in 1066 under William the Conqueror and was due to his victory in the Battle of Hastings.

2“In Ireland, the "Penal Laws" is the name given to the code of laws passed by the Protestant Parliament of Ireland which regulated the status of Roman Catholics through most of the eighteenth century.” (Schaffer 2000:Penal Laws)

[1]As it is described in Brian Friel´sTranslations(1981) when Owen and Yolland discuss about the new map (pp. 34-36)

15 of 15 pages


The Role of Communication
Comparing Language in Brian Friel's Translation and Abbie Spallen's Pumpgirl
Technical University of Chemnitz
Catalog Number
ISBN (Book)
File size
523 KB
Northern Irish Drama, The Troubles, Anglicisation, Translation
Quote paper
Carolin Ahnert (Author), 2010, The Role of Communication, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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