On Modernizing the Language of Romeo and Juliet for Finnish Teenagers

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Department of English, NTNU


This article examines a recent production of Julia and Romeo at the Finnish National Theater (2018) as an example of innovative linguistic adaptation, accomplished through the use of style variations and a touch of rewriting. While most of the FNT Finnish text is based on Marja-Leena Mikkola's poetic translation (WSOY 2006), the dramaturg Anna Viitala, working closely with the director and actors, added a layer of colloquial, teenage language. Features include tiny insertions, such as vou [wow]," okei [OK], and phrases teens use with each other or to annoy their parents. Sometimes a single poetic line is replaced with a shorter and more colloquial speech, framed by much more poetic text. In a larger piece of rewriting, Romeo and Juliet's shared sonnet is turned into a hilarious poem Romeo is writing on love, drawn in part from Troilus and Cressida. For the most part, these juxtapositions of colloquial language added a comic touch, inviting teenage audience members to relate to the characters. But they were also effectively used to heighten tragedy, as for example in the simple repetition of a Finnish word for hello and goodbye, hei, which Romeo and Juliet awkwardly said to each other when they first met, and which was repeated three more times later in the play at key moments. The analysis points to the significant role stylistic variation can have in theatrical translation and adaptation, and suggests translators think beyond a simple continuum between archaizing and modernizing as strategies for translating historical texts.