Saturday, June 16, 2012

A word about the day job

Every other artist I know has to have a day job in order to be able to live - be it a teaching, running a gallery, working behind a bar, working in publishing, whatever. My job is publishing related - I'm a proofreader and translator.

I kind of fell into it. When I lived in the Netherlands, I taught English to people who worked in various professions and industries, and writing was and is a major part of their jobs - they needed to be able to deal with clients in English too, so I found myself working with them on reports, correspondence, manuals, etc.

Then I was contacted by a student in the University of Groningen who was completing her translation diploma, and needed a native speaker of English to check over texts for spelling, grammar, tone and style. This was in 1995 and I still work with her. Between the two of us, we've done everything from translating songs and poems to rewriting instruction manuals that were drafted by people whose first language was not English. And everything in between. Of course, I have also worked for several other agencies and even a couple of publishing houses.

I never know what to expect in this. Needless to say, I've learned a fair bit about a lot of things. Come across a lot of stories behind inventions and technical developments. Encountered some pretty interesting people along the way. And it does filter into the art.

Of course, sometimes I get incredibly lucky and get to work on a text relating to art or culture, I recently worked on a book by a Dutch author relating to art and art history, which was fascinating. One of the great things about the Internet is that you can always find images relating to what you are working on if you are prepared to search them out, so I do enjoy the visual part of this job too. But obviously I cannot use those actual images in my art, as there are copyright issues involved.

No, it's the words. I love the whole notion of 'false friends' in language, how a word can mean one thing in one language, yet a very similar word can mean something completely different in another language. A classic example of this is the English word 'sympathetic' and the French word 'sympathique' - an English speaker unfamiliar with the French language can be forgiven for wondering who died if they hear a French speaker say 'he is very sympathetic'. Many's the time I've had to explain to a Dutch person that you cannot say the word 'toilet' in America, and that your house as no 'backside', but you do, and you're sitting on it. And then there was the time when a man from the former German Democratic Republic, very keen to impress this Irish lady travelling on her own, told me that 'the train is retarded' when it was merely delayed (followed by a discussion on the French 'en retard' and the English term 'mentally handicapped').

At the juncture, I would like to point out that I've made a few total bloopers myself, in the Dutch language. I was talking to my (very religious but delightfully open-minded) Dutch in-laws about my father and how he became a 'reformed smoker', only this didn't translate too well as 'gereformeerde roker', and they were initially a little insulted as they were 'gereformeerden', or members of the Dutch Reformed Church. But once this was explained, it was fine.

It's the lack of epistemology when it comes to words or symbols that keeps us and many archaeologists preoccupied - didn't it take the relevant scholars 20 years to decipher the Rosetta Stone? For this reason, I like to include text in my paintings, and in other languages, because I never know who is going to read it, and if they are even familiar with it. I have painted some works with the Czech language in there, and of course with the language of my own country, Irish.

This brings to mind a song I learned from my father as a child, which he learned in India when he was stationed there during WWII as an engineer for the De Havilland aircraft. I don't know what the words mean, and neither did he, but he loved the melody and picked it up very quickly from the local people, as he loved to sing. If you are from India, and are familiar with this old song, I would love to hear from you. If the words are rude or offensive, I apologise in advance - I don't know what they mean, for me it's a song from my childhood. The words sound like:

Galig gingo geeng
Go bossy by na
Go dinneh by na
Go dinneh by na

And when I figure out how to record it on software, I'll make a link for the melody. 

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