Emoji, universal language for Generation Z
With 800 symbols and counting, you can now convert almost anything into emoji stories – even Moby Dick (aka Emoji Dick), reports Laura Tennant
With 800 symbols and counting, you can now convert almost anything into emoji stories – even Moby Dick, reports Laura Tennant
Ever since the story of the Tower of Babel was first told, utopians have harked back to a time when a universal language permitted perfect human understanding and unity (think Esperanto, invented by peace-loving Ludwik Lazarus Zamenhof in the hopes that a neutral mode of communication would end war).
Now tech-watchers are claiming that the humble emoticon, also known by its Japanese name ‘emoji’, may be just that. So many variations of the original smiley face have been coined that it is possible to translate almost anything into chains of pictograms – even that immensely long classic of American literature, Moby Dick .
This Kickstarter-funded project led by engineer Fred Benenson drew on Amazon’s virtual human workforce of Mechanical Turks, in all involving 800 people. ‘Each of the book's approximately 10,000 sentences has been translated three times by a Amazon Mechanical Turk worker. These results have been voted upon by another set of workers, and the most popular version of each sentence has been selected for inclusion in this book,’ explains the Emoji Dick website , where interested parties can buy a hardcover, colour version of the book for $200.
As fans of Girls know, emoji use can be poetic, cryptic and near-haiku like (witness Shoshana’s definitive ‘panda; gun; gift’ ) while ‘emoji artists’ like video producer Jesse Hill incorporate emoticons into their film work.
But the translation of an entire novel takes the emoji to a whole new level. With 800 symbols and counting to play with, ‘Call me Ishmael’ becomes ‘telephone/man-with-moustache/yacht/whale/OK-sign’. As Alex Clark writes in the Observer , the translation may be impenetrable to anyone under 30. But ‘on the bright side, we might wonder whether emoji represent a chance to be free, however temporarily, of the constraints and treacheries of language. Words give us the opportunity to express doubt, ambiguity, the finer gradations of thought, of course, but they can also act as multipliers of misunderstanding, as blunt weapons for banishing dissent, as vehicles for forked-tongue political rhetoric.’
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