Six years ago, I wrote that Moby Dick was being translated into emoji. (Click) I hardly knew what emojis* were at the time. Since then, Facebook emojis have become familiar, but I’ve never given much thought to how they came into being or how there could be enough to translate a novel.
Virginia Heffernan gives us some insight into these questions in her recent article for Wired. (“Atomic Unit: The Delicate Art of Emoji, by Virginia Heffernan, Wired. July 2018, pg. 12-14.) Though emojis were born in Japanese and best suited to Asian languages because they are pictographic, (Ibid pg. 13) Heffernan explains, today, they are the province the Unicode Consortium. Twelve dues-paying members control the production. They are Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, Google, Facebook, Shopify, Netflix, SAP ( a German company), Hauwei and the government of Oman. UC Berkley, the governments of India and Bangladesh have low membership status. (Ibid, pg. 12.) Don’t ask me why membership is distributed this way. The author doesn’t explain.
Anyone can submit an idea for an emoji to the Unicode Consortium, but review time is long and no images are accepted as submitted. The reason is emojis are proprietary and belong, primarily, to Apple or Google.
Currently, 2,700 images exist with new ones in production. (Ibid, pg. 12.) Images for garlic, a parachute and a stethoscope are in the works. What ideas they represent is unspecified, as yet. (Ibid pg. 14.)
The prime directive for an emoji is that it be neutral. Above all, it must not offend or produce anger. The gatekeepers take these strictures seriously. That’s why the approval process is arduous. One authority let slip that drops of blood may soon appear as an emoji. She refused to say more. Apparently, looking ominous isn’t out of bounds. We shall have to wait and see.
*Emoji, plural or single? (Click)