What is your opinion on the inclusion of emojis in Unicode?

By: | Post date: 2016-11-18 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: General Language, Writing Systems

Ah, Philip my old friend. I know why you’re asking, and you know where this is going.

What does Nick Nicholas’ Quora Bio on emoji say?

Emoji: Blot on the purity of Unicode

What does Nick Nicholas think about the inclusion of emojis in Unicode?



Why does Nick Nicholas think that? Is he some sort of antiquated un-hip spoilsport?

Yes, but there’s so much more to it than that.

Unicode is meant to be an universal encoding of scripts of human languages, to be comprehensive and rigorous. It is meant to resist logos, and vanity symbols, and short term fads: it is intended to persist for the ages. It is meant to deal with finite, well-understood, stable repertoires of script signs. Inclusion of any new additions to the repertoires are meant to be pondered and debated by linguists and typographers. And it is meant to deal with communicative needs borne of real texts. Real, plain texts, not vagaries of formatting or iconography.

It’s been po-faced in the past. The German National Standards body ensured Klingon never made it into Unicode, for instance, for fear of bringing the standard into disrepute.

And then the emojis came.

It’s not just that they’re frivolous. (And yes, I also wasn’t happy about Dylan getting the Nobel for Literature.) It’s that they’re not stable, they’re not for the ages, they’re not finite, and they’re not text. Yes, they’re part of text messages. So are memes.

Emojis were included in legacy Japanese character sets, because that’s how the Japanese telcos encoded the blasted things. It was a kludge. It was not meant to be enshrined for the ages: using characters to do icons was a short term fix, and certainly not a sustainable one. Emojis are not the kinds of thing that are meant to be a well-defined, stable sign system, with additions debated by linguists and typographers: that truly defeats the purpose of emojis. Not to mention, emojis really do go against the spirit of Unicode.

But the Japanese telcos went with them, and then Apple went with them, and there we are.

The Unicode Technical Committee defends the inclusion, as they must. They say that they do not count as logos, or vanity symbols, or short term fads, and they are appropriately managed through a standards process that normally engages linguists and typographers. Not everyone in the Unicode community was convinced, but it’s done.

Damn me if I’m going to be happy about it, but.

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