Emoji Dick


Just recently a classic novel, Moby Dick, had been translated into Emojis (Emoji Dick). These tiny faces/signs/symbols which originated in Japan were used to recreate this whole story. Many small pictures now „narrate“ this novel but still are accompanied by the original text.

The „translation“ can be understood as a rather ironic observation on the use of language and writing nowadays. Emojis made their way into main culture through messaging, mostly via chats and mails. They are/were widely used to express emotions and to give written text on technical devices a human touch. They gave „spoken“ text back the missing facial expression and thus making it easier to understand the subconscious message. Emoticons complemented a text. In this certain case they reanimate an old classic by adapting it to modern times.

One has to know that it took a long time for the translators to make up this text in Emojis. There had been various versions that were rated and commented until one version made it into the book. The task of translating was being taken serious. But why would anyone do such a thing? Why would you pay money to translate a classic into a made-up sign-language?

Maybe because it answers to this modern society in a way that no-one ever did (at least when it comes to translations like these). It is a successful combination of low and high culture and it mirrors everyday life as we try to do the same by typing Emojis into our messages. But there have surely been commercial thoughts behind it as well when choosing a classic. First of all it is a widely known work that many people had to read at school and on the other hand there are no Copyright-payments to be made to the author since the book is old enough and is not touched by law anymore.  This combination of reputation and relatively low costs made an attempt like that possible.

But the success came with the notion that everybody could somehow relate to. We use Emojis everyday. It is a fun way to show that – now that there is a wide range of Emojis – whole stories could be told without typing a single word and thus omitting the usage of language. You don’t have to think of proper grammar or spelling when using a symbol. Sure, the plot is still there, but the unique writing style, the semantic and syntactic variations would have been lost without the original sentences written below.

The comment on this development is the release of „Emoji Dick“. It somehow raises awareness that our use of language is changing through time and technology. Our language-use got simpler – even without Emojis – because languages are shifting constructions that adapt on society. It is focused on speaking/writing English in this globalized world, but Emojis cross these boarders whilst forming a universal sign-language everybody can/could understand.


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