Emoji: Public Review December 2008 - A Very Pretty Can of Worms Indeed

From: Ed Trager (ed.trager@gmail.com)
Date: Sun Dec 21 2008 - 10:05:04 CST

Hah! These emoji really are a pretty can of worms, a great Pandora's
Box if you ask me ...

> On Sun, Dec 21, 2008 at 4:32 AM, Jeroen Ruigrok van der Werven >
> The problem with a lot of those symbols is that they assume a Japanese
> cultural background. I have been to Japan, I dabble in the language, and I
> recognise ideas in some of those emoji that are really, really cultural
> specific and carry little to no weight/understanding outside of this
> cultural reference.

The problem is not that these emoji originated in Japan in a Japanese
cultural context. After all, the Unicode consortium has always been
in the business of encoding the widely-used written symbols of
different cultures.

So I personally have no problem with emoji originating in Japan and
being very "Japanese".

But I do have a BIG problem with the very ARBITRARY and AD-HOC nature
of the set of symbols comprising the proposed emoji set.

Let's face it -- emoji originated at the happenstance intersection of
"chat" smiley faces and a sufficiently large set of unused code points
in the JIS code space.

But why do I have a problem with that?

I have a problem with the set because most people in the world are
going to view the emoji set not as a "Japanese" symbol set, but rather
as an INTERNATIONAL symbol set which ought to have some modicum of
international coverage.

In fact, I'm pretty sure that most of the readers of this list already
*automatically* think of emoji as an international symbol set useful
for text messaging and internet chatting across borders, across
cultures. If Google and Yahoo are using them, then emoji are no
longer just a Japanese phenomenon. They are now international and
cross-cultural in nature. That's a fact.

So I have a problem with the total arbitrariness of the whole set
which completely fails to have the kind of international *balance*
necessary for an international symbol set, as illustrated below:

PEOPLE CATEGORY: There is a symbol for "BLOND PERSON" -- but in
Japanese this is a 西洋人 or 白人 -- in other words, a Westerner or
Caucasian. And "MAN WITH LONG MOUSTACHE" is really a 中国人 -- a
"Chinese Man". And "MAN WITH TURBAN" is really a インド人 -- a Hindu.

OK, that's fine and dandy (Or is it?). If this stuff goes into
Unicode, should we not also clamour for encoding symbols for EVERY
major ethnic group? Where, for example, is the symbol for a JAPANESE
person -- Oh, there probably isn't one because in Japan of course a
Japanese person is just a regular "person" so it is only the outside
and minority ethnic groups that get labeled -- just as is true in
every culture. But if this stuff gets into Unicode, wouldn't it
really be much more *tactful* if we had some symbols for people of
other ethnic backgrounds as well?

So there's a very nice can of worms for all Unicoders to consider
right there ...

And of course that is just the beginning, although such a nice
beginning it is ...

Let's see ... how about FLAGS? The selection is ridiculously limited
and arbitrary. Better encode flags of all of the nations of the
world, if that is even possible without large dispute. Nice can of
worms there too.

In a less disputational category, the NATURE category, I see there is
MAPLE LEAF and SAKURA (with only 4 petals in two of the vendor's
systems -- hah! what a joke!). So I want an OAK LEAF, a POINSETTIA,
and a TULIP TREE LEAF. And since I want to be culturally inclusive, I
want a TEAK TREE LEAF and PAPAYA LEAF too. Can I have them?

There are also EAR OF RICE and CORN and CHESTNUT and PINEAPPLE. Fine,
but where is ACORN and SHAFT OF WHEAT and RAMBUTAN and MANGO and

Interestingly, there is a CHAPEL but I don't see a BUDDHIST TEMPLE or
SHINTO SHRINE (even though this is a set of Japanese origin?). Weird.

And I love the fact that there is a LOVE HOTEL. Yeah, I really needed
that one! But wouldn't it be better if we also had BEER GARDEN, SAKE

>>> What is needed most, at this juncture, is not further opinionizing
>>> about the value of these proposed characters, but the detailed work of
>>> sorting them into the standard. There are enough hard questions to be
>>> answered:
>>So, in other words, the decision to encode the entire set has been made,
>>and resistance is futile.
> Which I find a bad precedent.

It's not precedent.

> It effectively means Unicode has now moved to
> more 'backroom decision making' policy instead of an open standard one.
> I seriously wonder why this has to be encoded into Unicode and cannot be
> done in a private use area.
> I've seen better proposals/ideas get told to sod off and use a PUA, yet this
> will be forced into the standard?
> I am not seeing the wisdom in this one, sorry.

Nor am I.

-- Ed Trager

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