Emoji Dick and Other Emoji Translations

The famous novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville has recently seen a translation activity fronted by Fred Benenson aiming to produce Emoji Dick, the world’s first (and perhaps last!) novel written in emoji.

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What is emoji?
First a definition; emoji is not a language, it is the Japanese for picture characters, or in English, icons, sometimes animated, sometimes static. They have been standard on Japanese phones for many a year, then recently support has been introduced in Google Gmail and the Apple iPhone, although Apple have tried to suppress support for emoji in non-Japanese iPhones. One might think that there is a relationship between emoji and hieroglyphics, but as far as I understand hieroglyphics do codify a language and feature grammar elements, key features missing from Japanese emoji icons.

How is it being translated?
Emoji Dick is using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to muster multiple translators; each sentence will be translated into emoji three times, with the best version chosen from these three efforts Slack Emojis.

How will it be published?
The output will be available in both electronic form and as the very first printed emoji book. It will be printed on demand effort, so don’t go looking for Emoji Dick in a bookshop. However, if it is a success, who knows, one might very well see Emoji Dick on sale in a bricks and mortar shop.

But is it readable?
In a word, no! One cannot read Emoji Dick, although it should be printed with Japanese emoji and English translations interleaved. Think of it as a manga graphic novel, which will need the English translation of emoji beside it as speech bubbles.

What other emoji literature is available?
So far, along with Emoji Dick, there has been a translation of the poem “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed” by Edna St. Vincent Millay into emoji, with the translation being done by Ken Liu. In addition, I have also produced an emoji Japanese National Anthem. Kimi Ga Yo in emoji using NTT docomo’s limited alphabet to produce the world’s first pictorial National Anthem!

But why?
Looking at the above, it seems like translating books into emoji is a futile task. I agree with that, but why not? The internet wouldn’t be the internet if it weren’t for futile tasks and pointless pages, a role that fits Emoji Dick to a T!

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