Re: Emoji: emoticons vs. literacy

From: Asmus Freytag (
Date: Thu Dec 25 2008 - 18:30:25 CST

On 12/25/2008 3:55 AM, Ruszlan Gaszanov wrote:
> Ok, but we can't really compare consistent ideographic writing systems like
> hieroglyphics and Han with emoji, which is merely a random collection of
> various unrelated dingbats.
This line of argument is very much an example of what strikes me as so
misguided about the current discussion. Unicode is about supporting
written text in a universal way, not about making a value judgment about
writing system or modes of writing.

Whether a writing system is internally consistent does not factor in the
decision to encode it. However, asking the question of whether it is
widely used, or whether it is stable are examples of useful questions to
be considered.

Emoji (and emoticons, different as they are in other ways) are both
examples of writing that are currently far more common than Egyptian
hieroglyphs, and, I strongly suspect, per unit of time, their rate of
use far exceeds anything ever achieved for hieroglyphs when they were in
active use. ;-)

These modern sets, precisely because they are (very) modern, and not
historic, are not settled; they are theoretically open-ended, but, for
different reasons, there are lines that can be drawn. Emoji are not
created on the ground, but the current sets under discussion are
provided by vendors who have to absorb any costs from extending their
sets - as Ken has argued that will prove a brake on further expansion,
an argument with which I happen to agree. Emoticons are more open - but
for them, there exists something like a universally recognizable core
subset, which would make a worthy target for an encoding proposal.

All modern-use and recently created symbols face the suspicion of
impermanence. That holds for currency symbols just as well as for
anything else recently invented (even recent script inventions). Because
character codes are not an endless resource and assignments are final,
it's in principle legitimate to make distinctions based on suspected
permanence. I've argued that there's a (so far undocumented) core set of
modern, pictorial text elements the elements of which keep occurring
with and around text and have been more or less stable for decades. Some
of these made it into the 2600 block of Unicode, but they are merely a
part of the whole.

The emoji list contains another part of this notional core set, together
with many elements that in my view are outside the core. I
wholeheartedly support the inclusion of all elements that are also part
of this notional core set, but I'm OK with encoding the whole of the
emoji set, because of the utility of complete coverage for a set that is
in actual digital use (and I don't need to repeat all the arguments
here). I would be even happier, if the remaining parts of what I
consider the core-universal set of general symbols could also be added
to Unicode - but that will take separate proposals and discussion.


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