Herman Melville’s 200th birthday was celebrated this week. But have you read the emoji translation of Moby Dick? The creator (I’m pretty sure “author: is not the right word) of that edition is Fred Benenson, who discusses it in the video below, as part of a symposium at the Museum of Modern Art on Why Words Matter. As a lark, Benenson decided to translate a public domain work into emoji (or rather pay strangers via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to translate it for him). The resulting work, Emoji Dick got a lot of attention and was the first emoji book acquired by the Library of Congress.

Though not trained as a linguist, this thrust Benenson into the spotlight as an expert on emoji, a role which he seems to be both playfully intrigued by and at the same time dismissive of. The most common question he is asked is whether emoji is a language, and his answer is that it isn’t, but points to the work of others that best describe it as a set of “gestures”. As he notes, we currently communicate via a sea of text, and emojis provide emotive non-language signals much like facial expressions or body language might in a face-to-face conversation. Please feel free to add your emoji-based comments below.

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He serves on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.

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2 Thoughts on "If Emoji Isn’t a Language, Then What Exactly Does it Do?"

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