I had been in regular correspondence with her for quite some time without any communication gap. Her English was flawless without any grammatical or punctuation errors, a virtue which I always admire. However, one day there was an unusual error — she ended the sentence with a colon and closed it with a parenthesis. As I could not locate the opening bracket, I concluded that she had deleted a part of the sentence by mistake. However, in the next email it happened again, and slowly the number of such ‘mistakes’ increased. Out of politeness I could not point out those mistakes to her. It was years before I was made to understand that those characters represented a smiling face, known as an emoticon. Very soon it was joined by its graphical cousin, popularly known as an emoji.
Here it is necessary to note the difference between an emoticon and an emoji. Emoticon is the ‘character’ made in text (for example colon, hyphen and parenthesis) to represent some graphic image. When computer scientists and programmers had to communicate among themselves, they invented this method to convey their emotions like smile, laughter, upset, sad etc. This made communication smoother and more colourful. This method of using text to represent graphical images rapidly gained popularity, and soon emoticons were replaced with emojis, the actual tiny images you come across these days on nearly all social platforms.
I have always found emojis to be a distraction and a hindrance to the natural flow of a message. Initially I used to cover the yellow image with my hand so that I could read the rest of the message comfortably. However, it became difficult when the number of emojis in a single message was quite large. Slowly I gave in and compromised. Although I have become used to reading messages with emojis scattered throughout their bodies, I must admit that I still enjoy, prefer and admire the messages written without them. From my side, I try my best to convey all my emotions by choosing appropriate words and style, so that there is no need of any graphics.
Still, the world of communication is moving forward, and emojis are here to stay. Presently we are witnessing rapid changes mainly due to technology and information revolution. Although several bridges or rather flyovers have been constructed that have resulted in faster communication, some obstacles still remain due to language barrier. It is said that emojis have made communication smoother and easier, specially in circumstances where there is a language barrier. Who knows, one day we may even have a common global language that is understood by all! Afterall, in most of the cases these tiny characters do not need any explanation irrespective of where they have been sent from. Or do they? Perhaps yes. I am going too far, too fast.
Problem of communication barrier still remains even with usage of emoji. OK, you have put a cute little emoji to convey your sweet and soft emotion. But are you sure that it would it be interpreted correctly? Or would it end up like “Hum dua likhtey rahey, aur wo dagaa padhtey rahey!”** Yes Sir, believe it or not, emoji could be interpreted differently due to cultural differences. For example, the hand waving emoji means ‘hi’ or ‘hello’ in western countries, whereas in China and Hong Kong it implies – ‘bye bye’ or ‘you are no longer my friend’! Now you understand what I mean by a barrier. So tell me, can you afford it? Of course, not!
It is in this context that a job announcement was made by London based translation agency Today Translations for an emoji translator. This is the first job of this kind, and I am still exploring further details. The latest news is that the lookout for this unique position has ended and Keith Broni has been selected for this position. He holds a degree in Business Psychology.
In an interview to the BBC, Keith enumerates the cases where emoji translation could be required. A client may like to have the translation of a document along with the various emojis it contains. In another case, a company looking forward to reach clients in overseas market might come up with an international manifesto, which it would like to be translated into different languages according to the target audience. In such a case, they would like to use appropriate emojis that could augment a message as well as avoid pitfalls due to emoji misinterpretation. Keith says, “(In the context of emoji usage) there is a lot of cross-cultural variation, there is a lot of cross-platform variation as well. You have to be very careful while using emojis. They are very effective when used correctly; used frivolously you can get into trouble.”
** this refers to the following composition by Allama Iqbal:
एक नुक़ते ने हमें मेहराम से मुजरिम कर दिया,
क्यूँकि हम दुआ लिखते रहे, और वो दग़ा पढते रहे ।
(Ek Nukte Ne Hamein Mehram Se Mujrim Kar Diya
Kyunki Hum Du’a Likhte Rahe, Aur Vo Dagha Parhte Rahe)
From confidante to wrong doer, one single dot did bring me down;
one betrayal she did read, for every blessing that I wrote.
Translation courtesy: Prof. Amitabh Joshi.