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Why is it important to translate emojis?

October 09 , 2021

Why is it important to translate emojis?

by Target Language Translation Services

- October 09 2021


17th July is World Emoji Day. The event has been celebrated since 2014. It’s now become tradition for the big tech companies to unveil new emojis on this day – Apple this year announced the addition of a more diverse range of characters representing people with disabilities, as well as new animals such as the sloth and orangutan, and foods like the waffle and garlic. People love adding an emoji to their online comments. Emojis (or emoticons) might seem to be straightforward and just a bit of fun. However, these small symbols can mean different things to people in other countries. They aren’t as universal as most people believe. Emojis have implications for both translation and localisation. For example, a smiley face or a thumbs up may not be appropriate for all audiences. This is why you need to pay attention to locialize emojis.

A Form of Communication Born in the Digital World

The process for creating new emojis requires collaboration between the tech giants. The whole thing is overseen by the Unicode Consortium, who finally decide which emojis make the cut. This process makes sure that emojis are visible to everyone on all platforms and not just confined to one particular operating system or manufacturer.

They first emerged in the 90s in Japan, evolving out of the emoticons (such as :–) and :D) of the early internet age, as a way of expressing emotional nuances. In 1999, an artist working for a Japanese phone network crafted the world’s first 176 emoji, which were initially introduced to “convey information in a simple, succinct way” – and this still rings true today. These have been enshrined at the New York Museum of Modern Art, testament to their cultural value. It wasn’t long before competing mobile networks in Japan made emojis available to their customers, and soon after the craze spread the world over.

The technical underpinnings enabling emojis to be utilized across all kinds of systems and devices were laid by Google in 2007, when they appealed to the Unicode Consortium, a non-profit company which strives to maintain a linguistic standard across digital platforms, to add emoji to the Unicode standard. This is the same standard that allows characters in any writing system to be “encoded” and displayed on screen.

Apple bolstered the appeal by pledging its support in 2009, and by 2010 Unicode could not ignore the growing trend much longer. It added the existing set of emojis to the Unicode standard and has been in charge of the fate of each and every new icon since then. Each year the range is expanded significantly, and new options such as being able to choose skin tone have also been added.

While expansions have been driven by the tech giants, technically anyone can appeal for a new emoji to be added.

The Importance of Emojis

Society is becoming more digital by the minute. Perhaps accelerated by the recent pandemic, much of human communication is now done online or remotely – whether that’s via instant messenger, email, or video call. For this reason, visual communication tools such as emojis have become essential to effective online communication and marketing efforts – both in-house and when communicating with customers.

In essence, emojis can be likened to a new type of optional punctuation that can be utilized to complement an electronic message. While emojis are not mandatory at the end (or beginning) of a sentence, they are symbols like punctuation marks and can add to the emotional essence of a message.

Not only has the use of emojis been proven to incite better memory retention in readers (an essential factor when it comes to branding and brand identity), but it can also help readers to process information more quickly. This is particularly helpful for fast-paced scrollers! Similarly, emoji use has been proven also to boost engagement on social media, adding nuance and emotion to well-written copy, and allowing the personality of your company or brand to shine through where words just won’t cut it.

Because of this, emojis, as well as other means of visual communication, are utilized primarily to provide context to words which could otherwise be misconstrued. It’s so easy for a reader to interpret a written message depending on their own mood – just think of how different a text ended with a full stop feels when compared to one with an exclamation mark! Where face-to-face contact is not possible, emojis are fast becoming the next best thing. In fact, if sent to a recipient whom the sender knows will understand the intended meaning of the emoji, a little pictogram has the ease and power of creatively complementing a message, affirming the message’s intent, and bringing people together.

The Challenge of Translating Emojis

Easy, fun, and potentially helpful emojis may appear to be in quickly expressing an emotion or affirming a message. However it shouldn’t be taken for granted that symbols are understood in the same way across cultures. Emojis are neither universal nor are a language of their own. The same emoji sent to one person in one country can have a completely different meaning to the same emoji sent to someone else in another country, with a diverse cultural background, or even from a different generation. This leaves the meaning of an emoji up for interpretation. As a result, it can’t be categorized as some “universal” or “transcultural” message that everyone understands or interprets exactly as the sender meant for it to be understood.

Here are some examples:

While in Western culture a “thumbs up” pictogram traditionally implies the sender of the emoji is saying “Ok!” or “Great!” or “It’s a go!” or “I agree!”, in Greece and the Middle East, that exact same emoji symbolizes a vulgar and offensive message.

While the “angel” emoji denotes having performed a good dead or connotes innocence through the Western culture, in China that same angel emoji symbolizes death. Imagine the consequences of sending a text message to a somebody in China adding the angel emoji after it!

In addition to not being universally understood or interpreted correctly, emojis are not a language. It is impossible to “write” a poem, blog, or dissertation using only emojis and resting assured that every emoji accurately and thoroughly got the intended message right! It can be helpful to think of emoji not as a language of their own, but a palette of symbols, similar to punctuation marks, that help convey the intent of the writer.

Some Tips to Translate Emojis for International Audiences

Make use of an emoji glossary

Setting up an emoji glossary for every language you are working with can help you translate these little symbols accurately and in less time.

Do some emoji research

It’s a good idea to carry out some localized social media research to see which emojis the locals are using to express their feelings in different circumstances.

Keep in mind that an emoji can have different meanings

Individuals from various cultures associate emotions with different concepts.

Always consider context

When emojis are correctly aligned with your text, they will enhance your content and generate higher engagement.

Don’t make assumptions

You need to fully understand the purpose of an emoji within the context in order to keep your translation accurate and keep the meaning of the original message intact.

Recognize that images alone may not be enough

The little icons can be an effective way for your brand to form an emotional connection with your local audiences. However, the line between inducing an emotion and creating confusion can sometimes be somewhat fuzzy.

This article is reprinted from Sandberg, SwissGlobal and Localize.

If there is a copyright, please inform us in time, we will delete it right the first time.

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