Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Emoji translation: New field in the localization industry?

Recently, there was a news flash about a brand new job position in the world of translation: the emoji* translator. Yes, emoji has been de facto promoted to the status of a regular language, or at least a complex (and even independent) complementary language. It may sound a bit strange at first, mainly for older generations who either don't use emojis or are satisfied with the range of a happy and a sad smiley. However, Millennials and especially generation Z (post-millennials) have upgraded the use of emojis to a whole new level of communication style, and are sometimes even omitting regular words in information exchange to use just strings of emojis instead. As these generations gain more and more buying power, incorporation of emojis into business communication stops being a silly, childish quirk and instead becomes integral to a regular communication strategy. 

Emoji translator as a full-time profession.
Source: AdobeStock.com


What an emoji translator does for a living

Businesses who target younger consumers obviously tend to customize their content to the likes of their potential buyers. The increasing business usage of emojis is visible mainly on social media, delivered by administrators of an age similar to the targeted customers. Emojis are, after all, very simple and straightforward pictures used to express non-verbally in written communication, so what's there to translate, you ask? 

Can you read our emoji string? 3-level quality check, express delivery and human translators are also involved... :)

One level of the occupation is to actually transform regular human speech into attractive emoji strings. It's not always easy to express the original meaning correctly and mainly to invoke a certain type of "feeling" to the text. 

The other level is that not all the devices where the communication is viewed are the same. Different smart devices and different operating systems do not have a common protocol for how an emoji displays, which lays ground to a number of unforeseen faux pas when it comes to brand communication on social media. The job of an emoji translator is also to customize the content for the devices first, in order to convey the correct meaning and desired emotion to the reader. Emojis do not display the same way across different devices, and the developers tend to upgrade the looks and design of their emojis, sometimes to an extent that even changes the nuance and contextual meaning of the emoji (e.g. when Apple changed the regular gun emoji to one with a water pistol). 

Snippet from a comparison chart of different emojis from major U.S. and Japanese tel-com companies.
Source: Unicode.org


Your emoji use can show your background

Cultural differences and social development are also a huge factor here. Emojis of gestures common in the West, such as a thumb-up, might be considered offensive in the Middle East, while another common Western OK-hand gesture translates offensively in Latin America. Similarly, certain emojis have gained alternative meanings while being around online, which makes their business usage rather unfeasible (e.g. such as the emojis of an eggplant or a peach, which according to Emojipedia research conducted in December 2016 on a sample of over 570 tweets referred to the actual fruit only in 7% of cases).
Another research conducted by Swiftkey suggests really interesting cultural differences in the use of different types of emojis as well. For example, Arabic speakers tend to use much more heat and sun-related emojis than any other language. French overuse the heart emoji, using it four times more than any other speakers. In Australia, the usage of alcohol-related emojis is twice the average, while drug-related emojis rate 65% over the average. The most used emoji overall is, however, still a set of smiley faces (44.8 % of all usage).

With the revolution in communication around and behind us, it is really fascinating to watch seemingly unrelated factors to combine and create new job opportunities and trends, also in the translation industry. Looking to the future, let's hope people won't forget to use the actual written words.  :)


*Emojis are sets of different icons or images that display certain emotions, ideas, objects, etc. The first set of emojis was developed in 1999 in Japan and contained 176 icons. Nowadays there are over 2,000 available icons (taking skin color and gender variants into account).

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