Klingon vs. Emoji in Unicode

In 2001, the Unicode Consortium rejected a proposal to include the Klingon encoding. The reasons it gave were:

Lack of evidence of usage in published literature, lack of organized community interest in its standardization, no resolution of potential trademark and copyright issues, question about its status as a cipher rather than a script, and so on.

Fair enough, but don’t most of these objections apply equally to emoji?

Lack of evidence of usage in published literature. Just about all work with the Klingon language represents it in Roman letters. The characters have been used mostly as visual elements in movies, and there isn’t strong agreement on how they represent the language.

A representation of the Klingon alphabet

Emoji are in about the same situation. The name means “picture characters.” There’s no such thing as an emoji literature. In principle, a writer could use them as hieroglyphs, and an experimental author or two must have done this by now. But that’s a rebus, not literature.

Lack of organized community interest in its standardization. With Klingon, the same point applies again; the Klingon language community just hasn’t shown much interest in those angular characters. With emoji, the issue is different, but there’s no prospect of standardization. What people want is to invent new emoji or devise new and confusing representations of existing ones (yes, I’m talking about Apple). As a result, the Unicode Consortium is the one doing the standardizing, when its role had always been to adapt existing standards.

XKCD Unicode cartoon

No resolution of potential trademark and copyright issues. Specific characters might raise those issues, but there isn’t a general problem as there is for Klingon characters. Emoji wins on this point.

A cipher rather than a script. Wiktionary defines a script as “A system of writing adapted to a particular language or set of languages.” Dictionary.com defines it as “any system of writing.” Emoji aren’t associated with any language, and even calling them a “system of writing” is a stretch.

If Klingon characters don’t belong in Unicode, neither do emoji. It’s too late now, but I think the Unicode Consortium regrets having let the genie out of this particular 🍾.

Klingon does have a generally accepted private space in Unicode.

One response to “Klingon vs. Emoji in Unicode

  1. Emoji – at least the original set – were part of legacy character sets and had been used in running text since the late 90s. In my opinion that’s a very good reason to include them in Unicode, especially considering that Zapf Dingbats and Wingdings were also encoded. The Klingon script as we know it today isn’t even acknowledged by the official canon as far as I’m aware.