The Unicode Consortium, a relatively obscure non-profit organization founded in 1991, has a dull-sounding but nevertheless vital mission: “To develop standards for translating alphabets into code that can be read across all computers and operating systems.” But there are some within the Consortium who are dismayed over the organization’s current all-consuming focus on emoji and its seeming abandonment of its original commitment to old, obscure, and foreign languages. All of this is detailed in an investigative piece for BuzzFeed by Charlie Warzel entitled “Inside ‘Emojigeddon’: The Fight Over The Future Of The Unicode Consortium.” According to Warzel, the rift within the non-profit manifested itself in some “acerbic” internal emails related to a positive mention of emoji on Late Show With Stephen Colbert. A frustrated scholar and Unicode contributor named Michael Everson voiced his discontent, Jan Brady style, in the email chain: “Emoji, emoji, emoji. It’s all about emoji.”
Nowadays, Everson contends, the Consortium is more concerned with colorful pictographs of burritos and poop than it is with medieval punctuation. Proposals involving emoji are easier and more fun than the stuff Everson is working on, plus they bring the organization more publicity, so emoji are given higher priority than, say, documents in Cornish. At least that’s how Everson sees it. Unicode’s president, Mark Davis, takes a different view. Most of what the Consortium does is not emoji-related, he contends. Besides, the attention attracted by emoji could be used to raise money to fund some of Unicode’s more intellectual pursuits. Warzel’s article also tackles a profound question with long-ranging ramifications: Do emoji actually constitute a language? Everson is skeptical:
People have strategies for stringing them together, of course, and deriving greater meaning—everyone knows eggplant is an erection and people sext with the vegetables, but that does not make it a substitute for language.