Do emoji pose a puzzle about representation?
Mon 09 Nov 2015 12:07 PM
There's an obvious distinction between representation using a fixed collection of defined symbols (e.g., a word spelled out with letters) and free-form representation (e.g., a sketch on a whiteboard).
The characters of the ASCII encoding provide for the former sort of representation. It is natural to think of Unicode as just a larger version of that, now allowing for many different alphabets and languages. When it was developed, though, it swept in Japanese emoji characters. There is a Unicode character for a pile of poop -- not the general term which in English we write "poop", but 💩. And so on for lots of other little pictures.
Are these just yet more letters? Or is something different going on?
One might think that the distinction I began with is just Goodman's distinction between allographic and autographic works. In work with Jason D'Cruz, we articulate and defend that distinction. Importantly, however, we argue that digital images are allographic. The digital image which corresponds to U+1F4A9 is just how PILE OF POO renders on your computer, though. The character doesn't mean specifically that digital image.