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I'm a fresh pup to this site and I have a bit of a quagmire at my fingertips. My novel takes place in a dystopian future approximately half a century from the modern day. Consumerism and promotional branding have subverted the way people fundamentally think and speak. The ability to read and write in modern English has become relatively rare and useless. While people still communicate through spoken word - particularly the elderly - the youth communicate almost entirely by instant message Emojis, even in face to face discussion.

Ideally, I would like the reader to become fluent in this very basic language with limited meanings as the novel progresses somewhat in the same vein as 1984's Newspeak and A Clockwork Orange's slang. I would like this dialogue to be communicated to the reader through Emojis with a crude translation included. I am considering stylizing the dialogue as such, but I would love to get some feedback on a more streamlined method of doing so; do you know of a simple but appropriate program to use Emojis in a word document (Microsoft 10), or do you think this idea is fated to cause hysteria?

The Emojiite language for example would consist of the pictographs of: A man running, a party hat, a beer, an alarm flashing. (This would be followed by the translation for the reader: Hurry. Party. Get drunk. Now.)

Your input is greatly appreciated.

  • I have two things to say, neither of which answer your fundamental questions about expediting the production of your novel: First, I sincerely hope that your novel will leave a negative impression of this manner of discourse. Second, I am afraid that the novel comes too close to predicting the future of informal communication (which continues to gain popularity), and t'ain't funny McGee! – Kai Maxfield Feb 27 '16 at 6:06
  • Why have you revealed your plot? You're not afraid of it being stolen? sarcastic wink – Akash Feb 27 '16 at 12:41
  • Yes @KaiMaxfield, the inability to form complex and meaningful thoughts will be the focus of the language and cause a few unfortunate misunderstandings for the main character which I hope will boarder between satire and sober criticism. That's the spirit @Akash! high five. Popped bottle. Champagne flute. – Jed Feb 28 '16 at 4:03
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This might help point you to a model you could use, or it might put you off the whole idea.

Apparently Herman Melville's classic Moby Dick was translated into emojis as a Kickstarter project. There is a pdf of Emoji Dick here and a web page explaining the project here.

Most of the comments to the post on the Language Log blog, where I first read about this, say that the conceit quickly becomes tiresome, but someone does concede that "here and there, one can find a flash of brilliance."

On the pdf, scroll down past various title pages and so on to page 15 to see the start of the actual text. Sentences of English and allegedly equivalent emojis are interspersed. Knowing only six emoticons myself I am unable to comment on the literary qualities of the text in emoji language but from a purely visual examination it seems as if something might be lost in translation.

And that is going to be the problem, I think. Your story is about people's thought and language becoming limited, which is a very powerful theme, but it is very difficult to make a story some or all of which is told through the medium of a deliberately impoverished language into an enriching experience itself. George Orwell's 1984 relegated the description and examples of Newspeak to an appendix for that reason. It's fascinating, but it is not part of the story.

That said, if you can pull it off it could be awesome.

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  • Lostinfrance EmojiDick is perfect! I agree entirely that the translation is lacking. Some of it seems to be due to the simplicity of pictographs while much of it seems to be the result of less than ideal translation. Not to bore you with the details but the novel is a third person POV that jumps from character to character between chapters. Only one POV uses the language as his primary communication and is narrated with modern English. Emojite is not so much going to be the language that the reader comprehends the story with but more so a running theme on the degradation of communication. – Jed Feb 28 '16 at 3:45
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Neal Stephenson's book Anathem is set in a world where the writing system of the people who live outside the main character's monastery is something like you describe. I think the only reason that it worked so well was that the main character didn't understand it and Stephenson never tried to make the reader learn it.

This sounds like something dangerously like dialect, which just isn't a good idea to include in your work. If you wrote a book that had Chinese people in it, and all of them spoke using Chinese characters, then you'd alienate all of your English speaking readers that couldn't read Chinese... that's most of them probably. And here, you're proposing to write dialogue in a language that none of your readers will understand. Sounds like a bad idea to me.

Have you ever tried to read the original Uncle Remus stories about Br'er Rabbit? They're written in a phonetic transcription of a dialect, and are just about impossible to read. Try it and see what you think. Then decide if writing your book in the dialect your characters are using is a good idea.

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  • Nitpick: it’s a bit inaccurate to see the Br’er rabbit stories as “written in dialect”. They’re a roughly phonetic transcription of a dialect, intended to convey that dialect to people who don’t speak it natively themselves — in the same way that parlay voo frossay? aims to convey French to English-speaing readers. As such, they’re rather different from what it looks like when the dialect has an established written form of its own. A better example might be the poems of Robbie Burns, written in Scots. – PLL Feb 29 '16 at 21:01
  • Yep, you're right... but my point still stands, I think. Reading something like that is difficult for the reader, and may be a poor choice to make when writing a novel unless the author is less interested in sales numbers and more interested in creating a personal language. – DoWhileNot Feb 29 '16 at 22:46
  • Yep, I totally agree that your general point is a good one. – PLL Feb 29 '16 at 23:11
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    Nineteenth century audiences seem to have been much more willing to accept long stretches of "eye dialect" than audiences are now. I guess this was because novels of that time were not up against so many competing forms of entertainment. It is a pity that modern readers are so unwilling to persevere with material in other than standard English. Neither Scots nor the language of the Uncle Remus stories is that hard once you get into it, particularly if you read it out loud. Another example of a story written in a transcribed dialect is Russell Hoban's post-apocalypse novel Riddley Walker. – Lostinfrance Mar 2 '16 at 10:39
  • +1 for Russell Hoban. Very interesting guy. I just found an old copy of Bedtime for Francis. Good stuff. And you're right about Uncle Remus. I've been reading it to my kids for years, and if you just kind of squint your eyes and just keep going even when you're not sure you understood what you just read, the kids listening understand just fine. – DoWhileNot Mar 3 '16 at 14:48

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