Cultural literacy in the empire of emoji signs: Who is crying with joy?

Alisa Freedman


Unicode emoji, originating in Japan but expanded through worldwide usage, is a means to assess how the globalization of Japanese popular culture promotes cultural literacy and awareness of multiculturalism. Emoji reveal discrimination and diversity within cultures, but emoji alone are “unreadable.” They need to be used together with established modes of expression to avoid misunderstandings. Literature, as one of the most intentional and nuanced forms of language, provides insight into this lesson. I propose a semiotic reading of emoji inspired by Roland Barthes and posit his Empire of signs (L’Empire des signes) as an analogy for the incorporation of Japanese emoji into world languages and literatures. To test this theoretical application of emoji, I analyze the findings of “Emoji Literature Translation Contests” held in my university courses.

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