Emoji characters for food allergens

Marcel Schneider charupdate at orange.fr
Mon Aug 3 09:30:11 CDT 2015

On 29 Jul 2015, at 15:42, William_J_G Overington  wrote:

[On 28 Jul 2015, at 22:26, gfb hjjhjh  wrote:]

>> As according to http://unicode.org/faq/emoji_dingbats.html , emoji characters do not have single semantics. Which I think it is not what the original proposer want? Or were I misunderstanding that

> Garth Wallace has already indicated in his reply to your post that it was me, not the original proposer, who wanted single semantics.
> [...]
> The easiest thing appears to be to not call the items emoji.
> I opine that a new word is needed to mean the following.
> A character that looks like it is an emoji character yet has precise semantics.
> There is an issue here that is, in my opinion, quite fundamental to the future of encoding items that are currently all regarded as emoji: an issue that goes far beyond the matter of encoding emoji characters for food allergens.
> Communication through the language barrier is of huge importance and may become more so in the future.

IMHO weʼve already overcome the language barrier, as we all communicate in English, at the image of medieval Latin communication across Europe, ancient Roman Empire communication, Koine Greek from Alexanderʼs conquests on.

> Emoji seemed like a wonderful way to achieve communication through the language barrier.

We remember that Esperanto was also a hopeful way to unify the language, raising much enthusiasm among its followers. IMHO a pictograph based script can hardly be enough performing, unless it ends up to become a kind of new Esperanto except that it doesnʼt include speech.

> Yet if semantics are not defined, then there is a problem.

Not only emojis, even natural language semantics are often not precisely defined, but that doesnʼt hinder us in defining the semantics of a particular message by adding more words. Equally an allergen emoji might be preceded or followed by a poison emoji (U+2620) to make the health threat unambiguous.

> Please consider the matter of text to speech in the draft Unicode Technical Report 51.
> I remember years ago I was asked in this mailing list what chat means.
> I think that discussing the meaning of chat is some classic Unicode cultural matter.
> In English it is an informal talk between two or more people, in French it is a cat.

As I can see, in todayʼs French, “chat” has the meaning of its English homophone, except when the context makes the (original French) zoological meaning unambiguous. Having said that, I hurry up adding that the English word “chat” has been francicized to “tchatche”, but not very successfully.

> So the sequence of Unicode characters only has meaning in the context that they are being used.

And Unicode provides even language tags to disambiguate.

> Now the big opportunity with emoji could be to assist communication through the language barrier.

Thatʼs exact, emojis can assist communication, but they cannot replace classical character based communication entirely.

> From reading about semantics in the linked document it appears that that opportunity might be disappearing or may have gone already.
> This, in my opinion, is unfortunate.
> The food allergen characters could, by being precisely defined with one and only one meaning, be either an exception to the general situation or could be the start of a trend.

We cannot define precisely and irrevocably the meaning of any grapheme, except in mathematics. We only can describe its use at a given time of history. I donʼt believe that Unicode has the power of forbiding any semantics of any emoji, nor did it ever aim at. See the English apostrophe: Unicodeʼs primary advice has been overrun by mainstream usage.

> A name other than emoji is needed for such characters that have one and only one meaning, that meaning precisely defined.

Creating a new script is not in Unicodeʼs purpose, which is (please check if Iʼm right) to encode all *existing* scripts. I underscore *existing* with respect to the present context, but originally the stress is on *all*. Encoding *all* existing scripts used in present or in past times, is a great purpose and Unicode is about to reach the goal. Subsequently, *if* a user community creates and uses a *new* script made of pictographs or of other signs, Unicode can be pleased to encode it. Sure.

> [...]
> For example, one such character could be used to be placed before a list of emoji characters for food allergens to indicate that that a list of dietary need follows.
> For example,
> My dietary need is no gluten no dairy no egg
> There could be a way to indicate the following.
> My diet can include soya

My nourishment too includes soya in form of much tonyu (whether fermented or not), and it excludes dairy, egg, meat, poultry, fish, honey; things that were very included in the past. The problem as I see it, is whether people are at ease with expressing it, or not. Personally I donʼt hesitate using much natural language to explain the facts, nor do other people I know about. The difference might be that in these cases, the nourishment preferences and aversions result uniquely from the awareness of the crimes committed against the animals, whereas dietary requirements basically result from recommendations made by practicians or other health care providers. The two motivations may overlap.

As communicating dietary requirements results in constraints for other people, especially cooks, servers, attendants, hosts, friends, managers, housekeepers, this communication may often be very sensitive and may induce whether self-humiliation or offence, partly also because natural language is never neutral and moreover leaves a margin to interpretation. The task may even turn out to become impossible when foreign languages are implied. Using standardized emojis can greatly alleviate the deal.

The day when food allergen emojis would have been available, I would have suggested to prepare two bullet lists, stacked or side by side. In the first list, every food emoji is preceded by U+2620 ☠ SKULL AND CROSS BONES. In the second list, every food emoji is preceded by U+2665 ♥ BLACK HEART SUIT. I say “bullet lists”, but the array may also be referred to as lists of two-emoji sequences. I can imagine that this would be received with a smile and gladly followed.

> There is a situation that affects further discussion of some aspects of this matter, though not all aspects of this matter, as a totally symbolic representation could still be discussed.
> http://www.unicode.org/mail-arch/unicode-ml/y2015-m06/0208.html
> However, there is also the following.
> http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/moratorium
> Please note the use of the word temporary in the definition.
> So maybe all is not lost and discussion of all aspects will become possible at some future time.

Alas, in this particular context, «moratorium» is an euphemism with the meaning of a prohibition. Please, note that I use angle quotes to avoid making believe that I were scare-quoting the word. Thatʼs a good example of how useful it is to disambiguate quotation quotes and scare quotes. Well I could use some supplemental words to express that, like:
Alas, in this particular context, the word moratorium as it is used, is an euphemism with the meaning of a prohibition.

Itʼs always the issue about multiple semantics vs precise definition.

I hope that helps.

All the best,

Marcel Schneider

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