Kurita’s Pact

Who would have known, when the first few emojis were invented in 1999 by the Japanese interface designer Shigetaka Kurita, that they would later become omnipresent in all of our daily lives? According to Emojipedia and Emojitracker, almost 4,000 different emojis exist today, and over 100 new emojis are created each year. Around 95% of internet users have sent an emoji at some point, and around 36% of Instagram posts contain between 1 and 3 emojis. Over 900 million emojis without text are sent each day on Facebook Messenger, and over 700 million emojis are used in Facebook posts each day. The ‘Tears of Joy’ emoji had over 2 billion uses on Twitter in the past 5 years. Across all digital platforms, over 10 billion emojis are sent each day.

Emojis primarily serve as prosodic and contextual aspects of linguistic communication: when casual conversation is reduced to mere text messages, we use emojis to compensate for the lack of intonation, gestures, and facial expressions, which always accompany our use of ordinary language. That is to say, in digital telecommunication, our intonation, gestures, and facial expressions are turned into emojis.

Moreover, given that emojis often translate a word or even a whole sentence, language itself is partially turned into emojis. Can they, then, be used to translate also an entire literary text such as Goethe’s Faust? Goethe’s Faust has been judged to be “perhaps the most formidable translation problem in all the literature of the world” (B. Q. Morgan, “On Translations of Goethe’s Works”, Monatshefte für Deutschen Unterricht 24(3/4), 1932, 105). Still, since its publication in 1808, it has been translated into nearly all languages. Alone its number of translations into English language to date is too great to keep track of. The present contribution renders an excerpt from Goethe’s Faust, Part I, scene IV “The Study”, verses 1675–1706, in which the pact between Mephistopheles and Faust is sealed, into emojis. This emoji translation is based upon A. S. Kline’s English translation (London: Penguin, 2003), and was made with the assistance of the online software EmojiTranslate.

Benjamin Wilck

Email: benjamin.wilck@hu-berlin.de

18 February, 2022