Italian Revisited, Pinocchio Translated Into Emoji Language

Researchers at the University Of Macerata used volunteers and online bots to help translated the 19th century children's classic.

Italian Revisited, Pinocchio Translated Into Emoji Language
Diletta Parlangeli

MACERATA — In the first chapter of Carlo Collodi's children's classic The Adventures of Pinocchio, the carpenter Mastro Ciliegia notes that "this piece of wood" came just in the nick of time for him to make a table out of. Writing in 1873, Collodi could never have predicted that his own book — 144 years later — would be the prime material for someone else to fashion a new book. (And new language?)

Published last year by Apice Libri, Pinocchio in Emojitaliano is the first-ever Italian book written entirely in emojis. The book includes the original version in Italian, as well as an emoji glossary and grammar guide. While several other books have been "translated" into emojis in recent years, from Moby Dick to the Bible, Pinocchio is the first attempt to standardize an entire language using the emoticons. This new digital dialect is the result of a collaborative effort between an active Twitter community, university researchers, and a bot on the messaging app Telegram that helped build the emoji dictionary.

"In the months of translating on Twitter, we realized that it would be impossible to memorize the semantic values assigned to each emoji and manually update the growing dictionary," says Francesca Chiusaroli, professor of applied linguistics at the University of Macerata in central Italy. So she enlisted the help of her colleagues Johanna Monti and Federico Sangati, who developed the Telegram bot. Still active, the bot helped the researchers record the emoji-word pairings and build a search engine that allows users to search the emoji-Italian dictionary.

"Guilt" is translated as a man followed by a woman and an apple.

Single emojis have limited ability to describe all the words in the Italian language, so the team turned to sequences of emoticons instead. "Workshop" is translated as a house followed by a hammer and wrench; "guilt" is biblically translated as a man followed by a woman and an apple.

Pinocchio, the protagonist, is rendered as a running man, followed alternately by a plant or by a robot. The book explains that the word pinocchio is commonly used to refer to certain vegetables, hence the plant, while the robot recalls village fairs in 19th-century Tuscany that displayed robot-like machines known as burattini.

Francesca Chiusaroli's book — Source: ibs.it

"Translating the book and building a common code base was an extremely complex task, the product of eight months of work by a community of translators," says Chiusaroli. "The book provides readers with everything they need, including a glossary and a grammar guide."

As universally valued as Collodi's novel is, its emoji translation takes on a more academic importance than its textual counterpart. The challenge of translating the novel into Italian shines a light on how differences in cultures, platforms, and operating systems have made emojis far less universal than they were designed to be — one emoticon may not mean the same thing in two different countries or languages. There are now even people who translate emojis for a living, helping to bridge the gaps across language that the visual symbols were meant to eliminate.

"Emojis are in the keyboards of all our digital devices, they are accessible to everyone." says Chiusaroli. "Their standardized code creates a platform for communication between people regardless of their differences. In the age of social media, having symbols that can speak to everyone is an invaluable advantage."

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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