IS EMOJI THE NEW LAN­GUAGE?

Long sto­ries can be short­ened to a string of sym­bols. JR Ra­makr­ish­nan rec­on­ciles the cur­rent global emoji over­whelm.

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Here’s an un­fash­ion­able take: I don’t emoji all that much. The iconic yel­low (and now black, brown, hi­jab-ed) faces, places, and an­i­mals make a very min­i­mal ap­pear­ance in my dig­i­tal life. I re­alise this ad­mis­sion car­bon dates me as a Gen­er­a­tion X/Y-er and puts me in a mi­nor­ity group of the emoji dis­in­ter­ested. The roots of this phe­nom­e­non go back to the late 1990s, when emo­jis first en­tered our dig­i­tal lives. Some 1.8 bil­lion —and count­ing—are be­ing used on Twit­ter alone, ac­cord­ing to Emo­jiTracker.com, a be­wil­der­ing and con­stantly up­dated real-time tracker of emoji use. Add that to the num­ber of char­ac­ters sent over text plat­forms, so­cial me­dia, and e-mail, and we’re well into the bil­lions in reg­u­lar emoji love.

The an­i­mated glyphs are to be found in the lofti­est of our global cul­tures perches: BBC News has re­ported news head­lines with them; Bangkok’s Gag­gan, num­ber one in Asia’s 50 Best Res­tau­rants in 2017, ren­ders its menu in emo­jis; there’s an emoji ver­sion of Al­ice In Won­der­land; and New York’s Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art added the orig­i­nal Ja­panese set to its col­lec­tion in 2016. The Emoji Movie’s plot re­volves around the hero’s jour­ney of an over-emot­ing emoji try­ing to be a nor­mal sin­gle note char­ac­ter. Star Trek’s Pa­trick Ste­wart gives voice to the poop emoji .

My favourite emoji mo­ment was when lan­guage learn­ing app Duolingo launched the ’s first emoji lan­guage course. “Peo­ple

to on emo­jis, but in a rel­a­tively short ,they’ve far eclipsed their pre­cur­sor, Egyp­tian hi­ero­glyph­ics, and set the stan­dard of smart­phones among mil­len­ni­als ,” said Yuna Kode, a self-taught emoji ex­pert be­hind the course , ac­cord­ing to the com­pany’s press re­lease. Alas, the press re­lease was also dated April 1, 2017 . I was fooled at first, too . And by the way, was Ox­ford Dic­tionar­ies Word of the Year 2015.

Ox­ford Dic­tionar­ies’s em­brace of emo­jis may have en­dowed these char­ac­ters with re­spectabil­ity, but with­out syn­tax or gram­mar, emo­jis can’t stand in for lan­guage. “Emoji is a sys­tem of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. It’s not a lan­guage but it ful­fills the func­tions of lan­guage,” says Vyvyan Evans, lin­guist, emoji au­thor­ity, and au­thor of The Emoji Code: The Lin­guis­tics Be­hind Smi­ley Faces And Scaredy Cats. “It is the world’s first truly univer­sal form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.” Ac­cord­ing to Evans, emo­jis al­low for non-ver­bal cues to travel in the dig­i­tal realm. Text is poor at trans­mit­ting emo­tions such as em­pa­thy or ges­tic­u­la­tions such as a pout or a shrug.

In real life, I can’t re­ally hold a con­ver­sa­tion with­out us­ing my hands. I’ve been told that my big eyes tele­graph my feel­ings, some­times in spite of what’s com­ing out of my mouth. Dig­i­tally, how­ever, I am less in­clined to emoji. I don’t not emoji. I do at times use , , and as short­hand. Ac­cord­ing to cog­ni­tive sci­en­tist Mon­ica Rior­dan who re­searches the im­pact of com­mu­ni­ca­tions now that we have to deal with and and their con­no­ta­tions, I am let­ting emo­jis do the “emo­tion work”. “How many times in your life have you ac­tu­ally laughed out loud with tears of joy ?” she asks. “Emo­jis rep­re­sent a per­for­mance. For rea­sons that could in­clude self-pre­sen­ta­tion or want­ing to avoid an ar­gu­ment, we per­form even when we don’t feel like it. For ex­am­ple, we laugh at lame jokes to pre­serve re­la­tion­ships.”

Per­for­mance aside, emo­jis ca­ress our text mes­sages for them to ar­rive more softly with the re­cip­i­ent. A can pad out a com­pli­cated text com­ment. A can be es­sen­tial to en­sure your Twit­ter sar­casm is trans­mit­ted as in­tended. As some­one who prefers to spell out “kiss” rather than dash off a sloppy , I won­der if words can’t do the job on their own. What would the great Os­car Wilde make of emo­jis? Per­haps Wilde, known for his aes­thetic flam­boy­ance, would have em­braced the en­tire emo­ji­pedia in his words. Maybe. For now, I am off to read an emoji treat­ment of Wilde’s The Im­por­tance Of Be­ing Earnest on the In­ter­net.

Emoji: the world’s first truly univer­sal form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion

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