In November 2015, the Oxford English Dictionary broke new ground and selected an emoji as the 2015 Word of the Year:
— Oxford Dictionaries (@OxfordWords) November 16, 2015
The emoji, titled ‘face with tears of joy’, along with other emojis, have grown in popularity since smart phones adopted them as keyboard options.
This decision from the Oxford English Dictionary is a sign of recognition – a recognition that culturally we are moving towards new forms of self-expression. Bing made the same recognition in 2015, testing a feature that would allow users to search by emoji.
As you would imagine, this decision was met with divided reaction. Some argue that this is a sign that society is moving backwards and we are regressing back to cave art and primordial grunts while others argue that it is a new universal language and a way (of sorts) to bridge communications between countries. Other concerns are that by choosing to use emojis, we are limiting ourselves and reducing the complexity of how we communicate. By thinking basic, rudimentary thoughts and the insistence and popularity of using emojis to communicate could lead to a restricted, more rudimentary form of language.
There is the possibility that the emoji craze could be nothing more than a fad, like the Furby and Crazy Frog. Pictograms are basic and lack the structure to form a linguistic system, as the number of emojis available to us increases the process when selecting an appropriate emoji becomes a consuming task – a question of reflecting an emotion (which is a complex task even when using words) in a single pictogram. It is also worth noting that the majority of these concerns have come from the older generations, generations who in the last 25 years have seen the birth of the internet, emails and portable phones evolve from small bricks to sleek, touchscreen multimedia centres.
The other side of this argument is that emojis make language more expressive and allow us to add emotions to what otherwise is text on a screen. This additional layering of emotion is particularly evident when it comes to more modern forms of communication such as emails or various instant messaging platforms (texting included). Messages that otherwise lack an emotional flatness can now express doubt, happiness and sarcasm. They can also remove the need to type any text at all – for example someone messaging their friend a pizza emoji and a question mark removes the need to type a question.
Just like language has mechanisms that allow for the input of tone and underlying meaning – similar to how using bold and italics work, emojis emphasise the meaning of a message.
Different and varied forms of communication allow for varied and different forms of expressiveness that help identify and define our personalities, our mannerisms and our individuality.
Language and its usage is constantly evolving, new words are being added to our daily vocabulary every day. According to Elliot and Caroll, the Cross of Gold speech given by William Jennings Bryan when he accepted the Democratic nomination for president, his average sentence length was 104 words. In comparison, the average sentence spoken by a president in modern times is 29 words. Our language is becoming more precise, confined and to the point.
Every new form of communication brings new challenges and opportunities, as well as new methods for us to express ourselves. The emoji revolution is still in its early stages and in the long run, may be a short-lived cultural phenomenon, however the idea of what it represents may prove to be much more important. The thought of wanting to use pictures and other, visual ways to express ourselves is exciting given the innovation in technology we have experienced over the last decade. Maybe it’s time to look at our language, the ‘old’ ways of communicating and rework them so they have a place in modern life? Regardless, it cannot be disputed that emojis have disrupted our language use and changed how we communicate.
[Featured image: Shutterstock]
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