English Language

Let's Talk About Emojis

Harshdeep Kaur

March 6, 2017

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Go ahead and tilt your mobile the right way (portrait). The kool kids don't use landscape...

Let’s talk about emoji’s. There is a wide debate about whether or not these small icons we know as emoticon’s are the birth of a whole new language. What once started off as a :) at the end of an email has rapidly grown into a vast array of icons which serve multiple purposes and convey various meanings. I would not call emoji’s a new language for it lacks grammar; the very foundation which kneads a language together. Most often, emoji’s are used in conjunction with words on online platforms to enhance communication. The laughter emoji or smiling emoji is frequently used to close social distance or convey a sense of playfulness where a message may be perceived to be hostile. They can also be used to save face and reduce personal embarrassment. Frankly, emoji’s can be used to express a range of emotions and conversational tones which are difficult to achieve with words alone. In this way, they cater for the inability to use intonation and paralinguistic features such as hand gestures, facial expressions within written speech.

As emoji’s become a more prevalent part of online communication, they have begun to carry their own connotations. The eggplant and water-drop emoji’s are classic examples of this within young adolescents. However, even within smaller social groups, emoji’s can take on secondary meanings. (You probably have emoji’s within your friendship group which have connotations or act as inside jokes).

In this way, emoji’s are not replacing our language, but rather, they are an addition to comprehension of written language.

While emoji’s don’t have a complex syntactical system, they are loosely governed by grammatical rules. While this does not constitute emoji’s as a new language, one can still communicate meaning by stringing emoticons through semantic fields. Content words can be replaced with emoticons, however the relationship between emoticons must be inferred or expressed through functional words.

Hence, there can be communication difficulties when the relationship of an emoji to context is not effectively implied or explained. Julie Bishop’s use of the red faced emoji to describe Vladimir Putin on Twitter is a classic example of this notion. This emoji used on its own caused confusion as to what Julie Bishop thought of Putin, whether he was an angry man or whether she disapproved of him. Due to limited context and no words to back up Bishop’s opinion, there was controversy around her response.

Emoji’s are an addition to the written mode of language, catering for paralinguistic features which cannot be expressed through words. However, due to the lack of complex grammar binding emoji’s they cannot become a new language.

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