The emoji: The future of language?

We might laugh it off, but the humble emoji might well be the key to climbing over language barriers. In fact, a movement exists that looks to enable awareness on this front.



Sadly, the only thing that I had in common with my father was that we had nothing in common. The language we spoke was mute. He had his corner of the house, I had mine. No topics were discussed beyond a nod in the hall, or congratulating Mum on her go-to rissoles. He died, I lived. The end.

This kind of generational angst is nothing new, it’s been in place ever since we started having kids. However, it seems that we might have been by being born too early, as many believe that the humble emoji is a legitimate way to bridge this generational gap.

This is certainly the case when a union, or family is split over lines of language as well as different cultures. We may speak a different language, but a smile emoji is a smile emoji.

Salikoko S. Mufwene, a linguistics professor at University of Chicago puts it thusly: “Naturally we show through our body language, through our facial expressions, whether we’re upset, whether we’re happy and so forth and it doesn’t matter whether you are Japanese or Chinese or Senegalese or French: you’re going to recognize it…and that is what the emoji are doing.”

Mufwene’s theory stems from the belief that the emoji ostensibly doubles as the body language it represents. This goes for facial expressions also. It’s essentially a picture book that shortcuts complex linguistics. From there, it’s easy to see how more emoji used between two people, the more they will experience.

Dr. Rachael Tatman, who is a data scientist, focusing on computational sociolinguistics, clarifies that these in-jokes, or moments, classify as legitimate information: “…Basically, the more shared experiences two people have, the more shared information they have,” Tatman explained. “That means you need less information to bring up a specific event. In information theoretic terms, there’s less entropy.”

Yes, the translations may be basic, but we’re really only at the first steps of emojidom. What will follow will surely be more complex. So, will be all be speaking emoji exclusively in the future? Maybe. Grassroot movements are already moving in that direction.

Muscle emoji, Raising hands emoji, Globe emoji.

Or, in old English: Brave new world.



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