Abandoning the alphabet: Emoji and the new worldwide language

Here’s a full disclosure from this converged communicator. As a professional writer for a large print publication, I am no frequent user of emoji. For those who aren’t familiar with emoji (there is no plural form), these are symbols that cover a wide variety of images and are often added to texts, Tweets, Facebook posts, and the like. Often, they’re used in place of text or at the end of a message, where they can provide an extra punch at the close. In some ways, this reverses the 4000-year-old trend of moving from pictorial symbols to an alphabet, adding a twist from ancient Egypt or Babylon to 21st-century communication. Even for those who aren’t emoji fans, it’s important to understand how this new language trend is changing the communication world. From a semiotic perspective, emoji shows verbal and visual language working hand in hand.

An emoji-packed screenshot.

An emoji-packed screenshot.

Writing online for USA Today, Daniel Wroclawski of Reviewed.com discusses emoji in several contexts. Significantly, the symbols, of Japanese origin, have been used for communication between speakers of radically different languages, such as English and Chinese. In that sense, emoji may be moving toward becoming a kind of universal language, albeit a very limited one. But it’s not without pitfalls. As students who have taken GEB3373 (International Business) and DIG3286 (Assembling Digital Media) know, images may have very different connotations in different cultures. Plus, they may be rendered differently on different devices, because of varying standards among manufacturers. In other words, there are certain ideas that emoji can’t easily communicate. For precision, depth, and richness of communication, alphabetic language hasn’t been topped yet. That’s why we should be using our time in the #concomms program to master our use of language in its many forms, so that we will be ready to meet the verbal challenges awaiting us in the years to come.

For a more offbeat look at emoji, take a look at Alex Clark’s commentary for the Guardian, the noted British newspaper. This article careens at breakneck speed through just about every subcategory of emoji thought imaginable, offering political perspectives, literary references, and sometimes caustic comments.

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