I borrowed The Emoji Code: the Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scaredy Cats by Vyvyan Evans and after 71 pages decided to not finish it. This is not because it is a bad book, it has lots of fascinating stuff, but I got bored. I lost interest in the linguistics and all the details about what does and does not constitute a language and whether emojis meet the requirements or ever could.
I did learn some great things about the history of Emoji. It seems like they have been around forever, right? But emojis did not become standard on the Apple keyboard until 2011, 2012 on Instagram and 2013 on Android. Pretty crazy!
Official Emoji is programmed in Unicode and and all the emojis we are familiar with on our phones and Google and Facebook, are controlled by a small group of multinational corporations that made up Unicode. For a new emoji to come into being it must go through a long and arduous vetting process. Yes, you can get nonstandard emojis and on Facebook you also have stickers, but the standard emojis are tightly controlled.
In spite of the control, each platform is allowed to make their emoji look a little different. Evans uses the gun emoji as an example. Microsoft’s gun is a revolver, Android’s is a pistol, and Apple’s is a water pistol. Each one of course has a different meaning. If you send a gun emoji to a friend on a hot day on your iPhone thinking you are having fun with a water pistol and your friend has an Android phone and gets a pistol that uses bullets instead of water, you could be saying something you did not intend.
In fact, a seventeen-year-old in New York who posted a gun emoji pointed at a police officer on his Facebook page in 2015 was arrested for making terroristic threats. Taken within the context of other Facebook posts he made, there was no threat made. In another incident, a school in Colorado was evacuated after the school received an email that contained a gun, a bomb and a knife emoji. There were other emojis in the email like chickens. It turned out to be sent by mistake by an eight-year-old girl.
Obviously emojis are serious business. They do not, however constitute a language. There is no grammar, for instance. This does not mean that one day it cannot be a language. But for now we use emojis to substitute for some words and to make clear the emotion behind the text of our digital communications. A smiley face, a sad face, or a rolling eyes face can make all the difference in how something might be understood. So instead of watching our “p’s and q’s” I guess we need to watch our smiles and frowns, hearts and hand gestures. So much to keep track of!
Like I said, I didn’t finish the book because it is bad, clearly it is interesting, but I lost interest. I wanted to tell you about it though in case it might be up your alley.