In case you’ve been sleeping for the past twenty years, emoji usage has been going 📈📈📈. By mid-2015, half of all comments on Instagram included an emoji. Hollywood released a full feature-length film titled The Emoji Movie. Even Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai is posting about urgent fixes to the hamburger emoji.
For some, emoji have caused frustration for users (how the heck are you supposed to use the 🙃 emoji?). Yet for many others, emoji has opened up a fascinating new medium of communication. There are even emoji charade-esque “games” where users can guess a movie title based on a series of emoji. (try these: 💉💎 or 👦🏻👓⚡). But what happens when you push emoji a step further?
What happens when emoji are the only language you can use? How does communication change in a pictographic medium? As an experiment, my friends and I spent a weekend texting only in emoji.
The one rule: no letters or words. Below are some screenshots of what our message conversations looked like.
While it may seem like a complete jumbled mess, my friends and I noticed language emerging in our conversation. Here are some of our key insights.
We started off our emoji day with some basics:
I wonder if this pattern would emerge for non-English speakers. While English is subject-prominent, languages like Korean are topic-prominent, and have less of an emphasis on the subject.
Imagine communicating in English, but the only emotional words you could use were “good,” “bad,” “sad,” and “angry.” You could probably get the point across, but the subtlety and nuance of your sentences is lost. Our conversation felt constrained — it’d take a lot of communication to get a concept like “ambition” across.
What does this indicate about the English language — in what ways is even more complex subtlety lost when feelings are translated into words?
As soon as I accidentally typed an emoji on accident, it took several text messages to steer us back on the right track. I’m sure eventually we would have developed an emoji set that translated to “never mind,” but during our limited conversation we struggled to understand each other over the typos.
I wanted to convey a simple phrase: “Today is Groundhog Day!” Look at how hard my seemingly simple communication was.
Despite the communication challenges, there was a lot of joy in solving the literal puzzles of communication and devising creative ways to express thoughts.
I had a lot of fun playing around with emoji for a day, and learned some interesting patterns in my communication. I’d encourage you to try it yourself, and post below on what worked for you or what lessons you learned! At the very least, I have a much greater appreciation for these amazing inventions called words.
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