Text your gran an emoji of an Aubergine – see what she replies.
Seems oh so very innocent, if slightly strange, doesn’t it? However, use said aubergine on anyone post-1990 and the conversation seems to take a very different turn. Contrary to my clickbait headline, however, it is not the emoji instigating said change. Rather, it is us. Namely, texting, tweeting, whatsapping, tinder swiping young people all over the country and beyond. Thus, the emoji can be seen as a tool – a means to an end if you will. As the concept of sending a laughing crying face to anything remotely humorous one of the ‘lads’ posted on the group chat becomes ever more integrated as a societal norm, emoji are giving us a whole new way to express ourselves and our identity. And that should be celebrated.
However, this isn’t always the case. Despite emoji selflessly boosting our economy by creating new jobs (yes, being an emoji translator is a thing) even today there are those such as David Webster who write endless articles shamelessly slandering emoji. Well, David, rather than telling people who use emoji to grow up perhaps you should simply grow used to the fact that emoji are well and truly here: and they’re here to stay.
Likewise, ‘esteemed’ linguist Jean Aitchinson likens the English language to a crumbling castle. Once ever so perfect, but now crumbling away with every text, tweet, or use of the fire emoji to express approval at Big Shaq’s poetry. She even goes so far to suggest her imaginary castle of language ought to be protected. Yet, castles themselves are an anachronism with the modern world, and have since been replaced by more effective means of protection. (unless she’s talking about bouncy castles; they will forever remain timeless)
It must be noted that fear of change is an entirely natural phenomenon. For instance, the Ancient Greeks once shunned the pencil as a means of recording stories or events for fear it would mean people would become unable to remember anything. Thus, this inherently prescriptivist attitude lies within us all.
However, I recently saw a Tedtalk which proposed the idea that our online interactions are becoming more akin to spoken rather than written communication. This means that the use of emojis – regardless of age or profession – should simply be seen as the natural, organic, evolution of language.
Technology has led to all sorts of weird and wonderful innovations, whether it be memes popularised through social media, or shortenings of words borne from the dark ages pre touch phone creation. Therefore, rather than seeing the emoji as degrading our ability to communicate, it ought to be seen as a tool which can enrich our interactions and language. Increasingly our sense of self and our identity is being shaped by technology, whether it be Snapchat’s stickers and geofilters, or even the introduction of different skin tones and genders for various emojis.
Whilst it is difficult for linguists to keep up with not only the rapid nature of change technology has on language, but also the extent of it, more recently the OED (for the heathens out there who aren’t aware of this particular abbreviation, it’s the Oxford English Dictionary, FYI) showed a refreshing attitude towards it. Although it was met with criticism, way back in 2013 when they made the word of the year the infamous hero of the groupchat, the laughing crying face, it showed that we have well and truly arrived in the 21st Century.
Technology is such a key component of our lives and so it is only natural for it to impact on our language and communication. Attempts to shun the way millennials speak and communicate will undoubtedly be futile. Regardless, the Ancient Egyptians and their hieroglyphics have been using emoji-esque figures long before we did, so is it even really that much of a change in the grand scheme of things?
Quite what their aubergine equivalent would have been remains to be seen, but I’m sure if you think about it long enough you’ll get the picture.
– Patrick Robbins