Why so much emoji nonsense?

Ken Whistler via Unicode unicode at unicode.org
Wed Feb 14 13:50:01 CST 2018

On 2/14/2018 12:53 AM, Erik Pedersen via Unicode wrote:
> Unlike text composed of the world’s traditional alphabetic, syllabic, abugida or CJK characters, emoji convey no utilitarian and unambiguous information content.

I think this represents a misunderstanding of the function of emoji in 
written communication, as well as a rather narrow concept of how writing 
systems work and why they have evolved.


The invention and development of word spacing, punctuation, and casing, 
among other elements of typography, represent the addition of meta-level 
information to written communication that assists in legibility, helps 
identify lexical and syntactic units, conveys prosody, and other 
information that is not well conveyed by simply setting down letters of 
an alphabet one right after the other.

Emoticons were invented, in large part, to fill another major hole in 
written communication -- the need to convey emotional state and 
affective attitudes towards the text. This is the kind of information 
that face-to-face communication has a huge and evolutionarily deep 
bandwidth for, but which written communication typically fails miserably 
at. Just adding a little happy face :-) or sad face :-( to a short email 
manages to convey some affect much more easily and effectively than 
adding on entire paragraphs trying to explain how one feels about what 
was just said. Novelists have the skill to do that in text without using 
little pictographic icons, but most of us are not professional writers! 
Note that emoticons were invented almost as soon as people started 
communicating in digital mediums like email -- so long predate anything 
Unicode came up with.

Other kinds of emoji that we've been adding recently may have a somewhat 
more uncertain trajectory, but the ones that seem to be most successful 
are precisely those which manage to connect emotionally with people, and 
which assist them in conveying how they *feel* about what they are writing.

So I would suggest that people not just dismiss (or diss) this ongoing 
phenomenon. Emoji are widely used for many good reasons. And of course, 
like any other aspect of writing, get mis-used in various ways, as well. 
But you can be sure that their impact on the evolution of world writing 
is here to stay and will be the topic of serious scholastic papers by 
scholars of writing for decades to come. ;-)


More information about the Unicode mailing list