Common discourse is on the brink of revolution and at the end of majesty: The way in which we convey meaning has reached its climax. If we take a more detailed look at our generation’s preferred communication styles, we realize that face-to-face verbal exchange has largely been replaced with the instant-messaged word.
The human race was once verbose. We were specific. We were accurate. A small percentage was extremely well-versed in the art of discourse and dialogue. In many pre-modern civilizations, oration was a profession. We knew the shape of the clouds, the strength of the wind, the attitudes of characters, and there was no room for any interpretation other than what the author intended. We said things like, “Excuse me [insert name here], I am quite angry that you did not invite me to dinner with your family, especially when everyone else was invited. I can only assume this was purposeful, seeing as you must have taken extra care to go out of your way to ensure I was not included.” The speaker told the listener exactly what he was thinking.
Now we say, “I’m pissed I didn’t catch that dinner invite.” Unless we’re sitting directly across from the listener, this message goes through a wireless network and is pinged to the receiver to respond to at their discretion.
The 51-word expression of specific thought is distilled to eight words that doesn’t indicate three key ideas: the name of the specific receiver, any sort of emotional attachment the speaker has to his words (which leads to a loss of overall meaning), or the reason why the speaker is angry. Why is the speaker “pissed” that he did not catch the invite? Wouldn’t the “why” help clarify? What the speaker is truly upset about is the fact that all their friends were invited, yet he or she was excluded. The receiver, however, does not know that with our new way of communicating.
What happens to the art of language and exhilarating words like “luculent,” “benthos,” “serac,” and “wittol” if the current trend in communication becomes the normal?
There is no need to fear, though. The people of the 21st century have found a way to compensate for the void left in our world as we build relationships solely through the screen-recieved word: emojis. It was only natural that humans felt the subconscious absence of emotion with the emergence of instant message. In this way—the way of communicating and deriving meaning through pictures—we have become like Egyptians, adapting their ancient system of hieroglyphics.
We built this world, however, with a set of superfluous language so we could interpret the world around us in a specific way. We created letters so we could create words so we could create terms/phrases/sentences to express meaning. What happens when our language is reduced to only the quotidian? Take the proceeding four words:
Luculent – clearly expressed
Benthos – the flora or fauna at the bottom of a sea or lake
Serac – a pinnacle or ridge of ice on the surface of the glacier
Wittol – a man who knows of and tolerates his wife’s infidelity
Maybe you are more creative than I am and could easily have come up with something better, but after 45 minutes of scrolling through the emoji database, this is the best I could muster:
Luculent – 🚫 🌫 (No, Fog)
Benthos – 🌺 ⬇️ 🌊 (Flower, Below, Water)
Serac – 🏔️ (Mountain Ridge)
Wittol – 👨 🤔 💡 👫 🚫 👰(Man, Thinking, Understanding, Relationship, No, Wife)
If shown those strings of emojis at random, what would you have guessed they meant? Each person would have thought something different. (At this point, I would like to interject and say that it is also my belief that our current “bank” of emojis would grow and develop. We’ll create more pictures and assign meaning to them, and we won’t be “stuck” in the same state that we find ourselves in today.) We are not only at the climax of progressive and distinct language but we are on the brink of misunderstanding each other. English is already more basic in comparison to other languages:
Schadenfreude (German) – a feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people
Mencomot (Indonesian) – stealing things of small value, mostly for fun rather than out of necessity
Litost (Czech) – a feeling that synthesizes grief, sympathy, remorse, and longing
Koi No Yokan (Japanese) – the feeling, upon meeting someone, that falling in love with him or her is inevitable
Mangata (Swedish) – the glimmering, road-like reflection that the moon creates on the water
Try to articulate these words with emojis (insert smiling emoji or devil face emoji here). Words create reality—they do not define it. How are we going to continue to create reality by simply mimicking it with pictures?
This past summer, I interned at one of the “Big Five,” and within the first week, I began to receive emails—mind you, this is in a professional business environment. The very first email I received had a GIF in it. In the second, my supervisor signed off with a series of basic emojis accompanying his name. The third was signed by a woman who had three emojis tacked onto her company signature.
I may be thinking about this all wrong, but I would have to see evidence before I could concede that emojis are helping to catalyze a revolution that is beneficial to the development of our language. Maybe the use of modern-day hieroglyphics will add to our communication styles instead of detracting from them. Maybe I am wrong, and our written language will develop into a Mandarin-type communication. Maybe I will wake up and text my sister 👍 👏 ⚽️ 😏 🗣 👀 🏆 🍀 🔙 and she will know exactly what I mean: “Have a great soccer game, and make sure that you remember to speak up so the other girls see that you’re open. You have the luck of the Irish at your back.” But I doubt it.
Featured Graphic by Nicole Chan / Graphics Editor