Evolution of language and the use of Emoticons

Evolution of language and the use of Emoticons

“Hwæt! We Gar-Dena   in gear-dagum.” [1]

I wonder how many people can read, or even recognise this quote. It is from, indeed, one of the most famous poems ever written. In Fact it is from one of the oldest, if not the oldest poem, written in English. But how does that make sense? We speak English, do we not? I for one have spoken it all my life. Yet I too cannot understand this line from the poem Beowulf. Yet it is English. But how is it possible that the language that we speak today, is not the same as it was a thousand years ago! English is, like everything, always evolving and changing. Over the course of history many cultures influenced the language of English, from its Germanic and Latin Roots to the Norman invasion, which lead to the incorporation of many new French words. The British Empire was also once the largest empire in the world. Only 22 countries in the world have not been invaded by England. The language has encountered thousands of other cultures and languages. In contemporary history, English has been changed by colloquialisms by youths across the world. “English” as we know it, is not as we know it.

The introduction of new words such as selfie and twerk, all suggest that language is a living breathing thing. Other examples include affectionate terms such as homie, brav or bae.  New words are constantly being invented. Often there are nay-sayers who refuse to accept these new words as being words. It is felt that you cannot make up a word. There are rules to languages, which cannot be altered. This is of course, a load of nonsense. The only reason that grammar and structure was applied to languages is so that people can fully understand each other. It was not a royal decree or against the law. It was done to improve communication.

So if the English language is subject to change, then are not all languages? And if all languages are able to change, is it possible that they could all change in the same way?

The “invention” of the emoticon, has allowed for, more accessible ways for people to express their tones in text. For example, when saying that someone is being sarcastic on television, the subtitles often follow the sarcastic sentence with a (!). However, after using this symbol in text messaging, I quickly learned that people did not understand me. However, a symbol that people do understand is someone smiling: :),  or one of a person crying: :’( . As humans we are able to read other people’s faces, as they often reflect our own. By using an emoticon, I am able express my true feeling of the incident, without explicitly saying it, or hoping people could sense it. I can make my point clear and concise so that anyone could understand it. Other newer emoticons are often inanimate objects. This still has the same effect as the Smiley Face. Often it is the certain emotion felt with an object, or a memory. These symbols help accentuate the language as a whole. Of course there are some odd ones, which perhaps not everyone understands, but perhaps it has a significance to certain people. The emoticons allow the text to become more alive. It gives the written word a personality. This personification of language is a huge advancement in communication, the future of language and text. The emoticon has the ability to transcend languages and culture, because everyone knows what a smile means.

People who suffer from dyslexia and autism, and other disabilities, often face difficulties in expressing themselves in text. This is where emoticons are shown to be extremely advantageous. People with learning disabilities can find it easier to express themselves in a picture rather than a word. And perhaps this is not a bad thing, just another, perhaps better, way of communicating. UTV Ireland recently published an article about Rob Laffan who recently invented a text message system to help communicate with his daughter who suffers from non-verbal autism. Using pictures, Rob’s daughter Sadie is able to associate pictures with her own expression. This is just one practical use of using images to express emotion. [2]

However it is not the first time word has been written in images. Hundreds of years ago the Egyptians used hieroglyphics to write. Just like modern emoticons they used images in order to express sentences. That’s great! This means that emoticons can work as a language! But why does it no longer exist? What is it that happened that caused these beautiful pictures to become warped lines? It rather simple really, not a lot of people can easily carve a flying eagle the size of a pea into a stone. The Latin alphabet won over due to its simplicity in use, containing twenty six symbols called letters all in similar style, twisted versions of a straight line.

However with computers now becoming the main form of writing, perhaps there is no longer a need for such dull lettering, perhaps it is time to go back to the ancient times and turn writing into a visual art as well as a written one. Perhaps, this is the future of writing, after all anyone can write down two dots and a bracket. This new method of communication, is the future, and is something that should be embraced not obstructed.

The main question with the future of the emoticon is in its use. It can be cross cultural, not taking any meaning from any one pre-existing language. It is a remarkable new invention.

However, people are now trying to make this remarkable invention its own language, with explicit meanings behind certain emoticons .Indeed it may end up, one day being a fully-fledged language. We can see examples of Emoji poetry and Stories told in emoticons.

However possibly, this will change emoticons from its original intent. Emoji’s will become another more colourful code. It will have lost its uniqueness. We will have lost a new ground-breaking method of communication.





[2] UTV Ireland: http://utv.ie/News/2015/06/10/Text-system-helps-child-with-autism-to-communicate-38809



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