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Emoji is the new universal language?

A backward step?

Some argue that Emoji is a step backwards to the dark ages of illiteracy, making us poorer communicators. But this view is nothing more than ill-informed and blinkered cultural elitism. One commentator, guilty of precisely this, and taking a dim view of Emoji, has decried the rise of the now omnipresent emojis in our daily, digital lives. Professional art critic and contrarian Jonathan Jones, writing in the Guardian, contends that: ‘After millennia of painful improvement, from illiteracy to Shakespeare and beyond, humanity is rushing to throw it all away.’ Emoji is, he proclaims, a ‘huge step back for humanity’. His derision is clear: ‘Speak Emoji if you want. I’ll stick with the language of Shakespeare.

The irony, of course, is that the language of Shakespeare was designed to be performed. And without the paralinguistic cues, the language itself, for all Shakespeare’s genius, would remain lifeless, the zombie words of some long-dead white European male. The emotional resonance of Shakespeare’s words come from these cues which breathe an interpretation into his plays: was Iago – one of the most inexplicably evil characters to have walked the apron stage – just plain jealous, or did he have a man-crush on the charismatic Venetian general Othello? The meaning derives from the way the words are delivered, their emotional resonance, the ambiguity conveyed, through tone of voice and accompanying gestures and actions. And in analogous fashion, Emoji helps flesh out the meanings they bring to light, clarifying, nuancing and adding to the otherwise arid textspeak of our emotionally abbreviated digital tongue.


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