Emojify the Web: "the next phase of linguistic evolution"

« previous post | next post »

Today's announcement from the Google Chrome team (yes, note the date):

The commentary from "Hannah Beecher, Ph.D., Linguistic Pragmatics" is a nice touch. But beyond the April Fool's lolz, I'd argue that experts in linguistic pragmatics would be well advised to take emoji seriously. I've had a couple of occasions recently to hold forth on the emerging pragmatics of emoji, as well as emoji's ASCII-friendly precursor, emoticons. Here's a video from the PBS Off Book series in which I took part:

I've been digging into the history (and prehistory) of emoticons for a while now — see my 2007 Language Log post and 2012 Word Routes column. But something very new is happening with emoji — or you could say, something very old. For a SXSW Interactive panel last month with Sam Huston, I talked about how the pictorial impulse of a symbolic system like emoji is rooted in the very earliest writing systems. And the utopian dream of being able to "translate" any language into a visual vernacular, as spoofed by Google Chrome's emojification, is also quite old, going at least as far back as Francis Bacon and John Wilkins in the 17th century, and kept alive more recently by dreamers like Charles Bliss. (See Umberto Eco's The Search for the Perfect Language and Arika Okrent's In the Land of Invented Languages for more of that quixotic history.)

I don't have audio of the SXSW session [update: audio is here!], but here's a great sketchnote created by Chris Cullmann:

(Hat tip, Informal Ethnographer.)


  1. Will said,

    April 1, 2014 @ 2:49 pm

    In a similar vein, check out DramaFever’s announcement today about replacing all subtitles with emoji: http://www.dramafever.com/news/dramafever-replacing-all-subtitles-with-emoji/

    DramaFever focuses on subtitling popular Korean and Spanish soaps.

  2. Joe said,

    April 1, 2014 @ 4:15 pm

    This is the first time I've encountered "lolz". I'm used to seeing "lulz" as plural for "lol" (as in lulzsec, the hackers who splintered off of Anonymous). My impression is that "lolz" was not as L337 as "lulz" – not that it means anything here.

  3. Marcos said,

    April 1, 2014 @ 5:33 pm

    "Complex emotions like laughing so hard you're crying… and you're a cat"

  4. Matt McIrvin said,

    April 1, 2014 @ 7:44 pm

    Everyone knows that the only important one is U+1F4A9 PILE OF POO.

    For some reason I seem to be having trouble embedding it here…

    [(bgz) How's this: 💩 ]

  5. Matt McIrvin said,

    April 1, 2014 @ 7:50 pm

    …curiously, emoji actually seem to be broken in Chrome on my Mac. Safari can handle them.

  6. Adam Carson said,

    April 1, 2014 @ 8:23 pm

    "The English language cannot fully capture the depth and complexity of my thoughts."


  7. David Adams said,

    April 1, 2014 @ 9:29 pm

    Surprised no one has mentioned the last Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode in which one of the characters experiments with inserting emoji into her spoken language:


  8. Mark S. said,

    April 1, 2014 @ 11:03 pm

    I can't help but wonder how many people will understand this is a joke and yet continue to take completely seriously Chineasy, etc.

RSS feed for comments on this post