Wednesday, June 29

Emojis don’t degrade language, they enrich it | Benjamin Weissman


TThroughout history, writing systems have mirrored available technologies. The cuneiform writing of ancient Mesopotamia featured triangles and lines because the characters were imprinted in clay with a peg; The ancient Germanic runes were distinguished by angular shapes rather than curves because they were carved into stone. Now, with electronic writing and emojis at their fingertips, even those without any artistic talents can easily “write” a range of pictorial symbols, from a smile to a syringe, from a bento box to a Pregnant man.

With emojis in mind following the recently released Unicode draft of the upcoming new set, Emoji 14.0, is a good time to reflect on the relationship between emojis and the mind. Research done in recent years has allowed us to begin to answer some of these questions, such as whether emojis are language and whether we can think of emojis.

This research seems to support the idea that people excel at processing and understanding sentences that present text and emojis together. If an emoji replaces a word in a sentence, people will easily understand it. If a meaningless emoji is added to a sentence, we spend more time trying to make sense of it, just as we do with nonsense words. In my own researchI have observed that the electrical pattern our brain produces when we interpret sarcasm into words is also evoked by a sarcastic emoji. Our brains produce a different electrical pattern when we encounter an unexpected word, and that pattern appears when we also encounter an unexpected emoji.

And yet emojis are not words. Consider what happens when emojis stand alone, without text. Cognitive scientist Neil cohn has conducted several experiments with emojis, including one that encouraged participants to communicate using only emojis. The grammar of the resulting “sentences” was drastically less complex than the grammar found in language. In another experiment, we found that when emojis are put together one after another, like words in a sentence, they are more difficult for people to understand than when they are combined to look like an image.

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These findings reinforce the observation that linking emojis in this way is quite unnatural. Linguists Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne have determined that the most produced multi-emoji expressions simply repeat the same emoji multiple times, a pattern that occurs much less in multi-word expressions. Dick emoji, Fred Benenson’s translation of Moby Dick into emoji-only sentences, is incredible work and impossible to read. While emojis may well represent concrete nouns like kiwi and cat, they are unsuitable for grammatical concepts such as tense, prepositions, and pronouns. Also, emoji users cannot easily create new ones that fit into a conversational context, which is how primitive natural languages ​​begin to flourish in whole languages. These limitations mean that emojis will never replace language or exist as a language on their own.

So if emojis aren’t words, what are they? In a sense, emojis give us something we already have with spoken / sign language. In face-to-face communication, in addition to using words, we also extract meaning from tone and tone of voice, facial expressions, hand gestures, body language, and even the physical environment of the conversation. Emojis, similarly, provide us with a way to enrich the text-based medium. Just as facial expressions and gestures are intrinsic to our face-to-face conversations, it is easy for us to use emojis in our electronic conversations to fulfill some of the same functions.

From this perspective, then, emojis are not necessarily changing the way our brain works. Instead, they capitalize on the resources that we have already developed over thousands of years, which is integrating different flows of information into a unified meaning. Psychologists David McNeill and Susan Goldin-Meadow they have argued that gestures should not be considered aids to language, but rather the two systems evolved together to provide key cognitive advantages. Although the neural mechanisms we use to capture these information flows may differ, combining the content of these flows into a unified interpretation is natural. Emojis that function as gestures or tone markers in electronic communication is an expected and natural result, now that technology allows it.

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I bet thinking in emojis may be possible, but it would be limited by the limitations of the emojis themselves; Without a language-like grammar, these emoji thoughts would not be as structurally complex as the complete sentence constructions that we are capable of making with language. We can already think of gestures and images, so I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the simplest thoughts could take the form of an emoji; sometimes this can be even more natural than any language-based thinking. 😳 seems to be a better representation of an emotional reaction than any word, and if people send 😳 as a message enough times, they can start to think of 😳 as a natural response, even without the phone in hand.


www.theguardian.com

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