July 7, 2017

Everything you ever wanted to know about teens, emoji, and heiroglyphs


Some people use emoji. Some people do not use emoji. Some people, when they use emoji, use them to ask a partner or friend whether they should eat pizza for dinner, again. Other people use them to vaguely describe sex acts. At least one person has transliterated the entirety of Moby-Dick into emoji. Kyle MacLachlan once obliged a fan with an emoji Dune. Some people with a lot of money decided to spend their money making a movie about emoji called The Emoji Movie, and not to spend that money feeding hungry people or adopting highways. July 15th is Emoji Day. Here is an emojipedia.

People, this seemingly exhaustive account of emoji in the twenty-first-century does not even begin to capture the historical, linguistic, and cultural richness of the emoji. Just ask Dame Wendy HallAlexandre Loktionov, Jessica Lingel, and Dan Turello at the Library of Congress’s Kluge Center.

In a brief but wide-ranging conversation published on the Library’s Medium page, Hall, Loktionov, Lingel, and Turello discuss—among other things—the possibility of a complete emoji grammar, the gendered nature of the emoji, teens, hieroglyphic determinatives, and cognitive AI.

Have you ever wondered what linguistic category emoji belong to? According to Loktionov, they’re very similar to the Egyptian hieroglyphs known as a determinatives, “signs which, without having a phonetic value of their own, can ‘color’ the meaning of the preceding word or phrase.”

Do you lose sleep over the unjust feminization of emoji-use? That would be perfectly reasonable! Emojis are designed to efficiently communicate emotional states, and interpersonal communication and emotional expressivity have long been branded as “feminine” and therefore frivolous.

What about that all-emoji edition of Moby-Dick, cleverly titled Emoji Dick? What about the teens? What about grammars, and dictionaries, and unicode, and fluid lexicons? Read the whole conversation for satisfying answers to all these questions, and more!


Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.