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"emoji" Tag

Emoji and Hieroglyphs

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

When I see emoji I often think of hieroglyphs and wonder if and how there’s a connection. Why I make this connection is obviously not hard to imagine, since in both cases images are being used to communicate. But is this fact relevant, or is it a negligible similarity? In order to try to answer this question I will look at the most commonly known example of hieroglyphics: Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Egyptian hieroglyphs were the formal writing system used in Ancient Egypt. It combined logographic[1], syllabic[2] and alphabetic elements, with a total of around 1,000 distinct characters. Hieroglyphic characters can also have multiple meanings depending on how they are used. For example, the symbol for ‘house’, which was pronounced as pr, can also be used phonetically to represent the sound ‘pr’ in other words. Combinations of hieroglyphic characters could therefore be used to spell out larger words and composite phrases. Only a small percentage of Ancient Egyptians knew how to use hieroglyphs, such as priests, royals and civil officials.

Emoji however are ideograms[3] (or pictograms) and smileys[4] and can be used by anyone with a device that supports emoji. They are often used to signal a certain emotion or to shorten basic sentences by replacing text with image. Decorating and simple joy are in my opinion big reasons for its use as well. Once when I was at the airport to catch a flight, my mother send me a message saying: “Have a good flight! ????”. Here the airplane emoji really doesn’t add anything in terms of information, but it simply looks ‘nice’.

An important thing that distinguishes hieroglyphs from emoji, is that most emoji don’t have a clear meaning. A simple smiling smiley, for example, can be interpreted in a lot of differentways. This because of the context it is being used in, but also by everyone their personal association with that smiley. Some people believe it to be friendly, others get the idea the sender is being very sarcastic. It can even get so specific that the meaning of a certain emoji is only known by two individuals. Me and my best friend often use a specific emoji and we always know exactly what we mean by using it because we share a certain experience. This experience we share, created its meaning. If someone else sends me that same emoji I will never read the same meaning because it’s an entirely different context.

In essence, the use of emoji cannot be considered a language at all for there is no universal system that teaches us how to use them. One could attempt to write a very complex message with emoji, but it would simply turn into a riddle with a high probability of being misunderstood. This fact shows an interesting paradox, for the use of emoji can be considered very practical in certain situations, but its use quickly turns impractical when the amount of emoji used to communicate something increases.

With hieroglyphs, this is not the case. It allowed ancient Egyptians to compose a huge variety of texts from medical documents to poetry; texts that are significantly more advanced than what is possible to convey with emoji.

So, in the end the similarity mentioned in the introduction seems negligible, even barely existing. One could argue that emoji still holds potential for becoming a language, but it is nowhere near it now. And why should it? Looking at it from this perspective might be the wrong thing to do in the first place. Emoji much more seem to be about joy and intuition. It’s a way of communicating in a free and playful way, not designed to be eloquent at all.

[1] In written language, a logogram or logograph is a written character that represents a word or phrase.

[2] A syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent the syllables or (more frequently) moras which make up words.

[3] An ideogram is a graphic symbol that represents an idea or concept, independent of any particular language, and specific words or phrases.

[4] A smiley is a stylized representation of a (originally) smiling humanoid face that is a part of popular culture worldwide.

A wide variety of books and a bride with no groom

Sunday, February 21, 2016


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(Roughly about emojis)

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Bride with no groom



The first time I saw Emojis  was 4 years ago, around 2011. I had done that big investment and changed my Blackberry for an Iphone. Coming from the Blackberry world it was very important for me to be able to chat for free so I downloaded Whatsapp, which was gaining popularity in my Ecuadorian chatting circle of life. But coming from the Blackberry world I was also missing to be able to send their super cute “Smileys” (how I called them before calling them “Emojis”, by the way my grandmother calls them “caritas” which means “little faces”).

Smileys, Emojis, or Emoticons where not included in Whatsapp and apparently they were not in my super new and slick Iphone neither. A friend recommended me to download an app called Emoji Emoticons, this applications was going to somehow make a Emoji Keyboard appear in my Iphone. So I did Sparkles on Apple iOS 9.3

remember finding very strange the fact that this Emojis will appear in my keyboard as another language. Between the options I had I could either write in Spanish or write Emoji. Technically I couldn’t do both in the same time. Emojis in Iphone interface at that time weren’t categorize as a complementary element to written words, as they appeared in my BlackBerry. Rather they appeared as a whole new language. The Emoji pack for the Iphone was also a lot wider than the Bb Smiley pack. Suddenly having so many options made me question my real need for them. They were all new so I was not used to them and they all seemed not suited to my usual way of communication and a bit arbitrary. Somehow because they where not the Emoji I was used too, they also felt “un-official”. I knew I could demand them to be official and that I couldn’t defend that the Bb smileys were official indeed, but I think it was an interesting instinctive (?) reaction.

I asked myself for example if I will ever need 4 Volumes of books (each one with their own color) and 3 types of notebooks.Where was the ecuadorian flag? And why was there a Bride and not a Groom? What happened with him? Is it the hat? This little and easy remarks (maybe a little bit too easy: Pseuo-Nationalist and Pseudo-FeministFace Throwing a Kiss on Apple iOS 9.3) catch my attention. With the time Emojis started to be used more and more and they started to feel like a some-how “official” thing. Despite this the arbitrary feeling to it was still there. They were being used for a lot of people but were they representing this people need of communication? (AND NOW OMG, MY QUESTION HAS BEING HEARD BY THE GOD OF ADVERTISING AND AlwaysG is also bitching about Feminist-Emoji-Rights…Face Without Mouth on Apple iOS 9.3: Always #LikeAGirl – Girl Emojis)

The ancestor of the Emoji is the “Smiling face”, even though earlier versions are known, Harvey Ball is recognized as the official designer of the smiley, he did it back in 1963. Emoji were born in the late 1990′s created Shigetaka Kurita, an employee at the Japanese telecom company NTT Cocomo. Kurita came up with the idea to add simplistic cartoon images to its messaging functions as a way to appeal to teens. He draw them using a pencil and a paper in a 12 by 12 pixel grid. This is how he came up with 176 crude symbols representing from faces to music notes. This emojis were a hit in the Japanese market, and other mobile providers adopted this feature. In 2007 when the Iphone appeared Apple and Google realized that they had to catch up and they added their own Emoji keyboard in the Iphones. This feature was hidden in the US Iphones, but we soon discovered that we could download an app to make them appear. By this moment the propositions given by provider were partially overlapping symbols and had its own way of coding. Emoji from a different provider often could not be displayed between them. Also emoji via email was a problem. 



National Park on Apple iOS 9.3
(This is a landscape painting hanging in the wall of this article for decoration and recreation purposes)



So Emoji added to the Unicode Consortium in 2009.Unicode which was founded in 1990 is a network of contribution members. This is the organization who punctuates, encodes, names and sketches Emoji to make sure that each platform (e-mail, iOs, Android, Google, etc) shows the same character. Then each platform can design their Emoji.  Since then the Unicode Consortium adds new Emoji features each year. This emoji features are held by employees from Apple and Google…Man in Business Suit Levitating on Apple iOS 9.3

In June 2015 there were 37 Emojis added, including an upside-down smiley, a nerd, a robot, a taco, a cheese, a hot dog, a mosque, a synagogue, etc. They also enabled, understandably, the option to change the skin tone of certain human-emoji to different hues on the FitzPatrick Scale, a “recognized standard for dermatology”

Looks quite hard to determine what Emojis are needed to represent all the Emoji-users needs for communication, it is clear that we are looking for solutions to be more expressive via text, but in the same time it also sounds too-easy easy to ask for emoji-representation of everyone. Tyler Schnoebelen lingüistic-related man has done some observations. As he says, “we’ve learned to talk, and we’ve learned to write, but we’re only now learning to write at the speed of talking (i.e., text), sending messages over vast expanses, absent any physical contextual clues. If you are talking to someone face-to-face, you don’t need an additional word or symbol to express “I’m smiling” because you would, presumably, be smiling.” But when we text between each other we loose all the non-verbal faculties like vocal intonation and body-language. Thinking about texting in this way makes very clear the necessity of a body-related language to emerge among chatters to leave intentions clear in a fast, casual way as easily as making a gesture.

But Emoji are not as limited as body-languageMouse Face on Apple iOS 9.3. Because among this very understandable body-expression conventions we also find other pictograms. Pictograms that seems to represent objects, actions or just words. And that have no defined meaning. This is the shady part of emoji. One of the reasons for which we cannot communicate solely with Emojis. With the times though there are some interpretations that have been stablished among certain people for example the girl with hands up in her head is in Japanese context a gesture for “OK”, but in other contexts is mostly interpreted differently. Each Emoji is still very much open for interpretation and I guess with time this language will be shaped to fit our needs for communication. We will add emojis we need and the existing emojis will be filled with the needed meanings. Until then I guess we will keep playing with this pictograms in this shady zone trying to scape from the limitations they offer and trying to use them our way. Hoping also that Emoji will find its way to make us all Smile and will not create any sort of discrimination feeling to start a war, or a second feminist revolution. 



Thats all I have to say. But I have also this emoji-related links to recommend:

And things to read:

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