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Emoji, part 10: state of the nation

This is the twelfth in a series of thirteen posts on Emoji (😂). Start at PART 1, continue to PART 13 or view ALL POSTS in the series.


We’ve come a long way, 👶, in this series of posts on emoji, and it’s time to round things up.

We’ve seen how emoji were invented, where they came from, and how they went global. We’ve examined the technical and political infrastructure that underpin the emoji we see on our smartphones and computer screens, and we’ve watched emoji transcend their electronic roots to appear in the news, in the courts, in the movies, and more.

We’ve dug into emoji’s problems with diversity, how the Unicode Consortium have tried to address them via annual updates, and the positive but incomplete steps taken as a result. We asked if emoji are a language, a script, or something else, and we’ve looked both at the proprietary “stickers” that threaten emoji and Unicode’s own attempts to break emoji out of their walled garden.

What, then, is the state of the emoji nation? In the final post in this series, we look at emoji’s journey so far and their prospects for the future.


2 comments on “Emoji, part 10: state of the nation

  1. Comment posted by John Cowan on

    I don’t think it makes sense to compare novel punctuation marks to novel emoji. The former are auxiliaries to traditional written text; the latter are a logographic writing system in themselves. New emoji are like new hanzi: you need them when you see a gap in the system, and there will always be gaps (new hanzi are in fact being invented constantly and submitted to the IRC for things like the names of newly discovered species).

    I also don’t think devolved emoji make much sense either. They would be not text but very small pictures, and we already have ways of transmitting pictures.

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi John,

      The trouble with drawing comparisons between emoji and other sets of symbols is that emoji don’t really correspond to anything else. Punctuation isn’t quite right, as you say, since emoji both have a punctuational function _and_ convey ideas in and of themselves. That said, are emoji any closer to hanzi/kanji? Emoji aren’t pictures of words but rather pictures of things, and, as is painfully clear, they lack a conventional grammar or syntax. That’s why I mention memes, which, like emoji, are both digital natives and straddle any number of traditional categories of language or art.

      As always, thanks for the considered comment!

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