In Defence of Emojis


My academic concern with English Language ended with my A Levels in 2012. Nevertheless, my career revolves around language use and its subtle nuances, and the way different groups of people use language across different time periods is something that fascinates me. 

Bloggers, journalists and other social media influences are, I think, largely responsible for influencing the language used on the internet. If they aren't starting language trends, they're perpetuating them and ensuring that they are exposed to large audiences. In the same way that we pick up linguistic idiosyncrasies when hanging out with a friend from a different city, for example, we instinctively begin to emulate the writing styles of our favourite tweeters.  

It goes without saying that the existence of the Oxford English Dictionary as an institution which governs language and words which are and are not deemed 'legitimate', and the race and class issues embedded within that, is problematic. That is a separate discussion; love or hate the OED, its 2015 word of the year is the crying laughing emoji. As the year comes to a close, I've been thinking about people who believe that the 'internet generation', armed with our emojis and imperfect grammar, are 'ruining the English language'. To put my point concisely: they are incredibly wrong.

When writing a formal email, letter or essay, our grammar and spelling are accurate. When writing blog posts, we use full sentences with a more casual tone; with the odd ‘lmao’, ‘tbh’ or ‘imo’ thrown in to express this. When tweeting, we use ‘u’ and ‘ur’ for effect, as well as to save on characters.

In many ways, excessive emoji use could be just another language trend, akin to typing like thiis or even tHiS in the eArlY 2000s. Perhaps I feel differently because I’m much older now than I was when I was editing my Myspace profile, but I think that we are past that. Us ~~~millennials~~~ (did I use enough ‘~’ to demonstrate self-awareness about how embarrassing the term ‘millennials’ is?) don’t use emojis, abbreviations and recently coined words out of a lack of other options. I very consciously choose 'u' over 'you', depending on context, to convey a different tone. A heart-eyes emoji, flames emoji, or ‘omg!!!!’ on your mate’s selfie is just as important as your auntie’s ‘you look beautiful x x’ comment on your Facebook profile pic. 

Moreover and perhaps more importantly, I don’t believe that language can in fact be ‘ruined’. Language should be non-prescriptive. Perhaps this renders my first point redundant, but who doesn’t like a little emoji-based dialog?

There’s no real goal in this extremely un-academic essay, save for the fact that I haven’t written one in a while. Language cannot be ruined. Being able to adapt one’s language use to suit a context is a mark of advanced language use, not the opposite. So screw the h8rs, tbh, keep doing u, and let me know what you think about an emoji being 2015’s ‘word of the year’.

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