Emoji’s destiny is to become a global written pidgin language
January 18, 2023
Emoji week continues! With emoji as an expanding foundation for cross-cultural communication, I don’t think it’s a stretch to envision the eventual emergence of a basic grammar and the identification of existing emoji for specific abstract meanings. Emoji will form the basis of a written pidgin language: a simplified language that is incomplete but can nevertheless fill a useful role.
Emoji dramatically extend the world’s set of commonly-understood symbols. There were universal symbols before emoji, but they were generally confined to domains like math, science, and music. Emoji has increased that universal set by an order of magnitude. I assume it’s also shifting what can be understood across cultures.
As a software designer in the 1990s, I received instruction from international localization teams to avoid using gestures like 👍 in icons because some cultures interpreted them as offensive. As software has eaten the world, the culture of its makers has spread as well. I assume that in the context of software most people around the world can now recognize the intended positive meaning of 👍 regardless of their cultural background.
Any specific constructed emoji language like the Emojese emoji language is unlikely to take root — but we can watch for something similar to spontaneously emerge and spread around the world. Isn’t that a beautiful idea worth encouraging?
My guess: a group of charismatic young musicians stretches emoji into a pidgin as a way to connect with their global fanbase of teens, who pick up the pidgin to express their enthusiasm and connect across a language boundary. Thirty years later, those fans can stay at an AirBnB with checkout instructions like ◐⏰ ⎋, 📦⬇️ 🚮⬚ 📥 🗑️ ⩕ 🚗Ⓟ📍