The Theory of Emoji

People 👪 have been using images to tell stories since the time of cave paintings. Writing ✍ developed from 🖼 pictures. The Egyptians produced a standardized image set, hieroglyphs. Hieroglyphs were basically a single font so that everyone was carving "bird" the same way, with nearly 5000 total characters, and 24 hieroglyphs also functioning as a kind of alphabet based on their phonetic associations. Chinese ideograms 🈳 were similarly abstracted from pictograms that could be seen to represent physical objects. Pictures were a difficult basis for complex writing, however, first because you would need clear and consistent images for tens of thousands of different things (bird is easy, but how do you show the difference between a swallow and a sparrow?), and also because many concepts are too abstract or complex to draw. Most languages therefore cottoned on to the 💭 idea of alphabets, a limited set of characters that could represent the 🔊 sounds of their words, making it possible to communicate over time or distance with anyone else who knew the same language. Alphabets did not erase images as a means of conveying ideas - illuminated manuscripts are filled with drawings as well as writing - but 🔡 letters or ideograms instead of pictures have now carried most of the functional load of written communication for thousands of years.

And then, suddenly, there were emojis. More than the simple emoticons that can be composed on a keyboard, like ;), emojis are little 🖼 pictures that are supposed to show the same thing on different electronic 📱 devices. A 🕊 is a 🕊, irrespective of PC or Mac, and regardless of whether you speak Japanese or Zulu. More than 1300 emojis have been approved by Unicode, the 🖥🏭 electronics industry consortium that agrees on the characters that will be consistent for every language and every 📱 device around the 🌍 world (albeit with different artistic renderings allowed that can be confusing, and demonstrate the point that images are a delicate communications medium). With more than a thousand pictures on everyone's phones, 👪 people have begun using those images instead of written words in informal contexts, particularly text messaging.

This return to 🖼 pictures opens a lot of ❓ questions, both for the role of Emoji as an alternative representation system within a language like Italian, and the potential for Emoji as a communications bridge among 👪 people who speak different languages. With a limited picture set, is it possible, as is being investigated in an experiment conducted by Scritture Brevi, to form multi-emoji expressions so that 👪 people can distinguish their swallows from their sparrows? Can such combinations transcend language differences, or are they embedded in cultural or phonetic associations that are specific to certain groups? As more emojis are approved into the 🌎 global system, will they become a common feature of daily communication, or will people abandon them as too complicated to locate or interpret, versus just typing letters? To what extent will Emoji improve communications across languages - will the image set become established firmly enough for 👪 people who speak different languages to communicate complex 💬 thoughts with confidence? And, from a more technological standpoint, can we use emojis to elicit parallel terms among languages that are not currently paired by dictionaries? Can we work with the crowd to tag emojis for a range of communicative concepts, such as adding "sparrow" to the tags for 🕊? When we get good🔢 data for a language that is not well supported in the technological realm, can we push that to 📱🏭 device manufacturers so that people everywhere can easily look up "bird" or "swallow" in their own language?

With these ❓ questions, you can see that the reason we have put so much effort into the 😂🌎🤖 EmojiWorldBot project, isn't because emojis are trendy and cute. Rather, they provide an important gateway to 👅 linguistic technology and 👅👅👅 multilingual communication for the future. Please join us by installing EmojiWorldBot on your computer or 📱 mobile device, available for you now. /info/emoji_theory

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These are the languages for which we have datasets that we are actively working toward putting online. Languages that are Active for you to search are marked with "A" in the list below.

Key

•A = Active language, aligned and searchable
•c = Data 🔢 elicited through the Comparative African Word List
•d = Data from independent sources that Kamusi participants align playing 🐥📊 DUCKS
•e = Data from the 🎮 games you can play on 😂🌎🤖 EmojiWorldBot
•P = Pending language, data in queue for alignment
•w = Data from 🔠🕸 WordNet teams

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