Arsenio’s ESL Podcast | Season 5 Episode 87 |Reading | Crying with Laughter: How We Learned to Speak Emoji

Welcome to a long read with IELTS style questions for you students around the world. In this reading (audio is in podcast), you’re going to read the article about a trend in human communication. Choose the correct headings (i-viii) for each paragraph (A-F). There are two extra headings (as most IELTS questions are). For those of you looking at this on Facebook, tune into my blog thearseniobuckshow.com for the reading. Also, if you one both representational systems, read and listen along.

i. impact of emoji on the spoken form of language.

ii. the potential for the exploitation and increased complexity of emoji.

iii. The variation in th way different groups interpret certain emoji

iv. Emoji allow more self-expression in some respects, but less in others.

v. the inspiration behind the development of emoji.

vi. the increasing tendency to use emoji for everyday messages and for literary purposes

vii. emoji use no longer limited to young people.

viii. the procedure for suggesting and evaluating new emoji.

  1. Paragraph A
  2. Paragraph B
  3. Paragraph C
  4. Paragraph D
  5. Paragraph E
  6. Paragraph F

The ‘face with tears of joy’ symbol has been named the word of the year. But how did a gimmick end up changing the way we communicate?

The Oxford dictionary has just announced its ‘Word of the Year’, as it has done annually since 2004. This wouldn’t perhaps deserve much attention if it weren’t for the fact that it’s not a word as all. It’s just a pair of symmetrical eyebrows, eyes, big tears, and a broad monotooth grin. That’s right, the word of the year is the ‘face with tears of joy’ emoji! Judge Casper Grathwohl oversaw the discussions that led to the selection. We just thought, when you look back at the year in language, one of the most striking things was that, in terms of printed communication, the most ascendant aspect of it wasn’t a word at all, it was emoji culture’. If he had been referring to the number of people using emoji in regular text messages, this may not have seemed so remarkable. What may surprise you more, though, is that the classic novel Moby Dick was translated into emoji and renamed Emoji Dick, with Alice in Wonderland undergoing the same update, a task that required the use of 250,000 emoji. The author TR Richmond, who used emoji in What She Left, a novel built around texts, blogs, and Facebook posts, says that emoji ‘have a place at the hear of our language.’

The Fact that English alone is proving insufficient to meet the needs of 21st century digital communication is a huge shift,’ says Grathwohl. When one of his dictionary colleagues suggested using an emoji instead of the word ’emoji’, ‘light bulbs went on’. Until recently, Grathwohl, who is 44, avoided using emoji altogether because he worried that he would look as if he ‘was trying to get in on teen culture. I felt inauthentic. But i think there was a tipping point this year. It’s now moved into the mainstream.’ Not only does he use emoji, but his mother sends him emoji-laden messages, too. Indeed, some 76% of the UK adult population owns a smartphone, and of those, between 80-90% use emoji. Worldwide, six billion emoji are sent daily. If you are one of the few not yet using emoji, it may still interest you to know that the ‘face with tears of joy’ is the most used. Even if you don’t send emoji yourself, you probably receive them from people keen to convey a little irony, exaggeration or fun.

In fact, emoji have their own kind of dictionary. It’s called unicode, a computing industry standard that ensures different platforms, providers and operating systems can recognize text from each other. There are currently well over a thousand emoji. Anyone can put forward an idea for an emoji, says Vyvyan Evans, a professor in linguistics at Bangor University, who has spent the past year studying them. ‘You simply submit a proposal, provide a rational.’ You’ll hear back from the Unicode Tech committee if your design meets their criteria. It’s this group that considers proposals and releases new outlines of characters in a process that can take about two years. As a result of these innovations, racially diverse emoji have been introduced. Next year, a dancing man is coming, partner to the dancing lady. Vegetables remain underrepresented, cute rodents overly so. If you’re planning to come up with new emoji, perhaps you should bear that in mind!

Not everyone has responded positively to emoji. A common complaint is: ‘if you will use signs instead of words, you’ll just end up semi-literate!’ Evans has heard similar comments. ‘If you talk to some people, they imply that emoji are a backward step. But this misunderstands the nature of human communication.’ The picture is more complicated, he feels, with emoji offering both greater freedom and constraints than verbal language. he points out that anyone can invent a word and use it, but emoji are a limited language, subject to the selection processes of Unicode. ‘However,’ he says, ‘what I’ve been trying to do is demonstrate that emoji are conforming to the same principles of communication that underpin the spoken language.’ Perhaps he senses my confusion. ‘It it’ll help,’ he says, ‘I can demonstrate this with a simple sentence.’ There is a pause. ‘I love you,’ he says. He says it twice. The first time i think he means it; the second time we both know he doesn’t. Intonation makes a huge difference! Later, Evans explained that if I’d been standing in front of him, I’d have been relying on his body language to help infer meaning, too. ‘Emoji are fulfilling the same function in digital speech,’ he says.

It was in Japan, in the late 1990’s, that emoji were born. A Japanese telecom company had been looking for a way to entice teens to its pager service. One of its employees, Shigetaka Kurita, came up with the idea of adding simple images to its text offering, and began sketching out the possibilities. His imagination was stimulated by manga, Chinese characters and street signs, yet those early emoji look simple by today’s standards, facial expressions more than faces, musical notes, exclamation marks. If Kurita hadn’t drawn up his initial set, the rich lexicon of emoji we use today might never have been developed.

Like any sort of language, emoji are in a constant state of flux, particularly in the way that texters are choosing to deploy them. ‘They are subtle and rich, and flexible,’ Grathwohl says. Indeed, the significance of an individual emoji may not be interpreted in the same way by all members of the emoji-using community. In other words, if emoji meant the same thing to everyone, they wouldn’t be so much fun. Grathwohl also explains: ‘The strings of emoji people send me are becoming longer and starting to tell stories. They are expressing ideas and experiences with growing sophistication.’ Will emoji eventually be tamed and come to look something more like traditional written scripts that we understand? ‘It would be interesting if that kind of development took place,’ he says. In the meantime, if you opened a dictionary in a bookshop tomorrow, you’d notice that the face with tears of joy hasn’t yet earned a place. Maybe they are still trying to work out where it should in the alphabet.

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