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Digital Communication: Emojis and Grammar


everyday grammar
Digital Communication: Emojis and Grammar
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Writer and actor Larry David is behind some of America’s most popular television shows, including Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. The shows often discuss the details of everyday life in a funny way.

One time on Curb Your Enthusiasm, David criticized the use of emojis -- symbols often used in text messages and internet exchanges.

She texted me.

She texted you. How adorable.

Yeah... smiley face at the end.

Oh! Smiley face, see I hate that.

I told her about the smiley faces, I can’t stand it! And everybody uses them!

On today’s report, we will discuss grammar and digital communication. We will talk about emojis and the kinds of words they replace. We will also talk about the different ways people around the world use emojis.

Increased use of emojis

Emojis have their roots in Japan. Their name comes from the Japanese words for “picture” and “characters.” They have been common for years in Japanese electronic messages and Web pages. Over time, people in other countries came to adopt them, too. In 2015, Oxford Dictionaries named the “face with tears of joy” emoji as the word of the year.

You might be asking yourself about the link between emojis and grammar. The first key point is this: Sometimes emojis act as a kind of language to communicate important information about emotions or attitudes. These emotions or attitudes might be difficult to express in writing, yet they are part of the idea the writer wants to send. For example, when people speak to each other, they often use their faces and voices to give a lot of information.

The website emojitracker follows all emojis used on Twitter. It lists the most popular emojis on the social media platform. You might not be surprised to learn that some of the most popular emojis have a face.

The most popular emoji is still “the face with tears of joy.” The second most popular emoji, according to emojitracker, is the “grinning face with the smiling eyes.”

The limits of emoji and grammar

Our second key point is this: Emojis fit into English grammar in certain kinds of ways. And experts think there are limits on how complex emoji grammar can become.

A 2019 study by researchers in the Netherlands found that emojis were more likely to replace nouns and adjectives. They were less likely to replace verbs and adverbs.

The researchers noted, “No prepositions or determiners were substituted” by emojis.

Prepositions refer to words such as “in,” “on,” or “at.” These words often show the location of nouns.

Determiners are words such as “the” or “these.” They give information about a noun.

The study pointed out that emoji-only communication was very simple.

One of the reasons is that users cannot change how they present the emojis. Also, vocabulary depends on existing emojis. Expressing feelings or attitudes outside the available choices is difficult.

Emojis and other languages

A 2016 report noted differences in how people around the world use emojis. The researchers found that “users from France are more likely to use emojis.”

The researchers also found that users in France were “more likely to use emojis related to hearts, while users from other countries prefer emojis related to faces.”

While how much these trends may have changed over the past few years is unclear, we bring up this point to get you thinking about how emojis are used in your native language.

How do you feel about emojis? Do you give them a frowning mouth with scrunched eyebrows, like Larry David? Or a grinning face with smiling eyes?

Write to us in the comments section.

That’s Everyday Grammar.

I'm Dorothy Gundy.

And I’m John Russell.

John Russell wrote this story for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

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Words in This Story

adorable adj. very appealing or attractive; very lovable

digital adj. using or characterized by computer technology

trend – n. a general direction of change : a way of behaving, proceeding, etc., that is developing and becoming more common

character – n. a symbol (such as a letter or number) that is used in writing or printing

attitude – n. the way you think and feel about someone or something

grinv. to smile widely

scrunchedadj. with tightened the muscles

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

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