My husband is the king of emojis. Our daughter Dana is the queen. Together they comprise the avant garde of the media generation. Like Superman, each is “faster than a speeding bullet” at typing out responses, “more powerful than a locomotive” at snappy comebacks, and capable of expressing complex emotions in a single text. When they send these witty lines to me, I often puzzle over the symbols. Just recently it occurred to me, a language teacher and a student of all things linguistic, that I simply don’t speak Emoji.
All those clever, teeny-weeny symbols make my eyes cross. What the heck does the cat mean? Is it a reference to a real cat or a snarky comment on somebody’s post? Does the blue heart hold different status than a red one? As if that weren’t stressful enough, my own texts frequently are auto-corrected before I realize it, as are those of my friends. Then not only must I decode the symbols of the Emoji Nation, I also must decide what word is intended by the string of consonants in an important message or an interesting bit of data. For example, LOL is easy. NNEEumw remains as mysterious as the Rosetta Stone. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve typed love only to have it come out live, as in I live those festival corn digs.
Anyway, pondering the vagaries of a spell checking AI whose only function is to correct my missives, I find it worse when I attempt to use Spanish, Turkish, Greek or French in my correspondence via social media. The Spanish verb TENGO is changed to TANGO, as in Tango muchos celos. This, understandably, confuses my Spanish-speaking friends who wonder what a dance has to do with jealous or envious feelings. (Clarifying example for non-Spanish speakers: Tengo muchos celos=I’m so jealous…of your trip to Spain or your winning lottery number!)
The tiny buttons on my phone mean my fingers sometimes hit the wrong keys, then press SEND way too fast, resulting in a text or social media post with an unintelligible message. Of course, I presume my friends have similar problems as their posts also end up with scrambled words and a line of emojis that require a Google search. I realize that it is best to pretend understanding until someone braver or more curious inquires as to what the hell the emoji or text really means.
Alas, this is the Brave New World we never expected, artificially intelligent processors who pretend to understand human thought processes, small keyboards that require precision typing (not my strong suit), and new pathways in our brains to interpret the language of the 21st century. As I ponder the unintelligible, I leave you with my own twisted Emoji string. Maybe hubby and daughter will figure it out. Maybe they won’t. Maybe my dialect of Emoji will form a subset of the standard and set a new direction for an emerging linguistic phenomenon. Then again, maybe not.