Is an Emoji a Word?
The Oxford English Dictionary has rocked the English-speaking, word-loving world by proclaiming an emoji the OED “word of the year.”
The emoji “face with tears of joy” has been declared the most popular “word” of 2015.
I can see that this symbol might deserve the title “emoji of the year” or “universal symbol of the year” or even “cartoon of the year.” But word?
In a video, Casper Grothwahl, the extremely young-looking President of Oxford’s Dictionaries Division, justifies the selection of this particular emoji as a word. He cites its importance in teen texting culture “before we saw it explode into the mainstream.” He points to the fact that, thanks to an input technology for iOS devices called SwiftKey, any keyboard symbol can now be tracked and analyzed for frequency.
As justification for naming this universal symbol as “word of the year,” Grothwahl refers to the OED’s century-long tradition of “tracking the English language” around the globe and “monitoring how language is being used.”
He declares that because the twenty-first century culture is “visually driven and emotionally expressive,” pictograms “add a deeper subtlety and richness” to traditional language.
The Oxford English Dictionary, as stated on its own site, is “widely regarded as the accepted authority on the English language. It is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of 600,000 words— past and present—from across the English-speaking world.”
Keywords: English language, English-speaking world.
Pictograms are not words. They cannot be pronounced. They can be described with English words: “face with tears of joy.”
The OED tells me that a word is “any of the sequences of one or more sounds or morphemes (intuitively recognized by native speakers as) constituting the basic units of meaningful speech used in forming a sentence or utterance in a language (and in most writing systems normally separated by spaces); a lexical unit other than a phrase or affix; an item of vocabulary, a vocable.”
Figurative uses are, of course, possible. For example mathematicians use word to denote “a sequence of symbols in a particular context.” In computing, a word is “a consecutive string of bits that can be transferred and stored as a unit.” But even in such figurative uses, word remains a word that may be spoken and written.
In sum, words are spoken utterances that in English are represented in writing by letter combinations. The pictographs called emoji are a cultural phenomenon that merits study, but they are not English words.
Related post: Emoji
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