‘What implication does the emoji have for the future of linguistics?’

Musing on the modern art of emoji, we have Walkley-nominated comic artist Sam Wallman, responding to a question from @toastfor_dinner.

A young person, with a mullet haircut and wearing a black t-shirt with a big X on the front, sits at a table with a scrabble board, asking ‘Hm. I’m curious, do you allow the use of African-American slang when you play Scrabble? Just wondering.’
They stand at a window looking out and talking. 'There are a thousand different languages within the one we call English. Each of them living and fluid, and all of them legitimate.'  They’re now looking at their phone. 'Thanks to emoji, everyone is communicating through the language of comics, all the time. Each line of a message is a combination of words and pictures. Even the word "Emoji" is Japanese for picture character.'  The young person looks at their watch, and above them their thoughts are displayed like script in a big cloud. 'Art Spiegelman pointed out that this is, after all, how we *think*. When we process someone cognitively, our mind doesn’t think purely in words. Nor does it just envisage images. Our thoughts look like comics – words and pictures. Our thoughts look like text & emoji.'
Three emojis are at the top of the page – the OK hand gesture, nails being painted, and a monkey covering its eyes. From each of these emojis, a column of stylised text descends, reading from left to right: 'These symbols are part of an ancient lineage'. Above descriptions of Hieroglyphics and cave paintings, the text says, ‘Hieroglyphics, marks on the cave wall, essentialised complex meaning manifest in immediately accessible iconography.’ The main character is now looking rapidly between a painting hung in a frame on the wall and a book called ‘le book’. They’re saying ‘Scientists recently discovered that our ancestors have been communicating through visual art and symbols for like 500,000 years. In comparison, the written word has only been part of our repertoire for about 5,000 years.'
The main character is sitting in a chair, tapping at their phone. They look at the reader and say ‘Even Vladimir Nabokov, one of the finest and most renowned executors of the English language, pined for, and perhaps predicted the future of language when, back in 1969 he remarked:’ (we now see the face of Vladimir Nabokov) ‘I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile – some sort of concave mark – a supine bracket, which I would now like to trace in response to your question.’ Underneath, a large (: is depicted – a typeface smile, using an open bracket and a colon.
The main character is still sitting in a chair, and says ‘sorry, just a sec’. They’re now looking at themself in a mirror, applying lipstick. ‘If all of that isn’t enough, a recent study indicated that people who use emoji have more sex than those who don’t.’ They walk out of their house and close the door behind them. We now see them walking around a large depiction of the crying laughing emoji, while saying, ‘This incidentally, is the most used emoji in the world. Linguists can study whatever they like. Meanwhile – do you see how much fun everyone is having talking to one another?’
Portrait of Sam Wallman

Sam Wallman is a comics-journalist, cartoonist and organiser based in Melbourne, Australia. His drawings have been published in places like the GuardianNew York Times, ABC and SBS.