Re: Emoji: emoticons vs. literacy

From: Julian Bradfield (
Date: Thu Dec 25 2008 - 17:42:48 CST

On 2008-12-25, John Hudson <> wrote:
> Indeed. But that is typography -- a 'higher level protocol' -- not
> character encoding. The question is not whether emoticons are used or
> may be useful, but whether the kind of information that they seek to
> convey belongs in plain text.

As has been pointed out, it is purely conventional that most
established writing systems do not attempt to encode the kind of
information conveyed (in many, if not all, languages) by intonation in
speech, and conveyed by emoticons in writing. It has often been
observed to be a deficiency in our writing systems, hence the
invention of interrobangs, irony marks, and now emoticons.
And since intonation can completely reverse the "plain" meaning of a
statement, it's hard to argue that it is not a deficiency to fail to
mark it.

There are, of course, interesting reasons why writing systems don't
usually encode intonation. Nonetheless, many emoticons correspond to
well recognized patterns of intonation and/or visual cues.

Unicode encodes cantillation marks, Byzantine musical notation, an
assortment of dingbats, etc. etc. etc. Why should something with plain
linguistic communicative value, such as emoticons, be considered "not
plain text" when all the other stuff is? Cantillation is particularly
a case in point, as cantillation marks are exactly a "higher-level
protocol" on top of the plain text, giving additional syntactic
information (not part of spoken language, if I understand correctly)
as well as musical directions.

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