A B 😉: Emojis and the alphabet

Usually I blog about plot, character, and story, but my thought for today is on the more basic level of letters, sounds, and meanings.

My five-year-old knows phonics and lives in a word-saturated environment. This leads to such frustrations as trying to sound out “CVSPharmacy,” a word that, despite its appearance, begins with an “S” sound and has no “P,” “H,” or “hard C” sounds in it at all. This led her to the revelation that the letter “C” itself starts with an “S” sound, while the letter “S” starts with an “E” sound.

“’S’ should be spelled ‘see’ and ‘E’ should be spelled ‘ess!’”

I then explained that the letter “F” in “farm” is an unvoiced letter “V” that got its shape warped by hanging around with the letter “E,” while the letters “P” and “H” in “pharmacy” are filling in for a letter “Φ” that got left behind in Ancient Greece.

“English is dumb,” she concluded.

“Dumb with a ‘Silent B,’” I agreed. But what else would you expect from a language that developed on an island of Celts who got successively invaded by Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Romans, Normans, and Vikings?

The five-year-old is drawn to letters, but she 😍😍😍 emojis. These symbols are colorful, fun, and offer no barriers to a five-year-old’s level of understanding–except perhaps for 💩, which too closely resembles chocolate soft-serve.

Emojis add emotion and emphasis to casual texts, can replace words or entire sentences, and have become a necessary part of functional literacy in the digital age. Importantly, emojis are more accessible and easier to decipher than the rule-breaking glyphs and phenomes of English.

When you think about it, it’s a wonder that anyone ever learns how to read and write in English. It seems almost inconceivable that anyone would opt to learn English as a second language, especially if their native language actually spells things the way they are pronounced.

English is infected with weird idioms and slang, exceptions that swallow every rule, words like sheep and deer that can be both singular and plural, people saying things “literally” when they really mean them “figuratively,” and armed camps that will fight to the death over the Oxford comma.

Emojis, in contrast, offer lower levels of drama:

🐑 = Singular

🐑🐑 = Plural

👍 = Using the Oxford comma

👎 = Deleting the Oxford comma

The traditionalist in me wouldn’t trade the challenge of English for all the emojis in the 🌎. The English toolbox of 26 letters can express every 💡 a human can have. No language is more versatile. Or, if another language’s word offers a nuanced shade of meaning that English doesn’t yet have, English will steal that word.

English wasn’t designed to be versatile and nuanced. English became versatile and nuanced after centuries of borrowing from other languages. Which makes it logical to assume that English will eventually begin incorporating emojis.

As English readers become more comfortable mixing text and symbols on their phones, will we start seeing 🔥 incorporated into more formal communications?

🤹 becoming an expected part of advertising?

⚖️ having a legal meaning in contracts?

❤️ becoming a common name?

How long before 🤣 and ☀️ are included in the dictionary?

Will there be a time when we start teaching emojis in school alongside the alphabet?

Will future Sesame Street episodes be brought to us by 🍉, 🐺, and by the number 7?

💬 your 💭💭in the comments 👇.

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Greg R. Fishbone
Greg R. Fishbone is the founder of Mythoversal, a project dedicated to restoring inclusion, diversity, and equity to classical texts, and Cryptoversal Books, a launchpad for experiments in sustainable Web3 publishing. His latest work is the Wordler Village series of innovative story tokens. Greg lives in New England with his wife, two young readers, and a pair of stubbornly illiterate cats.