As transcribed by one of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s students (and then set to type by a publisher) from the philosopher’s lectures at the University of Cambridge:Wittgenstein went on to say, famously, “what we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence.” In other words, when words fail we might want to use emojis. Wittgenstein managed to say quite a lot about the topic.
More often these days, I’m managing to resist the urge to tag my email and text messages with an emoji. The sentiment can seem too flat, too unambiguous for my meaning. True, I haven’t dived in to the expanded library of figures available now on smartphones, but could there be something valuable in letting the receiver grapple with the emotional meaning hidden in my words?
Recent developments in understanding the relation between language and emotion suggest that text conveys emotional content without directly referring to emotions, without relying on prosody, and (most likely) without relying on prior association of emotion with the particular linguistic patterns. If readers have an ability to construct, or re-construct, emotional messages from sparse chunks of text, why not let them? After all, great literary works manage to engage empathy and inspire “Likes” (in the form of books sales) without smiley faces.
So, are emojis impish enablers, causing us to sell ourselves short as emotional communicators? Or do they facilitate emotional connection by co-mingling seamlessly with our words?
Update: Subsequent to posting the forgoing thoughts, I came across the following recently published study. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1948550617720269