Philosopher invents emojis…. in the 1930s

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:CVqPzPSUYAA58NsWittgenstein 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.

The Dark Side of a Smiley:  Effects of Smiling Emoticons on Virtual First Impressions

First impressions are heavily influenced by emotional expressions such as smiles. In face-to-face contact, smiling individuals are perceived as warmer and as more competent than nonsmiling individuals. In computer-mediated communication, which is primarily text-based, the “smiley” (☺) constitutes the digital representation of a smile. But is a smiley a suitable replacement for a smile? We conducted three experiments to examine the impact of smiley use on virtual first impressions in work-related contexts. Our findings provide first-time evidence that, contrary to actual smiles, smileys do not increase perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence. Perceptions of low competence in turn undermined information sharing. The adverse effects of smiley use are moderated by the formality of the social context and mediated by perceptions of message appropriateness. These results indicate that a smiley is not a smile. The findings have implications for theorizing on the social functionality of virtual emotional expressions.