So a while ago I got into a discussion with someone on Twitter about whether emojis have syntax. Their original question was this:
do emoji have grammar/direction? if english is 👩📸👨 (girl photographs boy), is arabic 👨📸👩 or 👨👩📸 ? and is japanese 👩👨📸 ?
— r12a (@r12a) November 14, 2016
As someone who’s studied sign language, my immediate thought was “Of course there’s a directionality to emoji: they encode the spatial relationships of the scene.” This is just fancy linguist talk for: “if there’s a dog eating a hot-dog, and the dog is on the right, you’re going to use , not .” But the more I thought about it, the more I began to think that maybe it would be better not to rely on my intuitions in this case. First, because I know American Sign Language and that might be influencing me and, second, because I am pretty gosh-darn dyslexic and I can’t promise that my really excellent ability to flip adjacent characters doesn’t extend to emoji.
So, like any good behavioral scientist, I ran a little experiment. I wanted to know two things.
- Does an emoji description of a scene show the way that things are positioned in that scene?
- Does the order of emojis tend to be the same as the ordering of those same concepts in an equivalent sentence?
Rachel Tatman on emoji order (ignoring the singular/plural discussion):