This is one of those posts where I am going to try and work out a train of thoughts as I write, which is a bit of a high-wire act (two metaphors for you there, one dead, one ailing). Written language started with pictures – man (person), antelope, water, food, etc. My guess is that these symbols once introduced (together with the appropriate materials for recording them, cave walls having their limitations) were quickly and very widely adopted. Hierogylphs are essentially these ideographs – symbolic pictures representing at first things, and then later more abstract concepts such as actions. From here the development of written language with letters representing sounds may have been quite a leap, but an inevitable one. There are whole libraries worth of study on this topic, so I am not going to embarass myself by trying to summarise this evolution, but wanted to introduce some thoughts about the direction of language today, as influenced by the introduction of emoticons and emojis.
On the whole I think not. There’s no evidence that emojis are anything other than a fun way of supplementing short written messages, often in a clever way, breaking out of the tyranny of 26 characters. A winky face can make the ironic tone of a message clear in a much simpler way than laboriously spelling it out. One to watch – will these symbols begin to proliferate and intrude into more formal contexts, outside the setting of texts and emails, and increase in volume and complexity, or have they found their niche?