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The written word gives people the remarkable power to communicate emotions, information, and knowledge. A single line from a book can convey the powerful feelings of love or loss. Also, written words describe laws, share scientific discoveries, bring the news and so much more. Most top-ten lists of greatest inventions of all time almost always include the printing press in the number one spot because it spread literacy and knowledge to the world like never before in history and ushered in the vast expansion of human arts, science, and technology. Today, the English language continues to grow to include new words for people to describe and explain their world. The Oxford English Dictionary contains over 170,000 words today, but that number does not include the millions of scientific terms recorded in English. According to an article titled “Word Count,” by Jesse Sheidlower, no one can genuinely count all the words in English. (slate.com) The author points out scientists over the centuries discovered and named over 1 million different insects not to mention millions of other plants and animals as well as tens of millions of chemicals. All of these names use words made of letters from the Roman alphabet. In short, the written word offers an infinite amount of ways to communicate and share our thoughts, feelings, and emotions and to invent new words as well.
In contrast to words composed of letters, emojis use little pictures to convey emotions and information. Emoji refers to the small images such as a smiley face or a crying face that frequently accompany text messages on smartphones and comments on Facebook posts. Recently, an article by Jonathan Jones called “Emoji Is Dragging Us Back to the Dark Ages – and All We Can Do Is Smile,” notes Emoji currently holds the crown as the fastest growing language in the United Kingdom. (The Guardian) He cites research by the mobile phone network provider Talk Talk Mobile that “72% of 18- to 25-year-olds find it easier to express their feelings in emoji pictures than through the written word.” Moreover, OpenMarket conducted a survey and found 75% of Millennials choose to text over talking as their preferred form of communication with their smartphones. The rapidly growing use of emoji creates unforeseen opportunities for ambiguity and misinterpretation. Mike Cherney, points out in an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Lawyers Faced with Emojis and Emoticons Are All ¯\\(ツ)\/¯” that attorneys now face the legal struggle of understanding what emojis mean. He cites a number of legal cases in which emojis figure an essential part of the judicial decision. One noted case involved a landlord who took his apartment off the market when he received a text message from an interested couple that contained emojis such as a dancing woman and a popping champagne bottle. The landlord interpreted the emojis saying yes to a rental agreement, with which the couple disagreed. The judge found in favor of the landlord and awarded damages for lost rent to the landlord.
Words made of letters as in English form the basis of the massive and continually growing body of the world’s knowledge found in libraries, on the internet, and in daily communications. The flexibility of the written word in English using the Roman alphabet supports communication and storage of complex ideas and varied emotions. With the rise of the internet and the vast popularity of the smartphone, human communication techniques continue to change. Studies show that smartphone users not only prefer overwhelmingly to send text messages rather than speak on the phone. Furthermore, a new type of communication using pictures called emojis instead of words continues to expand in popularity. Emojis may be easy to use and are preferred by 18-25-year-olds over writing a text, but emojis do not have the power and flexibility of words to communicate the finer points of thought and emotion. Faster, easier communication should not be confused with the depth and subtlety the written word affords.