What heiroglyphics, emoji, and stickers have in common.
MACK FLAVELLE / DIGITAL CULTURIST
The oldest written language in the world didn’t have an alphabet. When written language began, it wasn’t used to ‘sound out’ words the way many writing systems do today; instead, each symbol represented a word (or occasionally part of a word). If that sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because speaking with pictures is a familiar concept — modern Chinese (hanzi) is a kind of logographic writing system, as is Japanese kanji. Younger readers, of course, may jump to an even more modern example of a logographic writing system — stickers.
There has been a lot of ink spilled about how stickers and emoji are bringing about the death of modern communication, but that draws an incorrect (and Western-biased, and frankly kind of racist) parallel: that language evolved from a logographic language (hieroglyphics, say) into an alphabetic language (English). In point of fact, English didn’t evolve from a logographic system at all; it’s a cousin, not a child. And Mandarin, whose billion active speakers make it the single most spoken language in the world, uses a syllable-based logographic language system.
Now, linguists may object to the classification of emoji as a logographic writing system. That’s because emojis are actually ideographic — that means that each emoji represents an idea, rather than a specific word. But, as stickers become more prevalent and start to replace the simpler emojis, we move closer to a true logographic language, where each symbol represents not an idea, but a word phrase. Users of chat apps like Line and wechat will be particularly familiar with this — when a user writes a sentence, they can choose to replace any word with a sticker that correlates directly to that word. If the sentence is viewed in a push notification a user might see the words, want to (eat) with (me)?, whereas the program replaces those words with their picture equivalents.
Logographic writing systems are not devolutions from alphabetic systems. It isn’t hard to find articles arguing exactly that point, but it actually shows a deep misunderstanding about the origins of written language (as well as a hefty dose of racism against the Asian languages that still employ logograms). Understanding how and why alphabetic and logographic systems developed requires going back to the beginnings of written language. Seguir leyendo THE STICKY TRUTH ABOUT MODERN WRITTEN LENGUAJE. MACK FLAVELLE