Recently I read Nineteen Eighty-Four, a dystopian novel by George Orwell set in a totalitarian state where even the language they use is controlled. Adjectives are forbidden and instead they use phrases such as ‘ungood’, ‘plus good’ and ‘double plus good’ to express emotions. As I first read this I thought how impossible it would be in our society to have such vocabulary. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realised in its own way it’s already happening. I type messages to my friends and alongside each is the obligatory emoji. I often use them to emphasise something, or to not seem too serious, or because this specific GIF conveys my emotions much better than I ever could using just words. And I wonder, with our excessive use of emojis, are we losing the beauty and diversity of our vocabulary?
English has the largest vocabulary in the world, with over one million words, but who’s to say what it’ll be like in the future? Perhaps we will have a shorter language, full of saying ‘cry face’ if something sad happens or using abbreviations like LOL (laugh out loud) or BRB (be right back) instead of saying the full phrase. So does this mean our vocab will shrink? Is it the start of an exciting new era? Will they look back on us in the future and say this is where it all began – the new language? Or is this a classic case of the older generations saying, ‘Things weren’t like that when I was younger. We didn’t use emoticons to show our emotions’?
Yet when you look back over time, the power of image has always been there. Even in the prehistoric era they used imagery to communicate, and what’s even more incredible is that we are able to analyse those drawings and understand the meaning of them thousands of years later. Pictures have the ability to transcend time and language. Images, be it cave paintings or emojis, allow us to convey a message that’s not restrictive but rather universal.