Emoji aren’t ruining language: they’re a natural substitute for gesture 🔥🔥🔥

Gestures and emoji don’t break down into smaller parts, nor do they easily combine into larger words or sentences. Shutterstock
Lauren Gawne, La Trobe University

We’re much more likely to be hanging out on social media than at the watercooler these days. But just because we’re no longer face-to-face when we chat, doesn’t mean our communication is completely disembodied.

Over the last three decades, psychologists, linguists, and anthropologists, along with researchers from other traditions, have come together to understand how people gesture, and the relationship between gesture and speech.

The field of gesture studies has demonstrated that there are several different categories of gesture, and each of them has a different relationship to the words that we say them with. In a paper I co-authored with my colleague Gretchen McCulloch, we demonstrate that the same is true of emoji. The way we use emoji in our digital messages is similar to the way we use gestures when we talk.


Read more: What your emojis say about you


What gestures and emoji have in common

We can break speech down into its component parts: sentences are made of words, words are made of morphemes, and morphemes are made of sounds.

Signed languages have the same features of grammar as spoken languages, but with hand shapes instead of sounds. They have some advantages in complex expressions that spoken languages don’t have, but there are gestures as well as grammatical features when people sign.

By contrast, gestures and emoji don’t break down into smaller parts. Nor do they easily combine into larger words or sentences (unless we’re using a clunky version of the grammar of our language).

While there are preferences, there is nothing “grammatical” about using 😂 instead of 😹. Rather, what is most important is context. 🐶 could be a reference to your own dog, a good dog you saw while out for a walk, or a sign of your fondness for puppers over kitties.

There are some gestures that can have a full meaning even in the absence of speech, including the thumbs up 👍, the OK sign 👌 and good luck 🤞. Gestures like these are known as emblems, some of which are found in the emoji palette. Some object emoji have also developed emblematic meanings, such as the peach 🍑, which is most typically used non-illustratively to represent a butt.

Many gestures and emoji do not have these specific meanings. So, let’s take a look at different ways emoji are used to communicate with reference to a common framework used to categorise gestures.

Illustrative and metaphoric emoji

Illustrative gestures model an object by indicating a property of its shape, use, or movement, such as the classic “the fish was THIS big” gesture. Similarly, we often use emoji to illustrate the nature of a message. When you wish someone a happy birthday you might use a variety of emoji, such as the cake with candles 🎂, slice of cake 🍰, balloon 🎈, and wrapped gift 🎁.

It’s not grammatically correct to say “birthday happy”, but there’s no “correct” sequence of emoji, just as there is no one correct way to gesture your description of the fish you caught.

We also have metaphoric uses of gesture and emoji. Unlike a “big fish”, a “big idea” doesn’t have a physical size, but we might gesture that it does. Similarly, our analysis showed that people typically use the “top” emoji 🔝 to mean something is good.


Read more: Emoji are becoming more inclusive, but not necessarily more representative


Beat gestures are used for emphasis

Another common type of gesture used to draw attention is a beat gesture, distinguished by a repetitive “beat” pattern. Some uses of emoji have a direct parallel to beat gestures. For example, using the double clap 👏 for emphasis, which has its origins in African American English.

The emphatic nature of beat gestures helps explain something about common strings of emoji. When we looked at sequences of emoji the most common patterns are pure repetition, such as two tears of joy emoji 😂😂, or partial repetition such as two heart eyes and blowing a kiss/heart 😍😍😘. Repetition for emphasis is rare (but possible) with words, but very common for gesture and emoji.

Along with these categories, we also looked at pointing and illocutionary gestures and emoji, which help show your intentions behind what you’re saying – whether that’s amused 😂 or ambivalent 🙃.


Read more: Understanding the emoji of solidarity


Emoji have limitations that gestures don’t

There are obviously some differences between online and physical chat. Gestures and speech are closely synchronised in a way emoji and text can’t be. Also, the scope of possibilities with gesture are limited only to what the hands and body can do, while emoji use is limited to the (currently) 2,823 symbols encoded by Unicode.

Despite these differences, people still use the resources available to them online to do what they’ve been doing in face-to-face conversations for millennia. Bringing together research on gesture and internet linguistics, we argue there are far more similarities between emoji and gesture than there are between emoji and grammar.

Instead of worrying that emoji might be replacing competent language use, we can celebrate the fact that emoji are creating a richer form of online communication that returns the features of gesture to language.The Conversation

Lauren Gawne, David Myers Research Fellow, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Learning Flemish Dutch in 100 Days

Trisha founder of
Language Learners Journal

Hallo there, starting in September my next language project will be learning Flemish-Dutch in 100 days!

Dutch is spoken by around 23 million people. It is a Germanic language at the heart of Europe. Spoken in the Netherlands (Holland) and Belgium. Flemish is the Belgian variant of Dutch and is spoken by over 5 million people in Belguim and parts of France!

Over the last few years, I’ve undertaken a number of language projects including…

  • Icelandic Basics in 28 Days – (Success).
  • Exploring Scots in 28 Days – (Failed).
  • Spanish in 90 days – with the goal of having a 15-minute conversation with a native speaker. I managed 20 minutes PLUS a Facebook LIVE! (Success – goal smashed).
  • A Year of Mandarin 2019 – I’ve had a 15-minute conversation, but the ultimate goal is for 30 minutes of conversation time!

During each challenge, I’ve documented my personal language learning journey on social media to inspire and (hopefully) help motivate other language learners. Plus to share the resources I have used.

For this challenge I want to demonstrate…

  • What you can achieve in just a minimum of 15-30 minutes consistent study a day over 100 day period.
  • Prove that you don’t need to move to a country to learn the language!
  • Demonstrate that you can learn a language independently and without breaking the piggy bank.

Why Learn Dutch?

Bruges, Belgium. Photography by Simon Dunbar.

More often then not English is spoken better in Europe than by UK natives! So if that is the case why bother!?

During my last trip to Belgium just saying things like please and thank you seemed to earn me the respect of the locals and they appreciated me trying.

As Holland and Belgium are my favourite places to visit I’ve been feeling for some time now that learning Dutch would be of great benefit to me – even if it’s just to read the menu without a double take.

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The Goal: To learn to speak and read in Dutch to B1 level within 100 days, so I can have conversations with the people I meet – in Dutch – and make sense of the menus!

The Starting Line…

Currently I am a complete beginner in Dutch, but I’ll aspire to a B1 ‘cusp’ level within 100 days. Given my native language and knowledge of other Germanic languages I feel this is challenging, but not unrealistic.

Goal setting is really important in language learning and I will have a plan in place because ‘you will never reach you destination if you don’t know where you are going‘!

The Plan?

Bruges, Belgium. Photography by Simon Dunbar.

To set aside a minimum of 15-30 minutes consistent study time per week for the next 100. I’ll spend the first 10 days listening to materials and building vocabulary. Then I will move on to reading and writing before speaking.

I’ll be documenting the whole thing via my blog and on social media and post updates every 25 days. I’ll be working in blocks of 25 days.

Block 1

  • The input method through audiobooks, podcasts, and vocabulary builders.
  • Work through the ‘Learn Dutch’ modules.
  • 15-30 minutes study per day.

Block 2

  • Start to speak in Dutch.
  • Continue to work through the ‘Learn Dutch’ modules.
  • Increase study time to 30-45 minutes per day.

Block 3

  • Book some lessons with professional tutors.
  • Find a Dutch speaking study buddy to study with!
  • Continue with the input method.

Block 4

  • At the end of Dutch in 100 days, I’ll be doing a Facebook LIVE in Dutch!

Resources For This Project

Bruges, Belgium. Photography by Simon Dunbar.

I’ll be using all of the resources on Parleremo. This free language learning platform is packed with useful tools and materials. This means I don’t need to waste time searching the web. I can open up a Dutch Radio station and listen to some music whilst logging my progress. I can also find access to hundreds of news sites, play games, watch videos, download or even create my own vocabulary lists and lots, lots more.

I’ll also be taking part in the Parleremo Language Marathon to help keep me motivated whilst learning Dutch. Many challenges tend to use Facebook Groups, but what I like about this challenge is that it is hosted on the Parleremo platform and has a wide range of resources in 35+ different languages!

UTalk is one of another one of my favorite resources for learning languages. It uses verbal, visual and fun exercises to teach languages. A fabulous free alternative to this is LingoHut.

Finally I’ll be checking out the Learn Dutch course and Dutch Pod 101

If you want to follow my progress…

Like my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter.

Please leave me your comments below, as I’m very keen to hear from you about this project and any resource recommendations!

Introducing the Language Marathon from Parleremo…

Language Learners Journal is excited to announce that we have teamed up with the Parleremo Language Community to create a brand new and exciting language learning challenge!

Parleremo, meaning ‘we’ll talk‘ in Italian is a FREE language learning platform with resources for over 35 languages. Originally created in 2008 it will be reopening on Sunday, August 25th, 2019. With some BIG changes, including the brand new (paid) challenge program to boost your language learning!

Online language challenges are becoming very popular for independent learners as they encourage motivation and community support.

Recently prices have soared for online challenges with the average cost now reaching triple numbers for a 30-90 day challenge!

These challenges do have excellent methods to combine accountability and motivation to greatly improve language skills using social media.

However, The Paleremo Language Challenge is slightly different as it is hosted on our very own secure platform with access to many resources and tools to help keep you on track at an affordable price.

Motivation is important, but discipline is required in language learning to make real progress. It’s discipline that drives you forward even through those difficult moments, in turn this fuels motivation and the reward pathways in the brain.

Trisha Dunbar, Language Learners Journal Founder and Co-Founder of the Paleremo Language Marathon.

The Way it Works…

Choose between two options:

  • The Mega Marathon: Commit to a minimum of 15 minutes per day language training for the next 100 days within a supportive online community.
  • The Mini-Marathon: Commit to a minimum of 15 minutes per day language training for 26 consecutive days within a supportive online community. (Recommended if you are new to language challenges).

“The Parleremo Language Marathon is going to be awesome. It is based on the successful Parleremo language platform. All the resources you need to kick start language learning with the aim to ‘level’ up your target language!”

Erik Zidowecki, Director of Scrivermo Publishing , Founder of Parleremo and Co-Founder of The Parleremo Language Marathon.

Benefits of the Parleremo Language Marathon


✅ Choose a language OR have one randomly chosen for you when you create a profile!

✅ Keep track of your language learning progress over 26 days (mini-marathon) or 100 days (mega marathon).

✅ Take part in mini-challenges and earn virtual badges.

✅ Go head-to-head with other participants.

✅ Visit the video vault of languages.

✅ Check out our library of resources.

✅ Chat with other language learners via the forum or video.

✅ Certificate of Completion.

✅ PLUS lots, lots more…

The first race marathon starts in September!

Interested? Register here for more information on how to join the challenge…