As promised, this edition of our series on the emoji conlang 🖼🗣 (aka Pictalk), is going to be focused primarily on building our vocabulary. You saw last time the ways we can combine symbols to create new words, but we’re first going to look at roots, individual symbols that can be used as words in their own right.
As of the recently-released Version 12 of the Unicode standard, we have a total of 3,019 emoji at our disposal. That sounds like a lot, for sure, but…it’s not that simple, at least as far as our script is concerned. Gender and skin tone modifiers don’t come into play for us, because their meanings aren’t exactly lexical. (Okay, gender is linguistic, but I’ve decided that it plays no role in 🖼🗣 grammar.) Take those out, take out the various “family” permutations, and do some shuffling, and my best calculation is a total of 1,581.
That’s still a large number, but we’re using quite a lot of them, such as ◻ or ➡, as grammatical particles, suffixes, or other “content-less” morphemes. Also, we’ve got plenty of duplicates, and some, such as the annoying “cat face” emoji, that we just don’t use. What’s left comes out to 1,200 or so symbols, plenty for a vast and diverse vocabulary even before you start compounding.
We can divide the roots into a number of categories. We’ll look at each of those groups in turn, because they tend to show some similarities. While I won’t describe every emoji in much detail, I hope this overview, along with the examples I give, suffice until I can create a real list.
Most of the faces (the emoticons, as we old-timers call them) stand for the emotion or state they express:
- 😄 – happy
- 😕 – confused
- 😠 – angry
- 😫 – tired
- 😷 – sick
Not all are like this, though. The “basic” face 😀 instead translates as the noun face itself. 😆, 🙃, and 😤 represent verbs laugh, invert, and defeat, respectively. But symbols like these are the exception, and the class-changing suffixes we saw last time work to convert them into something more like their fellows.
Unicode is for lovers, apparently, because there’s an awful lot of different hearts. But we’ve got other emotions, too. And most of the hearts turn out to be just color variations; in 🖼🗣, colored version of emoji always represent those colors.
The rest tend to be either adjectives describing the emotion or verbs that define an action, although some get more idiosyncratic meanings instead:
- 💋 – to kiss
- 💌 – romance
- 💖 – emotional
- ❣ – to compliment
- 💨 – fast
- 💤 – sleep (note that this is a noun first)
The standard includes a few others in the “emotion” section, namely speech bubbles. These are important as communication words in our script:
- 💬 – to say
- 👁️🗨 – the 1st-person pronoun “I” (where needed)
- 🗨 – to reply
- 🗯 – to shout
- 💭 – to think
Mostly, body part emoji stand for the that part of the body, or else the sense it provides:
- 🧠 – intelligence
- 👂 – ear
- 🦴 – bone (this is new, so not all fonts support it)
- 👁 – eye
- 👀 – to see
- 👄 – mouth
The various finger-pointing symbols, by contrast, have meanings less often associated with symbolism:
- 👋 – hello
- 🖐 – fingers
- 🎌 – to hope
- 👉 – to be
- 👈 – a marker for relative clauses (which we’ll see in a future post)
- 👆 – that
- 👇 – this
- 👍 – good
- 👎 – bad
- 🙏 – to pray
- 🤲 – the 1st-person pronoun “we”
And I think you can guess what 🖕 means.
As stated above, 🖼🗣 doesn’t bother with the gender or skin tone modifiers of Unicode. Instead, people are just…people. With very few exceptions, the “person” emoji stand for the specific person represented:
- 👨 – man
- 👩 – woman
- 👶 – baby
- 🧒 – child
- 👨🎓 or 👩🎓 – student
- 👨🎤 or 👩🎤 – singer
Some of the exceptions include 🙍, for the verb frown, and 🙅, to indicate prohibition (“may not”, in English).
Also, any of the numerous family permutations is allowed as a substitute for 👪 family. The generic is considered the default, but more specific variants can show a degree of politeness or respect.
Technically, Unicode classes these as a subset of the “person” group, but they’re very different in our script. For most of these, the meaning is verbal, rather than nominal. Again, gender doesn’t matter, although it can be considered polite to use it where it matters. (Where available, the generic “person” forms are to be preferred as default.)
- 🚶 – to walk
- 🏌 – to play golf
- 🏊 – to swim
- 🛀 – to wash/bathe
- 🛌 – to rest
Unicode has a bunch of animal emoji symbols, and we use almost all of them to represent those animals by themselves. Reduplicated forms (doubling the symbol) form a “pack”, “flock”, or any other collective noun, while the adjective and verb class-changing suffixes form words concerning the nature and actions of each individual animal.
- 🐕 – dog
- 🐈 – cat
- 🐴 – horse
- 🐁 – mouse
- 🐔 – chicken
- 🐳 – whale
- 🐜 – ant
One of the few exceptions in this class is 🐽, which instead stands for the verb smell.
Plants aren’t as numerous as animals in the Unicode emoji set, and 🖼🗣 tends to use many of them for more abstract meanings. Still, the specific types of plant, such as 🌷 and 🌵, stand for their individual kinds.
Examples of the abstract set include:
- 🌱 – plant
- 🍀 – luck
- 🍂 – autumn
Food and drink
People love to eat, and Unicode definitely has them covered there. As with plants and animals, most of these are specific foods or beverages, so their basic meanings encode those:
- 🍔 – hamburger
- 🍕 – pizza
- 🍓 – strawberry
- 🍪 – cookie
- 🍺 – beer
A couple of abstract symbols include:
- 🍳 – to cook (specifically fry, but any kind of cooking is a valid translation)
- 🥘 – food
Also, the 🍴 and 🍽 symbols translate as eat and meal, respectively.
Once more, we have a large set of emoji symbols whose meanings are fairly transparent. The numerous places, whether geographic or constructed, tend to represent in language what they look like:
- ⛰ – mountain
- 🏠 – house
- 🏥 – hospital
- 🏫 – school
Unicode gives us a lot of vehicles, and we use them about how you’d expect. I know this is sounding like a tired refrain by now, but it’s just how it is.
- 🚕 – taxi
- 🚓 – police
- 🚃 – train
A little wrinkle here is that 🛣 is the abstract road rather than something more specific; if you want something more concrete (sorry about the pun), you can use compounding.
Clocks representing half-hour intervals should be self-explanatory. The ⌛ emoji represents time in the abstract, while the verb measure (specifically for time) can be translated as ⏱.
Sky and weather
Most of these are fairly obvious. Cloudy and sunny skies represent just that. The various kinds of weather emoji mostly encode that sort of state. 💧 is abstract water, however, and 🌊 is ocean rather than something specifically to do with waves.
Games, sports, and activities mostly function the same as any other “this is what it looks like” emoji:
Some are different, though: 🕹 is control, 🃏 simply joke.
Once more, it’s the same general idea: 👕 is shirt, etc. Some of the oddities here include:
- 🎓 – to graduate
- 🛍 – to shop
- 🎒 – student
Many of the technology-oriented emoji are used for grammatical purposes. Most of the rest tend to be of the “object” sort we’ve seen so many times already:
- 💿 – CD
- 🎥 – film
- 📸 – to take a picture
Most of the tools are of the “object” sort, representing the objects they appear to be. An important exception is 🔫, which always translates as a real gun, not a toy, when used alone. (Unicode quite clearly defines the symbol as “pistol”, but PC-crazed tech companies try to pass it off as a harmless water gun instead.)
A few other interesting symbols in this group include:
- ⚖ – law
- ⚙ – machine
- 🗜 – to compress
- ⛓ – to hold back
These are more “object” type emoji, and they tend to fall under the same rules as above.
I’m skipping most of the symbols in this post for a very good reason: they’re symbolic. They don’t have well-defined meanings to begin with, so I felt no shame in recycling them for grammatical use. That includes things like audio controls, punctuation, and the multitude of arrows.
But one set of exceptions should be pointed out here, I think. The Unicode standard has a kind of generic method of constructing keycaps (boxed numerals that look like they’re on buttons), and it defines about a dozen of them. The numerical ones, such as 1, are ordinals: first, second, etc. The others are:
Lastly, about 300 of the available emoji are national or regional flags. These are a little special in 🖼🗣, for they can function as both nouns and adjectives without needing class-changing suffixes. The role they fill is implied based on position, defaulting to nominal:
- 🇺🇸 – USA, American
- 🇪🇺 – Europe, European
- 🏴 – England, English (note: not the same as 🇬🇧)
Whew. That’s a lot to take in, and I didn’t even cover everything. Fortunately, it’s a lot smoother sailing from here on out. I’ll illustrate new words when they come up, and I’ll point out non-obvious compounds or derivations. Other than that, the next post will get back to grammar. Fun, isn’t it?