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Two Studies
Emoticons and Languages
Third Study

Of Concepts and Languages

Or from Hieroglyphs to eMOTiConcepts


By JL W Lequeux

My Blog for new emoticons:

April 2013




Executive Summary


This paper is about the new way to express one’s feeling, one’s emotions, and why not, any concept with emoticons Notes 1 … Actually, the use of emoticons was initiated with the use of Morse Notes 2 – now quasi-abandoned, while “Smiley ®”, a registered mark of Smiley Company, restricts to human faces.


Beyond the expression of joy or anger or else, emoticons are used to quickly communicate concepts. Could it become a language-independent communication system? It could, only if large sets of human concepts are transposable to emoticons. Another specific point of this new way of communication is the possibility to represent the drawings by series of characters.


This paper discusses the many issues to face before the day humans – or robots – would communicate exclusively by emoticons typed on a universal keyboard.



Extended Emoticons


The first emoticon, based on Morse Code, was reported in April 1857 by the National Telegraphic Review and Operators Guide:


--… …--


The two letters represent “73” in Morse, standing for “Best Regards” in the system called Philips Numeric Codes Notes 3. Below are emoticons published in 1881 by Puck, based on Morse Code.



Attribution: By Unknown typesetter/author of Puck [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Long lists of tri-letters abbreviations Notes 4 were widely accepted in wire communications.

Modern emoticons have the main advantage to be easily understood by everybody, whatever the spoken language. Emoticons are commonly limited to basic feelings or emotions. Is it possible to extend them to all human concepts?



Do concepts depend on languages?


Apart from the words we use to call them, a concept should not depend on any language. This is an easy example:


- a fish is a fish, whatever the word one may use: "poisson" for a French speaker, "pesce" for an Italian Speaker, "arraina" for a Basque speaker, "pysgod" in Welch Gaellic, etc.


So, would it be easier to use just a drawing as the Ancient Egyptians did with the hieroglyphs? Or, like the Chinese and the Japanese, should we use logograms, normalized or not? It would be too complicated! Just consider that it would be necessary to learn approximately about 2,500 basic radicals described in the CJKv Notes 5  normalized characters, before being able to understand the concepts!


So, should we be "condemned" to use one of the 6,500 existing natural languages to communicate between humans… unless, we could use “emoticons”. It could be a good idea, but:


-       Are emoticons really language-independent? The answer is: rather not, because they are also linked to SMS “conventions”; for example, if I write:


I <3 U


Which stands for “I love you”, the first (I) and third (U) logograms are letters representing English words.


  • Are emoticons normalized? Not really, however, there’s a Chart published by UNICODE Notes 6.


  • Are there enough emoticons to allow real meaningful exchanges between humans, in any environments?


Well, here are the real issues!


At the moment, certainly not! But we may create as many emoticons as necessary to cover the complete range of the human languages. For example, if we may propose to represent a fish this way:




However, it works only for simple concept… What about a catfish? Well, catfish is the English common name of a species and all species have a “scientific name” Notes 7.


This is about living species, but what about minerals? Why not use widely Mendeleiev’s Table Notes 8. For example, the following notations, standing for “water, oxygen, copper, iron, etc.” are language-independent:


H2O, O2, Cu, Fe, etc.


Chemistry is not the only domain where standard signs are internationally accepted. We can mention, for example “road signs”. In all Europe, the following signs: danger warning, lights, speed limit could be easily transposed:







With today’s Web technologies, it’s reasonable to include colors in our codes. So doing, it is possible to suggest features to recall the common names of some fish…


Surgeon fish (blue and red):




Long silver fish (like a herring…):




For more precise concepts, it will be possible to use a shorter codification of scientific names.


Independently from any signs already formalized or normalized, many equipments could be represented by emoticons to design. The following sequence evokes a camera:




However, many apparatus having the same global rectangle form, it will be difficult to represent all equipment… unless Unicode ethnic characters, colors and advanced fonts effects are used. The following proposals are for the words “oven” and “washing machine”.


[ō]   [~]


Probably, for a fridge, it would be necessary to add the symbol of temperature degree: °




And for a freezer, it could be:




Of course, contraries symbolic signs could be used for other equipments, like a heater:




Anyway, in many domains, signs are de facto normalized, such as the signs for: toilets, entrance, exit, etc. and anyone is able to understand them, like the airport signs. Transposing these signs to keyboard characters has already been done in different manners, including specific Dings-like fonts. Below are two possibilities for entry and exit signs:






However, the main issue for complete language-Independency is Grammar! Even if all graphical signs covering the 2,500 basic concepts (or radicals) are already available with the Insert menu of Google Drive©it is not possible to build a language-independent text without a robust and efficient syntactical and semantic system.

Figure: Availability of CKJv Radicals with Insert | Insert Special Characters in Google Drive


But, grammar, syntax, semantics and semiotics are closely linked to the cultural, historical and sociological contexts of each nation. It is true for natural languages but generally untrue for ConLangs Notes 9.


Such a grammatical approach should be regarded with the experience acquired by the Esperanto Notes 10 communities.


Conclusion: The art of emoticons or i-Calligraphy


For the moment, building a Glossary of Emoticons is more a re-creation game, requiring imagination, inventiveness and certainly rationale. And from some words, other words could be derived. For example, as all instances of fish presented in this paper, include (), let’s suggest for aquarium, the following emoticon




Isn’t it a modern form of calligraphy Notes 11? i-Calligraphy!


Anyway, it’s also the domain of “Signage” Notes 11, where marketing techniques and semiotics



Notes :


1]  Emoticons: a pictorial way to express one’s feelings and exchange concepts by mails or SMS, MMS, etc.URL:


Widely accepted emoticons:


2] Morse: this code was widely used since 1836 and progressively abandoned with the developments of telecommunication. However, it remains a good alternative in Communication Intelligence. URL:


3] Phlips Numeric Messages :


4] Morse Code Abbreviations and Brevity Codes :


Brevity Codes:



5] CJKv: a Consortium for the normalization, URL:



6] UNICODE: this organization has elaborated a chart


7] Scientific Names: known species have classified. For fish, for example, see URL:


8] All elements are classified in Mendeleev’s Periodic Table:



9] ConLang : Constructed Language


10] Esperanto : a ConLang (constructed language) widely recognized since the middle of the 19th Century.




11] Calligraphy : the art of drawing with scripture…


12] Signage : pictograms that convey a meaningful message. URL: