Emojis Are Definitely Not New And Improved Hieroglyphs

Hieroglyphics/Gellinger/Pixabay/CC0-1.0

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For anyone who uses technology to communicate regularly, it is likely that you have used an emoji to add some flare to a message, express an in-the-moment emotion, or simply avoid typing out a long sentence that can easily be conveyed with an image. As novel as emojis may seem, transmitting messages via pictures dates back over 5000 years to ancient Egypt.

Egyptian hieroglyphs are one of the world’s oldest writing systems and historically have been called “the gods’ words” based on the belief that Egyptian gods invented the language to make their people wiser. Those who could command the gods’ words, typically scribes, were highly regarded in Egyptian culture.

Hieroglyphs utilize pictograms that both stand for specific words and frequently represent phonetic sounds as well. To be clear, Egyptians were not doodling. They were spreading complex information amongst themselves that has baffled historians for centuries.

So are emojis a 21st century renaissance of hieroglyphs?

Well, not quite. While emojis are wildly popular, they lack the cultural significance of hieroglyphs, which were not designed to necessarily ease communication but instead to preserve cherished information like religious rituals, literary texts, and ancient stories previously passed down orally.

Asserting that emojis are a new version of hieroglyphs is certainly flattering, but likely premature and inaccurate. Because more people are able to communicate with emojis presently than those who could do so with hieroglyphs in ancient Egypt, people have erroneously claimed that emojis are in fact more advanced.

Like most things the Western world does not understand about African innovations, hieroglyphs have been written off as primitive by countless scholars. According to an Egyptologist, “Such ethnocentric attitudes exhibit a disappointing cultural chauvinism in judging the ‘evolution’ of other societies by Western values.”

Emojis are cool and fun, but it is important not to equate them with the forward-thinking and cutting-edge language of our ancient African brothers and sisters. It is our duty to safeguard our inventions and prevent history from dismissing our meaningful contributions.

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