๐Ÿฆ„ ๐Ÿ’ฉ ๐ŸŒฉ๏ธ๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•: How the Littlest Communicators Use Emoji
July 29, 2020 3:11 PM   Subscribe

"A couple of months ago, NPR reporter Lulu Miller tweeted a question. She knew a 5-year-old who was texting exclusively in emoji, and wondered if were there any studies about kids, too young to read, who used emoji to communicate. People wouldn't stop tagging me in the thread, but we couldn't find any existing studies, so I decided to run a survey and make a small corpus of my own." Gretchen McCulloch, author of Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language: Children Are Using Emoji for Digital-Age Language Learning (WIRED).
posted by MonkeyToes (27 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite


 
When my niece was 5-6 she would write these emoji text messages and tbh I preferred them over almost any other text that I received. For starters, I've never got anxious or frustrated by reading this (a legit message):

๐Ÿคก๐Ÿค“๐Ÿ˜ป๐Ÿ–ค๐Ÿ˜ผ๐Ÿ™€๐Ÿ˜พ๐Ÿค๐Ÿ‘๏ธ๐Ÿ‘€๐Ÿค๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿค๐Ÿคœ๐Ÿคš๐Ÿ‘Œ๐Ÿ‘Š๐Ÿคต๐Ÿคถ๐Ÿง™๐Ÿฆน๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€โš•๏ธ๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿญ๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€โœˆ๏ธ๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ”ง๐Ÿคถ๐Ÿคต๐Ÿคต๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆ๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘งโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆ๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆ๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘งโ€๐Ÿ‘ง๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘ง๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆ๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿ‘งโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆ๐ŸŒƒ๐ŸŒ๐ŸŒŸโ˜„๏ธ๐ŸŒ—๐ŸŒฅ๏ธ๐ŸŒ™๐ŸŒฆ๏ธโ›ˆ๏ธ๐Ÿ’ง๐ŸŒ˜๐ŸŒ”๐ŸŒ˜๐Ÿ†๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฎ๐Ÿฆ›๐Ÿฆ„๐Ÿฆ„๐Ÿฆ„๐Ÿฆ„๐Ÿฆ„๐Ÿฆ„๐Ÿฆ„๐Ÿฆ„๐Ÿฆ„
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:33 PM on July 29 [25 favorites]


My 50 something yo gf sometimes sends me strings of emojis and this 55+ yo has no idea what she is talking about. I just reply, "I love you too" and that seems to work.

I do think it is fascinating to try to understand if a child is communicating something specific. Same thing when baby sign language was a thing.
posted by AugustWest at 3:44 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


My almost 10 year old daughter, who has an iPad since before she could speak, definitely communicated like this when she was 5-6. Maybe a single world followed by like one billion emojis.

Some real world examples:

๐ŸŽ๐ŸŽ๐ŸŽ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿฃ ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿป๐Ÿ‘จ๐Ÿป๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒบโค๏ธ๐Ÿ€๐Ÿ‰๐Ÿถ๐ŸŽ๐Ÿ‡๐Ÿ’œโ˜„โ˜€๏ธ๐Ÿ’•๐Ÿ’๐Ÿ‘จ๐Ÿป๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿป๐Ÿฅ๐Ÿฃ๐Ÿ’—๐Ÿ’›๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿ’š๐Ÿ’‹๐Ÿ’Ž๐Ÿ’ž๐Ÿ’–๐Ÿ’˜โ™ฅ๏ธโ™ฆ๏ธ๐ŸŒท๐ŸŒธ๐Ÿ˜˜๐Ÿ˜…i what crying hi๐Ÿ˜ญ๐Ÿ˜ช

EVA๐Ÿ€๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐Ÿ’Ž๐ŸŒธ๐ŸŒบ๐ŸŒน๐Ÿ€โค๏ธ๐Ÿ’œ๐Ÿ’Ž๐ŸŒธ๐ŸŒบ๐ŸŒนโค๏ธ๐Ÿ’œ๐Ÿ’Ž๐ŸŒธ๐ŸŒบ๐ŸŒน๐Ÿ€โค๏ธ๐Ÿ’œ๐Ÿ’Ž๐ŸŒธ๐ŸŒบ๐ŸŒน๐Ÿ€โค๏ธ๐Ÿ’œ๐Ÿ’Ž๐ŸŒธ๐ŸŒบ๐ŸŒน๐Ÿ€โค๏ธ๐Ÿ’œ๐Ÿ’Ž๐ŸŒธ๐ŸŒบ๐ŸŒนโค๏ธ๐Ÿ’œ๐ŸŒท๐ŸŒท๐ŸŒท๐ŸŒท๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒท๐ŸŒท๐ŸŒท๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒท๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒท๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐Ÿ˜ป๐Ÿ’‹๐Ÿ’‹๐Ÿ’‹๐Ÿ’‹๐Ÿ’‹๐Ÿ’‹๐Ÿ’‹๐Ÿ’‹๐Ÿ’‹๐Ÿ’‹๐Ÿ’‹๐Ÿ’‹๐Ÿ’‹๐Ÿ’‹๐Ÿ’‹๐Ÿ’‹๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ

Then, when she was 7ish, there were about 50/50 words/emojis:

DADDY I AM INVITED TO A ICE CREAM PARTY BECAUSE I PASSED MY AR GOAL AND YOU CAN COME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ๐Ÿจ๐Ÿจ๐Ÿจ๐Ÿจ๐Ÿจ๐Ÿจ๐Ÿจ๐Ÿจ๐Ÿจ๐Ÿฆ๐Ÿฆ๐Ÿฆโ€ผ๏ธโ€ผ๏ธโ€ผ๏ธโ€ผ๏ธโ€ผ๏ธโ€ผ๏ธโ€ผ๏ธโ€ผ๏ธโ€ผ๏ธโ€ผ๏ธโ€ผ๏ธโ€ผ๏ธโ€ผ๏ธโ€ผ๏ธโ€ผ๏ธ๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒTHAT WILL MAKE ME๐ŸŽญ๐ŸŽญ๐ŸŽญ๐ŸŽญ

There was then an Animoji period, where she made each character from The Little Mermaid and sent me a reenactment of the movie in 30 second or whatever increments.

Although, as she's gotten older, she's transitioned into the more old fashioned text based format. She's even enabled the Japanese keyboard on her iPad so she can easily send kaomoji stuff like (โ—•โ€ฟโ—•)โ™ก and (โ•ฅ_โ•ฅ) to her friends.

Stuff like this, in response to me saying she had to wait until next week to get some game she wanted:

but still..What if A little girl gave puppy eyes? (โœฟโ—•โ€ฟโ—•โœฟ)
(โœฟโ—•โ€ฟโ—•โœฟ)
(โœฟโ—•โ€ฟโ—•โœฟ)
(โœฟโ—•โ€ฟโ—•โœฟ)
(โœฟโ—•โ€ฟโ—•โœฟ)
(โœฟโ—•โ€ฟโ—•โœฟ)
... x100
posted by sideshow at 3:48 PM on July 29 [37 favorites]


The littlest hanov3r child (who is now almost double digits and chats with me regularly on Zoom) used to take his mom's phone and send me emoji-full messages. I was, literally, talking to him about that yesterday. He doesn't remember it at all, but I do; it was one of the sweetest things ever. He'd send me things like

?๐Ÿ”?๐Ÿญ

which was asking if I preferred hamburgers or lollipops. We had whole, long conversations like that.
posted by hanov3r at 4:10 PM on July 29 [11 favorites]


My partner and I use Kakao emojis to express frustration (when one of us is late) or alert the other to general life grumpiness, in a way that is both expressive and not prone to emotional escalation.

I'm all for kids using emojis in lieu of/before text!!!
๐Ÿต
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:15 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


Oh man, my child also went through this phase of texting long strings of seemingly random emojis. Adults would reply with their own set of emojis, which would frustrate her to no end because โ€œthey donโ€™t make any sense.โ€ So yeah, it seemed like she was communicating something none of us could grasp.
posted by Missense Mutation at 4:56 PM on July 29 [22 favorites]


All three of my kids, at about 4-5, liked to send their FAVORITE things by emoji to all their favorite people. My oldest would send ALL the train emojis to everyone he liked. My middle child favored certain animals (especially tigers), space emoji, and explosions. And my youngest, who is 4, wants to send the rainbow, the unicorn, Saturn, and all the different-colored hearts.

My good friend's 7-year-old likes to play a game where he texts me a single emoji and I reply with the word that it is. It's kind-of charming! Every morning he'll text me "๐Ÿ›๏ธ" and I text back "Bed!" and sometimes he text back a thumbs up, and the next morning he'll text "๐Ÿฆ" and I text back "raccoon!" and then every several days he'll text something that's a bit more abstract like "๐Ÿฅ‡" and I'll text "gold medal?" and he'll be like "No! It's 'winner'!" It takes 30 seconds of my day but it makes me so happy every morning to have a text from a little kid and to play name the emoji.

My 9 and 11 year old like to text me a bunch of heart-eyes guys when I give them permission to do something, and you know what? I'LL TAKE IT.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:14 PM on July 29 [29 favorites]


Also, from the article:

"Kids still get picture books read to them. But now that we all communicate in writing so much more often, kids also are read text messages. For a kid to get a text message written directly for them, and read directly to them, which they can reply to in some fashion, it teaches them something powerful about the written wordโ€”that it can be used to connect with people you care about."

I've been tutoring and then teaching college and then tutoring again for a lot of years now, and one huge shift I've seen is that when I started, it was like pulling teeth to get my students to write at all. But now my students are totally comfortable expressing their thoughts in written form. Instead of teaching them to write at all, I'm just teaching them the difference between informal and formal registers, like you teaching in a public speaking class. When people get really worried about "TEXTING IS RUINING THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE!" I'm always like, "You have no idea how much easier internet forums and instant messaging and texting have made my job teaching kids how to turn ideas into essays." A kid who's terrified of writing and only uses it for school-related tasks is a lot harder to work with and teach to write well than a kid who texts his friends 4700 times a day!

I have even told tutoring students to just "whenever you have a thought about this essay over the next week, I want you to text it to me." Or I tell them to just explain their ideas to their best friend over text or the messenger of their choice, and then just copy and paste that all into a google doc. And like, that's how you write an essay. You put some ideas on a page in larval form, you explain it to some other people so they understand your ideas, and then you push it into a formal essay structure. The last part is the easiest part and is 100% trainable. Having ideas and explaining ideas in writing is the MUCH harder part. (And in fact -- this is how old I am -- when I was in grad school and working on my thesis, and I'd get stuck on a part, I'd AIM a close friend and say, "Yo, I'm going to explain what I'm trying to say in my thesis to you" and she'd be like "sweet" and I'd just brain-dump at her and she'd ask questions when I didn't make sense, and then I'd literally copy and paste that conversation into a document and start turning it into a thesis section.)

Anyway, I think this is extremely to the point; texting and receiving texts from people they love, and having an adult read the texts to them, before they can read alone is going to make kids much MORE engaged with written language, and much more comfortable expressing themselves with it. We don't panic that people need public speaking classes to learn to speak in a formal register; people like to talk, they just need training in that specific mode. Messaging and texting and emoji have made it possible for even very little kids to like to write! They just need training, later on, in how to do it in a formal register. And it's SO much easier to train a formal register than to train "doing it at all." ๐Ÿˆ๐Ÿˆ๐Ÿ˜
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:44 PM on July 29 [85 favorites]


I'm always like, "You have no idea how much easier internet forums and instant messaging and texting have made my job teaching kids how to turn ideas into essays."

Throughout high school, college, and graduate school, my teachers have lavished me with praise for my essays and creative writing. I've always credited this to the fact that I was a homeschooled, housebound kid who could only talk to people via the internet.* My entire childhood has been learning to communicate via the written word. Texting and messaging and forums are a godsend for isolated kids. And there sure are a lot of them right now. Little kids included. I'd never considered emoji as a possible medium, but I'm glad it's there and that kids seem to be using it. ๐Ÿฅฐ

*And reading so many books that my parents used it to ground me. That probably also helped.
posted by brook horse at 6:00 PM on July 29 [7 favorites]




This feels ... important.
posted by minervous at 7:06 PM on July 29 [7 favorites]


I was engaged with this piece, but I have a major issue with this:

โ€œsuch as the otherwise-popular tears of joy ๐Ÿ˜‚โ€œ

Um, hello, that is โ€œlaughing so hard at something you are crying because itโ€™s so fucking stupid,โ€ not โ€œtears of joy.โ€
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:44 PM on July 29 [18 favorites]


My niece is seven now so she sends words and stickers or bitmoji more than straight emojis now. But I used to get the long strings of emojis from her and they were always a joy even if I didn't know what they meant besides ๐Ÿฆ„๐Ÿฆ„ are great and ๐Ÿ’ฉ is funny.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:48 PM on July 29


I worked with a Deaf kid, at about 7 years old. His language was pretty iffy, and all ASL. His family did not sign at all. They often communicated via emogi.
posted by DebetEsse at 8:23 PM on July 29


When mature emoji users use strings of emoji, theyโ€™re generally in groups of two to five, after a sequence of words, such as "I LITERALLY CAN'T HANDLE THIS ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚" or "omg i love you ๐Ÿ’›๐Ÿ’›".

For some definition of 'mature'.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 1:57 AM on July 30 [1 favorite]


Oh man, my child also went through this phase of texting long strings of seemingly random emojis. Adults would reply with their own set of emojis, which would frustrate her to no end because โ€œthey donโ€™t make any sense.โ€ So yeah, it seemed like she was communicating something none of us could grasp.

๐Ÿ˜ญ๐Ÿ˜ญ๐Ÿ˜ญ
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:58 AM on July 30


I had a little niece who sent me long strings of ๐Ÿ’ฉ๐Ÿ’ฉ๐Ÿ’ฉ๐Ÿ’ฉ๐Ÿ’ฉ๐Ÿ’ฉ๐Ÿ’ฉ๐Ÿ’ฉ๐Ÿ’ฉ๐Ÿ’ฉ๐Ÿ’ฉ๐Ÿ’ฉ๐Ÿ’ฉ๐Ÿ’ฉ. It took a while but we finally figured out she thought ๐Ÿ’ฉ was "Happy Pudding"! ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚
posted by pjsky at 6:48 AM on July 30 [12 favorites]


"You have no idea how much easier internet forums and instant messaging and texting have made my job teaching kids how to turn ideas into essays."

Relevant xkcd.
posted by suetanvil at 7:34 AM on July 30 [2 favorites]


My daughter had an emoji phase, where she would text long blocks of the emoji that she thought were the weirdest and funniest. (I don't have any of the blocks now, but I remember ๐Ÿ‘™ was hilarious.) When she started using words, her favorite thing was to use the text prediction. She would start by closing her eyes and touching the keyboard. After accepting one of the words suggested, she'd keep accepting words that should go after that, also often with her eyes closed or tapping fast enough in a rhythm that she couldn't see what she was choosing beforehand. She'd read the message at the end or after sending, with a lot of laughing.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:22 AM on July 30 [2 favorites]


My niece loved to send lots of emojis around ages 4-6. I always loved getting them. My favorite one from her was:

๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿฆ„๐Ÿฆ„๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ๐Ÿœ

When my neighbor was 4 instead of emojis he would text me pictures of Donald Trump. Because he thought Donald Trump looked hilarious. So I have long strings of texts where he and I just exchanged ridiculous pictures of Trump's face.
posted by ilovewinter at 9:29 AM on July 30 [1 favorite]


My five-year-old โ€œnieceโ€ sends me long strings of emoji over Slack, and if I'm around I respond with cute GIFs. But sheโ€™s my best friendโ€™s kid who lives a couple thousand miles away from me so Iโ€™ve never actually met my niece in real life, and weโ€™ve never talked or done video chat.

My point is, I don't think my niece quite grasps yet that Iโ€™m a person and not another computer game; the other day I was in a meeting while she was texting me and she complained to her mom that Slack โ€œwasnโ€™t working.โ€
posted by Ian A.T. at 1:55 PM on July 30 [12 favorites]


This feels ... important.

This means something.

I'm an Old so emojis don't resonate with me, but I can image/meme the hell out of damn near anything!
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:17 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]


My point is, I don't think my niece quite grasps yet that Iโ€™m a person and not another computer game; the other day I was in a meeting while she was texting me and she complained to her mom that Slack โ€œwasnโ€™t working.โ€

This thread is packed to the rafters with revelations: this blithe eversion of the Turing test; an incipient language struggling to be born and tragically dying because only its creator can understand it and she then grows out of it; Trump's vast repertoire of facial expressions as the bandwidth for a communication channel, and etc.

There have been any number of expressions on Trump's face that clearly are the expression of some strong emotion I would have trouble putting a name to. Probably fortunately for me. But it's going to take some getting used to the relative poverty of facial expression his successor is almost certain to display.
posted by jamjam at 9:12 PM on July 30 [3 favorites]


Sometimes an eggplant is just an eggplant.
posted by flabdablet at 5:02 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


And sometimes itโ€™s A PURPLE!
posted by Night_owl at 6:45 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


And some other times aubergines the beguine.
posted by jamjam at 10:36 PM on July 31


Artie shaw you want to brinjal that up again?
posted by flabdablet at 11:58 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


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